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A new light rail station will tie a long-neglected Union Square to downtown Boston. Low rents drew artists and immigrants for years, but with the promise of transit, rents are soaring. We’re laying the groundwork for Union Square 2.0 with a plan that balances substantial new development, protects current residents, and preserves the grit and funk that mark the square today.

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Somerville residents

With nearly 80,000 residents and 52 languages, we’re hunting ideas that safeguard resident diversity.

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acres to develop

Including brownfields and the transit line, the project will transform 117 acres at the heart of Union Square.

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square feet

Up to 4M square feet (371K square metres) of mixed-use development will add density and variety to the neighborhood.

Transcript of the video follows
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<p>We hit the streets to chat with Union Square’s people. We asked about their culture, their needs, their wants, and their passion.</p> <p>One concern that I have is that it’s just going to be converted into yet another street corner that looks like any street corner in America and with that, lose its character.</p> <p>I’ve lived here my whole life. In my life I’ve moved around the block in one square, and I still live here, and I still love it here.</p> <p>Union Square has all the right stuff. What do you add to that?</p> <p>They got a lot of people that come out here. I see a lot of festivals, and you know, maybe a little more shops, I mean, I don’t really see too many places I would stop.</p> <p>I would be concerned that it would be developed and then I would not be able to come here, would not be able to shop here or live here. In which case, where else do I go?</p> <p>With a series of workshops, we’re putting the community, the government, and developers together, drilling down to their individual and shared needs. Then we can design the right sort of place. A place that increases revenue to the city, creates jobs at all skill levels, reduces pollution, keeps it fun, keeps it affordable, and embraces the unique flavor of Union Square.</p>

Draw on the talent of a continental team

Urban designers to shape the square, architects to design the buildings, developers to handle the real estate, and civil engineers to tie it all together. But that’s just a start. With our reach and depth, the Urban Places team has called in specialists in multiple disciplines across Stantec to add layers of function and charm.

Toronto and Vancouver kept the project sustainable with flood mitigation and green roof expertise, and Sacramento dropped in to redevelop brownfield plots.

Design value from the ground up

Start by mixing shops, start-ups, and arts at street level. Then add apartments and offices upstairs. Match these varied uses with a grab-bag of activities outside: bustling sidewalks, busy public squares, and interactive public art.

This rich brew draws people who want to play, work, and live in one place—without a car. And it attracts growing knowledge industries like graphic design and software development, businesses that zero in on diverse and walkable environments when they expand or set up shop.

But these economic benefits can have social costs. Redevelopment could wipe out Union Square’s distinctive but fragile cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity.

Redevelopment with community in mind isn’t just designing beautiful buildings and public spaces. It’s creating programs to help immigrants start new restaurants, preserving treasured performance spaces, and supporting startups—from small-batch ice cream to viral apps.

It also means thinking about resources in creative ways. Those street-side restaurants and stores throw off waste heat that can help keep upstairs apartments and offices warm in the fall and winter. That same heat can boost rooftop farms that serve ground-floor restaurants, cool buildings in summer, and catch rainwater to run washing machines or a street-level fountain.

Mixing uses offers other opportunities—like multiple buildings sharing a single boiler and rooftop mechanicals which saves dollars, energy, and space.

Our design means getting to local music one song after the band starts, getting to a café in the time it takes to steam a latte. Five minutes to zip to work or saunter home. And five more minutes? The next discovery.
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Keep your neighbors close

The new train will connect Union Square to more than 100,000 jobs, the region’s rich cultural ecosystem, and some of the world’s top universities. Those ties will make the neighborhood a hot spot for living, working, and doing business. And real estate costs will skyrocket. A big win for the market—and, potentially, a big loss for the people who should benefit from transit development. One possible outcome: gentrification drives out artists, low-income residents, and all the folks who’ve made Union Square what it is today. The alternative? A plan that taps the economic value created by transit to broaden affordable options for living and working. Low-income households, artists, immigrants, and young entrepreneurs won’t have to move out—and new ones can move in.

What People Are Saying

“While the city as a whole has been pushing the style envelope, Union Square is its hipster epicenter, with the kind of local focus and accessibility that make it an easy, and fun, day trip.”

Clea Simon, The Boston Globe

“The planning around Union Square’s future flowed from wanting to amplify the things that make the neighborhood great already.”

Paul McMorrow, The Boston Globe

“This is the first step in managing the change coming to Union Square and ensuring the right balance between revitalization and preservation.”

Joseph A. Curtatone, Mayor of Somerville

“We’re trying to focus on a balance between allowing development to occur while also making sure that people who live here can afford to stay.”

George Proakis, Somerville’s planning director

We’re better together

Our work begins at the intersection of community, creativity, and client relationships. With a long-term commitment to the people and places we serve, we have the unique ability to connect to projects on a personal level and advance the quality of life in communities across the globe.

David Dixon
Senior Principal, Urban Design Group Leader
David Dixon
Senior Principal, Urban Design Group Leader

Many people fear big-dollar projects. Union Square shows how we can turn those dollars into better lives, new opportunities, and more choices.… Read More

Drew Leff
Principal
Drew Leff
Principal

Union Square is an exciting challenge; how do we retain the Square’s funky, hip character as we transform the surrounding industrial yards?… Read More

Frank Holmes
Principal
Frank Holmes
Principal

Three giant efforts: the MBTA extension, the City’s infrastructure improvements, and the redevelopment of Union Square—all in harmony. WOW.… Read More

Elias Rashmawi
Managing Senior Principal, Urban & Brownfield Development
Elias Rashmawi
Managing Senior Principal, Urban & Brownfield Development

Drawing on the Square’s legacy to capture the community’s hopes is more than a development project. It’s the realization of deferred dreams.… Read More

Chuck Lounsberry
Principal
Chuck Lounsberry
Principal

Union Square is where I live, and my children are growing up. I couldn’t be happier to play a role that’s helping improve my neighborhood.… Read More

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