newtonville aerial

One argument that keeps coming up from Austin Street opponents it the issue of time. They say that we need more time to make sure this is the right deal for the city, or we need more time to see if there are other options.

This process has taken years, just since the point at which the city called the lot “surplus.” Never mind all the years of having the lot itself. The vetting is done, the arguments were had, this is the project in front of us. And personally, I’m not convinced that a secondary vetting process will yield a substantially better project. This is why I still believe that a vote of “No” is a vote in favor of the parking lot.

The photo above is from 1948, a few years before the Mass Pike cut through the city. At first look, it seems that very little has changed. Walnut Street has many of the same buildings, the railroad cuts a path right where the Pike is today and many of the houses look almost identical. (you can examine a much larger version here.)

But look again and you can start to see the increase in parking. Two buildings that sit at the corner of Austin Street and Walnut Street were removed, replaced by a parking lot. The Star Market that existed on the street front has moved back a block and now hangs over the Pike.

Look at the top middle of the frame, extending to the left. All those trees are gone, replaced with offices and parking. The Austin Street lot itself has grown, taking over plots of land on the northwestern edge and on the southwestern edge. Also, a grassy area that is immediately behind where the Rox Diner sits today has also been removed in favor of more parking.

Newton wasn’t alone in making these car-based decisions through the latter half of the 20th century, cities and suburbs around the country did the same. Now we have an opportunity to turn that tide and move to a more sustainable way of living. This project is just one piece of that.

But here’s the thing: the city has had at least 60 years to decide what to do with the Austin Street parking lot. It’s been a slab of asphalt for that long and, if this project gets voted down, will be a slap of asphalt for a lot longer.

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