Opinion: One person’s ideas on Waverley Square

Jay Szklut is Planning & Economic Development Manager for Belmont

Jay Szklut is Planning & Economic Development Manager for Belmont

The other day, I was out walking around Waverley Square with a consultant team the Town has engaged to conduct a market study of the Waverley Square area.  Relatively few persons were out walking around the square although it was a sunny morning with temperatures in the 70’s.  People were driving in and out of the Shaw’s parking lot but only one or two persons were actually walking to the store.  The car wash had a steady stream of customers driving in and out.  Waverley Primary Care at 43 White Street also appeared to be busy with patients entering and exiting, again most arriving by automobile.

While the activity I was witnessing in the Square stood in stark contrast to a pedestrian friendly vision of the Square, it did reinforce the role of the Square as a village center.  People were out shopping for groceries, attending to medical needs, some were at the barber shop or hairdresser, and a few at the Post Office.  What was missing from the Square’s role as a village center was its failure to generate a pedestrian environment; residents come to the Square by automobile.

What change should be promoted to encourage a more pedestrian friendly environment in Waverley Square?

First, the square itself must become more residential in nature.  Individuals that live in the Square will most likely walk to the various retail and service establishments.  Mixed-use development should be encouraged.

Second, is the need to increase the number and mix of businesses in the Square including increasing the amount of office space in the Square.  Clearly the office space in the Square today serves some of the financial, legal, and medical needs of local residents and brings persons to the Square.  Office space that increases and improves on such services should be encouraged.    It is a combination of residential, retail (including sit-down restaurants) and office development that will generate a square that is active during the day and evening.

Third, changes to the Square should reduce Trapelo Road’s dominant presence in the Square.  As one enters the Square, the open landscape leads to a perception of Trapelo Road as a pedestrian unfriendly, major highway knifing through the Square.  Framing Trapelo Road by creating a green space on the triangle with a row of trees along the Trapelo edge and encouraging three story development on the car wash side of the Square will provide a sense of a smaller more pedestrian friendly street.

These three changes are not mutually exclusive and in fact reinforce one another.  Additionally, these changes are not based on solely an interest to increase the economic activity in the square but are based on a desire to recreate the character of the square; if Waverley Square is envisioned as a place that nurtures a sense of village identity then a more pedestrian orientation must be developed.

Your comments on these thoughts and any ideas you might have are welcomed.

Jay Szklut
Planning & Economic Development Manager

Belmont’s Clean Air Campaign: important meeting Wednesday

Sustainable Belmont, our town’s environmental task force, is holding an important meeting this Wednesday to kick start the town’s air quality initiative — an effort to improve the quality of air in town.

The meeting is being held in The Belmont Public Library’s Flett Room at 7:00 PM tomorrow, Wednesday, August, 5, 2009 and will be an opportunity to learn about ongoing grassroots and town efforts to reduce vehicle idling, deploy clean diesel technology, and promote walking to school and bike friendly activities.

Come learn about efforts to improve air quality in Belmont

Come learn about efforts to improve air quality in Belmont

Some background: over the past three years, organizers have worked collaboratively with school officials and parents, town departments, faith-based organizations, and others as part of the Cleaning the Air Campaign. State environmental experts, Belmont’s Chief of Police, Belmont Citizen Forum leadership, and Sustainable Belmont volunteers will discuss progress and plans, and the public is strongly encouraged to participate in shaping 2009-2010 activities.

The agenda for tomorrow evening looks like this:

Presentation on Belmont’s Cleaning the Air Campaign (1 hr. 10 min)
Moderators: Sustainable Belmont members Jeri Weiss, Ian Todreas and Deb Lockett
Guest Speakers:

  • MA Department of Environmental Protection’s Julie Ross
  • Belmont Police Chief Richard Mclaughlin
  • Belmont Citizen’s Forum rep. on proposed new bike path
  • Electric City Cars owner Paul Elwood on electric vehicles in Belmont

Next Steps – Open Discussion (40 minutes)

– Are there any “hot spots” that need attention?

– What would the community like to see happen?

– Education vs. punitive efforts (post cards)

– Steps taken

– Future plans

Teaching jobs in Belmont: tougher (much) than getting into Harvard

As we all know only too well, the recession has wreaked havoc on Belmont’s budget – as it has for so many other towns in the Bay State…and the State budget, itself…and the Federal budget, too. But state-wide cutbacks that have hit school districts hard are making for a great hiring market for those schools that need to replace existing teaching positions or — can you imagine – are even creating new positions. At Winn Brook Elementary, for example, Principal Janet Carey wrote this week that she fielded around 700 applications for four open positions at that school to replace retiring staff or accomodate larger than expected classes: one first grade teacher, two, fourth grade teachers and an art teacher. That’s 175 applicants per position, or an acceptance rate of just over one half of one percent, on average. Compare that with Harvard University’s comparatively generous 7% acceptance rate (2,046 of 29,112 applicants) this year, and landing a teaching gig in Belmont looks like an episode of the Apprentice. (Yes: I know that I’m averaging across the four positions, but we don’t know whether they were all equally competitive – so the competition could have been even tougher for some jobs and less stringent for others.)

No surprise then that Winn Brook ended up with some excellent new hires: all four new teachers have undergraduate degrees from excellent colleges and universities (Bates, BC (for two new hires) and Stonehill College). Importantly: all four have (or will have by the time school starts) advanced degrees in fields related to teaching — Master’s degrees in Education, Art Education, Special Needs Education and Reading and Literacy. While I’m sure that districts across the state are being innundated with applications, also, the numbers here and the impressive backgrounds of the folks who were hired are a good sign that Belmont  Public Schools are continuing to attract top talent.

Proposed MBTA service cuts could hit Belmont

Just a note on an item on Will Brownsberger’s Web page about upcoming hearings the MBTA will hold to discuss possible service cuts as that agency looks to balance its books. The proposed reductions and services and the elimination of some bus routes could hit Belmont. Among the proposed cuts in services that would impact Belmont:

  • Elimination of the 78 bus to Arlmont
  • Elimination of the 72 bus along Huron Ave. (which at times operates as the 72/75 to Belmont Center)
  • Reducation of all  weekday evening bus service by 50%
  • Reducction of  all weekened bus service by 50%
  • Reduction of  midday weekday subway service by 50%
The 78 Bus Route could be eliminated

The 78 Bus Route could be eliminated

Will points out that the reductions in service would be in lieu of proposed 20 percent fare hikes for bus and rail service. The T will be holding hearings to discuss proposed fare hikes or service reductions in the area on the following dates and locations:

The 72 Bus route could be eliminated

The 72 Bus route could be eliminated

  • Monday, August 10 Gardner Auditorium-State House, 24 Beacon Street, Boston, 4:00-7:00 P.M.
  • Thursday, August 13, Somerville High School Auditorium, 81 Highland Ave., Somerville, 5:30-7:30 P.M.
  • Thursday, August 27, State Transportation Building 10 Park Plaza, Boston, 5:30-7:30 P.M.

Check out Will’s site for more options as well as a link to more info on the proposed cuts.