The BRA director leaving City Hall to visit residents for a street-level view of a controversial project site? That’s virtually unheard of, but it just happened in Mission Hill as the agency continues its reforms as promised by Mayor Walsh.
The BRA has long been loathed and feared for its historic role in “urban renewal” demolitions and its latter-day secrecy. As a combo planning and economic development agency, it has some inherent problems with accountability that give us good cause for continued skepticism and perpetual vigilance on its actions.
But under Mayor Walsh and new Director Brian Golden, the BRA is undergoing audits and proceeding not only with some procedural reforms, but taking on a new attitude of public engagement and transparency.
Golden’s local visit to 45 Worthington is one passing example. More notable is the BRA’s current attempt to extend its urban renewal powers. The last time it did so, it shut out the public and orchestrated secret City Council meetings that led a court to fine the council for violating the state Open Meeting Law. But this time around, the new BRA is holding public meetings in neighborhoods to explain the urban renewal powers and request public support for them.
In addition, the BRA is undertaking several significant, new planning processes at the same time. Among them is the Avenue of the Arts design guidelines, to which public response has largely been a desire to expand their scope. That is a good sign, and that type of work reflects an agency with a new sense of energy and morale.
Of course, transparency and engagement mean little if the public does not actually impact the final outcomes. That remains to be seen. The BRA must regain community trust and earn it on every effort it undertakes. That is as it should be.
But for now, it is safe to say we are seeing a new era of the BRA, one with a healthier sense of respect for its own power and for the communities that it serves. We applaud Mayor Walsh’s and Director Golden’s efforts and look forward to seeing them progress.