Stakeholder Assessment for Urban Redevelopment Conflict in Somerville, MA

CBI assesses stakeholder concerns about the redevelopment of Assembly Square in Somerville, MA, convenes key stakeholders to assess their readiness to mediate, and issues a conflict assessment outlining areas of agreement and disagreement.

Background and Challenges

Assembly Square, located in east Somerville, Massachusetts, is a 145-acre lot divided into several parcels. It is located within several miles of downtown Boston, and adjacent to local subway and commuter rail lines. Since the closure of a Ford Motors Assembly Plant in Assembly Square, business and community groups have fought over plans to redevelop the site with large retail stores.

The City of Somerville asked CBI to conduct an impartial stakeholder assessment of the issues surrounding the proposed development of Assembly Square. The Assembly Square Limited Partnership (ASLP), IKEA, and the Mystic View Task Force agreed to participate in the assessment and to help fund the effort.

The CBI Approach

CBI conducts a stakeholder assessment to identify areas of agreement; determines next steps; and convenes stakeholders to determine their readiness to mediate. 

CBI began its stakeholder assessment by conducting 46 confidential interviews. In the interviews, CBI staff asked stakeholders about:

  • their current perspective regarding the future of the site;
  • their long-term vision for the site; and,
  • the challenges, barriers, and opportunities to reaching a shared approach to development that might end litigation, provide certainty, and increase benefits to all parties.

The assessment’s purpose was to provide detailed analysis of the conflict, and to help determine whether a consensus building effort might meet stakeholder interests and have a reasonable chance of succeeding.

CBI’s assessment clarified the stakeholders’ main areas of agreement and disagreement. Even with the history of conflict, CBI’s assessment found that stakeholders generally agreed upon:
the long-term, mixed-use vision for the site;

  • the need for infrastructure development, especially the need for public transit (the Orange Line T stop);
  • the need for open space, park land, and pedestrian and bicycle friendly access to and within the site; and,
  • the understanding that it would take many years to realize the long-term vision.

In addition, CBI’s assessment found that stakeholders’ main disagreement concerned the best way of meeting short-term financial needs while still remaining consistent with a long-term, 30-year vision.

After completing its assessment, CBI identified six action items for the Assembly Square stakeholders, which included the need to:

  • Establish a problem solving process and promote a climate of mutual respect rather than criticism, recriminations, and mutual distrust.
  • Ensure funding strategies for public infrastructure development, especially public transit, as a key to the site’s long-term potential.

Results

CBI releases a final conflict assessment and determines that stakeholders are not ready to mediate. 

After concluding the assessment process, CBI released the final Assembly Square conflict assessment, which is now a public document. Though there appeared to be general agreement on the long-term vision for Assembly Square, stakeholders substantially disagreed about the best way of meeting short-term needs consistently with their long-term vision. CBI determined that mediation would not be a productive way to resolve the conflict at that time.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/ChrisDevers