Zoning Can Shape a Walkable, Bikeable, and Equitable Worcester
Paul DePalo and Etel Haxhiaj, Worcester Telegram, January 6, 2021
Worcester’s outdated zoning laws hinder our ability to strategically guide growth. We should holistically re-visit our laws to coherently encourage and incentivize 21st century priorities: neighborhood-oriented growth, including mixed-use projects; adequate and affordable housing; local jobs; walkability; transportation; and sustainability.
Imagine walkable, bikeable, sustainable, mixed-use developments that bring local jobs, expand housing supply (for example, apartment buildings, triple-deckers, etc), and help us meet our climate goals.
Worcester could follow other cities in using its zoning laws to foster such smart, equity-informed development, while moving us toward a carbon-free future.
Zoning laws are the framework for a city’s growth, and could be used to empower residents and businesses to shape and strengthen neighborhoods. Worcester’s zoning ordinance divides the city into districts; within each district, certain residential and commercial uses are allowed, prohibited, or available via special permit.
Examples of “uses” include single-family housing, multifamily housing, manufacturing, warehouse, retail, et al. Since housing should be a fundamental right, zoning intersects with nearly every issue we face in 2021: economic development, racial justice, environmental justice, and transportation, to name just a few.
Worcester’s outdated zoning laws hinder our ability to strategically guide growth. We should holistically re-visit our laws to coherently encourage and incentivize 21st century priorities: neighborhood-oriented growth, including mixed-use projects; adequate and affordable housing; local jobs; walkability; transportation; and sustainability. Likewise, we should prohibit uses that do not further our social and environmental goals.
Worcester can do this with political will, visionary leadership, and community participation. Recently, many Worcester residents and neighborhood leaders have considered the social, economic, and environmental impacts of proposed developments. Whether it’s re-developing the Greendale Mall or addressing the empty lots on Park Avenue and Mill Street, we should proactively envision our neighborhoods’ futures and actively work towards a green future.
Modernized zoning ordinances are being implemented in communities across the Commonwealth. So, Worcester can do it too! We can institute design review for developments, revamp our site review criteria to align with the Green Worcester Plan goals, create inclusionary zoning to increase housing for families, and add an equity analysis for developments (as Councilor Lydia Edwards recently championed in Boston).
Zoning is a powerful tool, and it’s time we use it to shape the walkable, bikeable, and equitable city we want to live in and leave to our children and grandchildren.
Etel Haxhiaj is the mom of two beautiful boys, volunteer with Mothers Out Front Worcester, director of public education and advocacy for Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance, a member of the Zero-Fare WRTA Coalition.
Paul DePalo is a father of two amazing daughters, attorney, special education teacher, Worcester Planning Board member, and represents Central Massachusetts on the Governor’s Council. firstname.lastname@example.org