I love the area around Tufts and I don’t just mean the immediate surroundings. Davis Square is nice and all, but there are some other amazing areas that deserve exploration. For one of my courses titled “Health Equity and the Built Environment,” I had to explore the area of Union Square, a lesser known, but beyond awesome part of Somerville. If/when you come to Tufts, be sure to check out Union Square - the restaurants are to die for!
In case you’re interested in seeing a real college essay that I have actually turned in for class, here’s the essay that I wrote about the challenges facing Union Square that city planners and developers will need to overcome in the next few years in order to remain a thriving and diverse area.
Executive Summary of Union Square in Somerville, MA
Health Equity and the Built Environment
Union Square is a diverse neighborhood in Somerville, Massachusetts. Settled in the western part of Somerville, Union Square operates six bus lines through its center and is trafficked by over 10,000 vehicles per day. Union Square has a population of 15,537 in a half-mile radius and an average income of $29,996 per capita. The expansion of the Green Line MBTA stop is scheduled to be completed in Union Square by 2020 and will bring seven new stops to the area to increase daily ridership by more than 45,000 people. Union Square is promoting its image of a thriving up-and-coming community through the installation of new yoga studios, high-end coffee shops and local farmer’s markets. The changing face of Union Square increases the popularity of the area and with it, economic growth. However, the increasing accessibility and modernity of Union Square brings unique challenges that threaten the affordability of housing and have the potential to gentrify the neighborhood.
The city of Somerville is defined by its immigrant residents who account for more than 27 percent of the population. This diversity brings a unique blend of culture and a strong sense of community to the area. Many businesses in the area are run by and cater to the various ethnic groups that live in and around Union Square. Union Square faces the problem of gentrification as more affluent families and individuals move into the area and shift the development the community. The issue of gentrification is important to examine because it can have negative effects on businesses, health outcomes and emotional security as ethnic groups are pushed from the area. Author Alex Resiman says, “Change in Union Square is inevitable. As we work together in building our neighborhood, it’s helpful to consider how each of us is affected, and how we might be able to embrace opportunities for positive impacts while limiting negative consequences.”
As a community, we must address how we can best create opportunities for residents to improve their economic, social and political situation in Union Square through increased affordable housing initiatives. Affordable housing options provide resources for low-income individuals and families who are having difficulty meeting their basic needs. The implications for a new affordable housing unit would provide equity in the built environment, as adequate housing is a predictor of lower mortality rates. Promoting a sustainable, strategic and safe built environment can improve the quality of life and maintain the current number of residents in Union Square while also benefiting from the economic growth of new businesses and residents.
Access to decent housing for all U.S. households, regardless of income, has proven difficult to achieve. Despite the growth of home ownership, housing conditions for 20 million of the lowest-income U.S. residents have scarcely improved in the last thirty years. Not only does inadequate affordable housing affect low-income populations, but it also affects the new members who move into the area because it can increase evictions and homelessness which burden the entire community. A strong sense of community promotes social cohesion, which can also improve the quality of life for its residents and encourage healthy behaviors. Furthermore, strategic design of the built environment can positively impact the mental health of individuals. Land use planning and the creation of affordable housing units are critical to the health of a city and will bring positive structural and individual benefits to Union Square. We need to provide a reason for immigrants, low-income residents and business owners to stay in the area and ensure they are given proper incentives, like increased customers, revenues and social cohesion.
Preserving affordability can help long-term residents in Union Square remain in their homes and diminish the fear of displacement while simultaneously allowing affluent citizens to move into the area and increase prosperity. This allows the built environment to thrive while maintaining a sense of culture, community cohesion and social capital. This can happen by ensuring dialogue among planners, decision-makers, developers, residents and business owners. The area of Union Square should continue to grow, without forcibly removing long-time residents from the area due to a lack of affordability.