Friday, July 19, 2024

A rendering of what Union Square could look like after a redesign to be decided in 2024. (Image: City of Somerville)

Initial plans for a “Union Square Plaza and Streetscape Redesign” project were released Wednesday by Mayor Katjana Ballantyne. The “25% Design Ideas & Vision Plan” is the project’s first major design milestone after around five years of public engagement, Ballantyne said.

The street-by-street strategy plan would add more than 1.3 acres of open space, doubling the amount of open space in that area from 0.56 acres, the press release said, and include mobility improvements, preparation for climate change and public amenities.

Some of those recommendations convert the Union Square Plaza parking lot into part of the renovated plaza, improving access to the MBTA green line station and bus service to and through Union Square, installing bike lanes, planting trees and more.

Union Square will be reestablished as the city’s cultural center after Union Square Plaza and Streetscape Redesign is completed, and the space will promote a “dynamic” and “inviting” area for community events and creative programs, officials said.

The project was proposed in a “Union Square Neighborhood Plan” that the city adopted in 2016. The city hired two teams in 2019 to take the project to the next step.

The city’s next step is to hire a technical consulting team to finish design and prepare for construction for a first phase that includes Prospect Street, Newton Street and Webster Avenue south of Newton. The advanced design work is expected to start “before the end of 2024”; there was no schedule for construction as of Wednesday.

Officials said the project was shaped by residents. A Community Design Team of 11 “well-networked” Union Square residents from 16 to 60-plus years old and speaking six languages did community engagement. They engaged residents “at the grocery store, in the plaza, through art and music and in focus groups. The resulting feedback is much more representative of who lives in Somerville and much more equitable,” said Luisa Oliveira, the city’s director of public space and urban forestry.

“We really showed up as a community to create a blueprint for plaza expansion and people-centered streets in Union Square,” Ballantyne said.