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fIn  an opinion piece in Commonwealth Magazine, “Bringing Nature Back into our Environment”, co-authored by Emily Norton, Newton City Councilor and Executive Director of the Charles River Watershed Association, and Reverend Vernon K. Walker, Program Manager of Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW), the authors assert four critical strategies to creating climate change resilience:

  • Restore tree canopy
  • Restore wetlands
  • Daylight buried streams
  • Install green infrastructure

I believe Northland, the developers proposing the Needham Street project in Newton Upper Falls, would agree.  That’s why their master plan for the project fully embraces not just one or two, but all four of those strategies:

  • Planting 700 new trees
  • Restoring the South Meadow Brook
  • Daylighting the historic South Meadow Brook waterfall
  • Using green infrastructure, such as bioretention basins, bioswales, rain gardens, and permeable materials to reduce storm runoff, improve stream water quality and harvest rainwater for irrigation

Councilor Norton and Reverend Walker correctly point out that “not only do these solutions offer protection, they offer the co-benefits of cleaner air, cleaner water, and the psychological benefits we all get from living in and around green space.”

The Needham Street project’s master plan sets a new standard with 40% open space and ten acres of publicly accessible, architecturally designed parks including:

  • One-acre Village Green
  • South Meadow Brook Park and Restoration
  • Mill Park and the Daylighting of the historic South Meadow Brook waterfall
  • Community Playground
  • Splash Park
  • Dog parks for large and small dogs
  • Mobility Hub with landscaped plaza

Northland further pushes the environmental standard for Newton development by employing Passive House construction techniques, adaptively reusing the historic Mill Building, and qualifying for both LEED for Neighborhood Development certification and LEED Gold Building standard.

Councilor Norton and Reverend Walker assert that “more impermeability means more flooding, more storm water pollution, and more heat island effect”.  In this case, it is the new development that cures the impermeability of the existing industrial site, improves storm water management to the great benefit of the Charles River, and vastly reduces the heat island impact on the adjacent neighborhoods.

The Newton Planning Department described Northland’s project as “visionary”.  Green Newton, an organization dedicated to creating an environment in better balance with the natural world, called it “transformative”.

Development sometimes gets painted with a broad brush, most famously by Joni Mitchell.  The conventional wisdom is that development reduces tree canopy, reduces open space, and increases impermeability.  What if it doesn’t?  What if the Needham Street project increases the tree canopy, increases open space, and restores permeability and storm water management – all without disturbing a single blade of grass?  It does.

Perhaps Green Newton said it best in its endorsement letter for the project: “Newton has a choice. We can establish ourselves as a leader in the movement to adapt cities and towns to the 21st century social and environmental exigencies, or we can decide to further entrench the existing problems that we face.  By approving the Northland development Newton will position itself as a green building leader.”

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