At RODE, we’re always looking at noteworthy projects beyond our own work, as we’re passionate about design, and the neighborhoods where we live. That love of architecture has brought our attention to the Boynton Yards neighborhood, which is among the oldest and most active industrial areas in Somerville. The 34 acres of land, located along the Miller’s River in the southeastern section of Somerville, near both Boston and Cambridge, was ideally situated for the myriad of industries pouring into the city. By the mid-nineteenth century train lines were built atop the filled river transforming the area into the center of the meatpacking industry for greater Boston.
Fast forward 150 years - the scream of slaughter houses has long disappeared and the train lines that once hauled pigs, cows, and coal, now transport commuters to and from Boston. However, Boynton Yards as a whole has retained much of its industrial past and today the neighborhood is characterized primarily by large manufacturing structures, repair shops, and scrap yards. Large expanses of empty lots and derelict buildings blanket the ever shrinking gap between Somerville and Cambridge, and the area is on the brink of transformation.
This change is barreling down the tracks towards the neighborhood at full speed in the form of the proposed Green Line extension. With $393 million granted in funding, new Union Sq. and Washington St. stations will extend the Green Line into Somerville, linking the currently isolated Boynton Yards into the MBTA network, and radically rewriting the future of this neighborhood. It’s Predictable that such a profoundly underdeveloped area so close to Boston is suddenly becoming woven into the transportation network and catching the attention of developers. The questions now being asked to architects are: what will this place become? How do we create dense, thriving urban neighborhoods where none have been before? And most importantly, how do Somerville’s unique values and identities translate into a new built environment?
The challenge to architects and urban planners is multifaceted and complex, but can be boiled down to the notion that currently there is nothing there. Despite being within walking distance of Harvard, MIT, Kendall, Central, Inman, and Union Squares to name a few, within Boynton Yards itself there are few significant destinations, no mass transportation options. Instead, there are only dark large-scale industrial blocks creating an eerie sense of forgotten placeless-ness. As development rapidly explodes into this void, key questions must be asked that take into account a comprehensive understanding the context of Boynton Yards and how this epicenter of new development will enhance the livability of Somerville for all.
We’re excited to see what unfolds and hope to be a part of the conversation.