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Somerville 2023: Wrapped

Ryan DiLello

Dec 23, 2023

Thanks for supporting local journalism in 2023. Here are the top five best and worst stories out of Somerville this year.

The Community Path Opening

After multiple month-long delays – on top of a multi-year delay, the long-awaited Community Path opened on June 10. Opening day saw hundreds of Somerville residents taking to the path in celebration. 

“I am grateful to the many incredible, determined Somerville residents, activists, elected officials and staff who labored to make this dream a reality,” Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne told Cambridge Day over the summer. “The community path is of course a critical part of the region’s transportation system, but in Somerville, it’s also a unique part of our social fabric and the open space network we envisioned for all to enjoy and use.”

Those monitoring the progress of the path online received gratification when City Councilor Jake Wilson changed the answer to his ”Is the Community Path open?” page to “YES." 

Ward 7 City Councilor Judy Pineda Neufeld, a new mom and a runner, said the path has been a game-changer for the city. “Constituents have told me how their commute to Boston has changed overnight. They’re primarily on a safe and faster path; they don’t fear for their lives every minute of their commute.  Folks that were hesitant to bike to work are now hitting the stores for helmets. It’s a reliable mode for transportation when the green line extension hasn't been as reliable as hoped.” More on the Green Line later…

PorchFest Fun

Over 350 bands took to porches across the city for Somerville’s PorchFest. It’s “not a festival per se,” according to the SAC website, (perhaps an effort to tame crowd expectations and behavior), but the city’s biggest party sure feels like one. That said, its decentralized footprint and DIY spirit sets it apart from other local music festivals and parties, particularly commercial ones. 

“There aren’t a lot of homegrown events around,” said Jon Wallis, the guitarist for local indie-rock group, Hereboy. “I don’t feel like anyone’s trying to take advantage of me. There’s no financial incentive for any of this. It’s people with a love of music, going out and enjoying themselves.”

SAC Director Greg Jenkins said he’s frequently asked why the City doesn’t do multiple PorchFest events in the year. “The City and the Arts Council are cognizant of music venues that have closed, like ONCE and Thunder Road, and are seeking ways to support more nightlight life venues within our expanded development.  In addition, we are exploring how we can develop music rehearsal spaces to support local musicians. There are many other areas to support beyond expanding PorchFest itself,” Jenkins said.

Besides, the holidays only come once a year. PorchFest is no exception. 

Rent Stabilization Progress

This year, Somerville made a historic move in approving a home rule petition to enact rent stabilization locally. Facing a national housing crisis, advocates are looking to reverse the state’s ban on rent stabilization, which has been in place since the 90s. There’s been little appetite for reversing the legislation on Beacon Hill and a recent campaign to place rent control on the 2024 ballot fell through after the state’s progressives were divided on strategy.

But the move will reignite pressure on the Legislature to consider a local option for rent control, for which Governor Maura Healey has expressed support multiple times. And public polling data shows the public is primed. 2023 surveys by Northwind Strategies and UMass Amherst found  65 percent and 71 percent of voters, respectively, would support rent control legislation. 

Triple-Deckers "Relegalized"

Three is a magic number! Somerville voted this year to remove affordability requirements for triple-deckers and third units on a lot, effectively “re-legalizing” the city’s signature housing style after a zoning overhaul may have stifled development.

“This was also the easiest way to comply with the MBTA Communities Act,” Ward One City Councilor Matt McLaughlin said. The MBTA Communities Act is a 2021 law that requires Massachusetts cities to adopt zoning codes that encourage multifamily housing, particularly around MBTA stations. 

The council is hopeful that lifting the affordability requirement will encourage multifamily development. McLaughlin explained that additions to existing buildings will be key as many of the city’s multifamilies are two stories tall.

“I think it’s going to be the best way to add units to an already dense city, without imposing on communities,” McLaughlin said. “Somerville alone doing this is not a big deal, but we’re talking about tens of thousands of units. You go around this community already, most places are already two-family units. If you allow a third unit, it will all add up,” McLaughlin said. 

Dragon Pizza Sells Out After Barstool Feud

Somerville went viral this year–meaning thousands of folks imbued meaning or significance into a piece of content by enthusiastically tapping their thumbs against their screens–after Dragon Pizza owner Charlie Redd and Barstool professional douche Dave Portnoy went at it on a Somerville sidewalk. This reporter is obligated to write about it as this list has a tinge of “virality” to its criteria. You can dig up the video, but let the record show, this is listed as a win because Dragon Pizza reportedly sold out of pizza for multiple days following the incident. Good for them.


Winter Hill Community School Closes

Families and students at the Winter Hill Community Innovation School have endured a difficult year. The school closed unexpectedly in June after a piece of concrete fell from a stairwell ceiling. Built in the 1970s, the Winter Hill was already under disrepair. When the school closed, the community was already waiting for a plan from the city to redevelop the Winter Hill. As the community pressed to accelerate those plans, Winter Hill students were shuffled over to the Edgerly Building, the Capuano Early Childhood Center, and momentarily Tufts University’s Olin Hall. 

This summer, inspectors confirmed the building was filled with hazardous materials and the construction would create too disruptive of an environment for the students to move back in during the redevelopment. 

At a meeting December 19th, the City reviewed findings from its enrollment study to ensure new construction will fit the needs of Somerville students for decades. So while it’s been a grueling year for Winter Hill families, work is underway. 

Highland Avenue Rocky as Ever

“When people say fix the road, they mean Highland Ave,” said Councilor Charlotte Kelly at a Public Utilities meeting in November. 

Yup, Somerville’s rocky road is still bumpy as ever and will have to wait until 2027 for a full repave, according to an October memo issued by Somerville’s Director of Engineering. In the meantime, Highland will be partially repaved, from Central Street to Walnut Street, sometime after June 2024, but ongoing work will prevent a full reconstruction with possible bike lanes. Until then, Eversource will continue transforming this road to resemble your favorite pair of patch-quilt pants. 

The Green Line is Here … To Ruin Your Day

This month the Boston Globe championed MBTA riders as Bostonians of the Year, but the award felt compensatory at best. While the Green Line Extension marked a historic victory for the city, its realization has been less than ideal for transit riders. 

Attempting to fit a year’s worth of Somerville’s trials and tribulations with the MBTA into a year-end wrap-up is a tall order. But the gist is, folks find it slow, unreliable, dangerous, poorly engineered, etc. (You can doom scroll for a while).

The MBTA estimates it needs $24.5 billion to repair its transit system. If you’ve never considered buying an ebike…

SMEA's Still Out a Contract

The Somerville Municipal Employees Association is still out on a contract. These are underpaid city employees, working some of the most essential jobs to literally and figuratively keep the lights on in Somerville. 

Last month, SMEA reported several more union workers resigned awaiting ongoing wage negotiations with the City to resolve. More than ninety SMEA employees have left their jobs this year, leaving at least 40 vacancies, according to a social media post from SMEA published in November. The union has waited on a new contract since June of 2022. 

An Irish Goodbye: Sligo Pub

Davis Square’s historic Irish dive, Sligo Pub, closed in June of this year as plans to redevelop the site into a four-story lab and commercial space were approved. Sligo Pub was a neighborhood staple and the idyllic dive, complete with inexplicable smells, graffitied walls, and cheap pints.

The pub went through an impressive lineup of Irish names since its founding more than 75 years ago. According to the website, it began as Pat Connolley’s, then changed to Mahoney’s, and finally Sligo – the county its latest owners immigrated from. 

...Happy 2024 Somerville, see you at The Burren.

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