Wu calls on city to abolish BPDA

Councillor Michelle Wu speaking at a city council forum on October 1. Yukun Zhang photo

Councillor Michelle Wu today called on the City of Boston to abolish the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) in a new report titled “Fixing Boston’s Broken Development Process: Why & How to Abolish the BPDA.”

Wu's report, available for viewing at abolishthebpda.com, offers a scathing indictment of the city agency--which she calls "an anachronism plagued by lack of transparency and misguided priorities"--and lays out a vision for a more inclusive and transparent development process.

"We are a city of tremendous resources, and we can chart a better path forward by leaving behind outdated structures and removing barriers to participation," Wu said in a statement. "Meeting our challenges with urgency and scale will require considering the interconnectedness of these issues and empowering everyone to take part. We can't afford to maintain a complicated system that only the most privileged and powerful can navigate."

The report supports claims that Boston's current development process, rather than harnessing the city's growth to address urgent challenges, has instead exacerbated inequality, traffic and congestion, and climate vulnerability. Former Secretary of Transportation Jim Aloisi backed Wu's call for abolition of the agency.

"The BRA, now BPDA, had an important role to play in mid 20th century Boston, but that same role is not fully responsive to 21st century needs and realities," said Aloisi. "We've got to reimagine how planning and development takes place in a modern city, framed by contemporary needs and priorities."

In place of the BPDA, Wu has proposed the creation of a new Planning Department that would "overhaul the zoning code to introduce consistency and predictability to the development process" and "begin compiling a comprehensive master plan built on meaningful community engagement."

Mayor Martin Walsh issued a response Monday morning concerning the BPDA and Wu's report.

“When I first ran for Mayor, I had serious concerns about how decisions were made at the then-Boston Redevelopment Authority. I immediately ordered an outside review of the BRA and put in place significant reforms to bring transparency, integrity and accountability to our development and planning processes across the city," Walsh said. "We launched Boston’s first citywide plan in 50 years that, through the input of more than 15,000 residents, now serves as a framework to preserve and enhance our city. And it’s through Imagine Boston 2030 that the now-Boston Planning & Development Agency is running an unprecedented number of planning studies citywide where the community is our most important partner. Today, we have an agency that, for the first time, uses community engagement to guide growth that is inclusive and respects the history of each of our unique neighborhoods.”

Wu's report is based on collected feedback and research from conversations with residents, public hearings on proposed projects, meetings with civic leaders and neighborhood associations, and historical research. Wu currently serves as Chair of the Boston City Council’s Committee on Planning, Development and Transportation.

Wu will hold the first of a series of community listening sessions regarding her new report tonight, Monday, October 7th at 5 p.m. at the Union United Methodist Church in the South End.