Cam­bridge teams up with SU for hous­ing blight study

Dorchester Star - - Regional - Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ vic­to­ri­adorstar and on In­sta­gram @dorchester.star.

CAM­BRIDGE — The City of Cam­bridge and Sal­is­bury Univer­sity plan­ning and GIS de­part­ments will team up on Satur­day, Nov. 5, to pi­lot a hous­ing blight study us­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion which can even­tu­ally be down­loaded to tablets and cell phones through­out the com­mu­nity.

Ten stu­dents from Dr. Michael Scott’s geog­ra­phy classes and Dr. Amal Ali’s plan­ning classes at Sal­is­bury Univer­sity will vol­un­tar­ily work on a Satur­day to mea­sure risk vari­ables in res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods through­out Ward 3, which will be bro­ken up into five man­age­able sec­tions. All ob­ser­va­tions will be taken from the side­walks, and no in­for­ma­tion about spe­cific build­ings will be pub­lished or cap­tured.

“The point of this ef­fort isn’t to point a fin­ger at our in­di­vid­ual neigh­bors,” said Cam­bridge Eco­nomic and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment As­so­ciate di­rec­tor Bran­don Hes­son. “We want to col­lect this in­for­ma­tion as it re­lates to our en­tire city, and try to shape ini­tia­tives that will make a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact. So far, we’ve talked a lot about blight, not its causes or how it be­gins, and I think an even­tual city-wide data col­lec­tion ef­fort will help de­fine ‘blight’ and how to ac­tu­ally ad­dress it.”

The app was de­vel­oped by Ge­o­graphic In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems (GIS) and Plan­ning staff with some sup­port from the Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment divi­sion. Stu­dents will work in pairs to an­swer ques­tions about res­i­den­tial struc­tures through­out the five sec­tions. Ev­ery­thing from atrisk roofs to de­te­ri­o­rat­ing foun­da­tions and crum­bling side­walks will be scored and com­bined with his­tor­i­cal prop­erty value trends and va­cancy rates to cre­ate a score that can be mapped us­ing GIS tech­nol­ogy.

Ward 3 was se­lected be­cause of its den­sity and walk­a­bil­ity, which makes it pos­si­ble to com­plete in one day, but also be­cause some data of this neigh­bor­hood has been cap­tured in smaller area stud­ies by Dorchester County and Mor­gan State Univer­sity in its Pine Street Small Area Plan. While those stud­ies have dif­fer­ent goals or re­main in process, some of the data is sim­i­lar and will help prove the pi­lot’s ac­cu­racy.

“The goal is to take a more pre­ven­ta­tive ap­proach to blight re­duc­tion,” said plan­ning as­sis­tant Lasara Kinser. “Fix­ing blighted struc­tures and pre­vent­ing them will prob­a­bly re­quire two dif­fer­ent plans of ac­tion. We know where blight ex­ists, and it’s a pri­or­ity, but some­times it is dif­fi­cult to see all of the var­i­ous fac­tors sur­round­ing at-risk res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods, even when they are right in front of you.”

“We aren’t try­ing to map blight,” said Cam­bridge GIS co­or­di­na­tor Scott Shores. “We’re try­ing to de­ter­mine the cause of it. The app is de­signed to col­lect data about neigh­bor­hoods. At-risk roofs, de­te­ri­o­rat­ing foun­da­tions, crum­bling side­walks com­bined with his­toric prop­erty val­ues, va­cancy rates and other fac­tors will lend a hand in the fi­nal anal­y­sis.”

Hous­ing blight was se­lected as the se­cond most im­por­tant of the City Coun­cil’s goals in July. Strength­en­ing the city’s fi­nan­cial health and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment were rated first and third, re­spec­tively.

“We can make an ar­gu­ment that this pi­lot, and any re­sult­ing project, ad­dresses all three of those goals, which is what makes it unique,” Hes­son said. “It’s a blight study on its face, but it’s also a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort be­tween di­vi­sions to chart a path to mak­ing real im­pacts on prop­erty val­ues, owner-oc­cu­pied hous­ing and a more at­trac­tive set of de­mo­graph­ics to prospec­tive busi­nesses.”

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