Mayor Rebrands Boston's Venerable Development Agency

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh spoke at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce's government affairs forum Tuesday morning

Goodbye BRA. Hello BPDA.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Tuesday that after nearly six decades, the Boston Redevelopment Authority is getting a new name and a redefined mission. It will now be called the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

The BRA was created in 1957 under then-Mayor John Hynes to spearhead the transformation of an aging and deteriorating downtown.

In a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Walsh said the BRA has achieved many successes, but also suffered in the past from "moments of injustice," and a recent lack of transparency.

Walsh says it's more than just a name change.

"Well it's not window dressing. But changing the process that we have," said Walsh.

The agency, responsible for zoning, planning, and oversight of Boston's booming real estate landscape, was heavily criticized in a recent audit, for lacking transparency and accountability.

"The BRA's history has been pock marked with mistakes, there's no question," said Brian Golden, Director of BPDA.

Golden says the focus will now be on listening to residents, and giving them more of a say in the way their neighborhood's look like.

"We work for them we don't work for the development community," said Golden.

But behind all the pomp and circumstance of the announcement, there is skepticism and distrust, because of a contentious history with the 50 plus year old agency.

"The damage is done," said Richard Giordano with the Fenway Community Development Corporation. "The question now is how to rectify it."

Residents in communities where developments are hot, say they want to see real follow through on these promises. Giordano says the former BRA did not do enough to protect his neighborhood.

"The luxury buildings get built, the rents go up everywhere else, people get displaced and there's no new affordable housing getting produced," he said.

Mark Liu with the Chinese Progressive Association, blames the agency for prioritizing developers, over the basic needs of Chinatown's residents.

"There are luxury developments, over 3000 units built in Chinatown, that are 20 to 30 stories, that are double triple what the zoning is for," Liu said.

How the community's relationship with the agency even got to this point, is complicated and remains up for debate. But all sides agree, for development in Boston to be equitable, the new BPDA has to work.

The mayor said the new BPDA will continue reforms, including a "community first" approach to economic development with improved outreach to residents of city neighborhoods.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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