While construction crews gear up for Quincy Center’s mammoth redevelopment project, residents in neighborhoods outside the center say they do not want to be forgotten.
“It’s important for the city to give more attention to North Quincy and Wollaston, especially for the Asian part of the city,” said Betty Wong, a member of the city’s Asian American Civic Engagement Task Force.
“Having kids in Quincy and my parents in housing, and being a property owner, we do everything in Quincy, she said.
The task force was part of a six-week grass-roots process that recently drew 150 residents from teenagers to seniors to a “North Quincy/Wollaston Community Planning Meeting” to hear the results of an online planning exercise and put in their own two cents.
The results of the online exercise combined with a survey of meeting participants show that North Quincy and Wollaston residents value their strong transportation network and large number of local businesses, but believe that their area needs more cultural and entertainment options, more affordable housing and job opportunities, and more things for young people to do.
“Young people are looking for internships for careers and jobs,” said Holly St. Clair, director of data services for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
“They’re looking for more art and culture and somewhere they can hang out at night.”
Some residents also want to see more commercial rehabilitation and recommended that the city improve the aesthetics of its Hancock Street commercial spine with new sidewalks, trees, benches, landscaping, and building façade improvements.
Those conclusions were presented at the well-attended meeting at Quincy North High School held by two important regional groups — the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Chinatown-based Asian Community Development Corporation — in conjunction with local partners.
The meeting followed an online exercise designed by Emerson College’s Engagement Game Lab, which sent participants on missions designed to seek information specific to Quincy.
“It’s something cool about your neighborhood,” said Janelle Chan, executive director of Asian Community Development Corporation.
The game required participants to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and interact with the streetscape, pulling facts about the neighborhood.
While the exercise sends a participant off on a mission to find out about housing options, for example, it provides information about the city while gleaning some from the participant, as well (“what’s the safest spot in the neighborhood, a scary spot, your spending priorities?”) and enabling players to hear and learn from one another, Chan said.
The online game also addressed an enduring problem of grass-roots organizing: how to get young people involved.
“It validates their own voices,” Chan said. It teaches them that “I am a local expert, as well,” she said.
While the game drew mostly the young, the big community meeting drew from all age ranges.
Unlike most civic meetings dominated by older adults, about half the participants were under 30, and more than half were Asian, testifying to the organizing and bilingual resources of Chan’s agency.
Asians make up 24 percent of the city’s population, according to the last census, but the concentration is higher in North Quincy and Wollaston.
In her presentation to the meeting, St. Clair said the area has 385 businesses, including a large number of business services, 39 personal care salons, 34 restaurants, and more than 20 providing medical services and legal services.
Forty-six area businesses are Asian-owned, employing more than 200 workers.
The planning groups and the local task force also went on a fact-finding walking tour, called a “walkshop,” of the area to take a look at its locally owned businesses, housing stock, and services.
“It was great to plan for a neighborhood that had so many assets,” St. Clair said, pointing to the extensive housing stock, “industrial lofts close to Boston,” and “nice residential neighborhoods with good schools” on either side of Hancock Street.
The numbers also showed that the neighborhood has the right density for more “bike and walk” options such as designated biking lanes.
“The neighborhood scale is perfect for it,” she said.
St. Clair presented results from a survey of game participants and asked people at the meeting to key in their responses to the same choices on remote devices.
Both groups rated transportation availability as the area’s greatest strength. Both cited the need for more cultural and entertainment options, some citing the city’s so-far futile pursuit of a Wollaston Theatre revival.
Young game players also reported that racial prejudice in high schools remains an issue. The city could address that issue with “more public spaces where cross-cultural interchange” can occur to build connections among young people, St. Clair said.
Residents were enthusiastic about the planning process, but some asked what would happen next.
“That’s what I wonder,” said Wong.
She said she was looking forward to the next task force meeting.
Chan said what would happen next is up to the city.
The two regional agencies said the input from the meeting will be combined with the results of the game into a final report to be shared with Quincy’s mayor and planning officials at an upcoming conference.
Mayor Thomas Koch told residents at the start of the community meeting at the high school that their input would help shape the city’s development plan for the two business districts that share a half-mile stretch of Hancock Street.
“What we’re looking at is an overall economic development plan for the two business districts,” Koch spokesman Chris Walker said Wednesday.
“It’s important while we have this historic project in Quincy Center that we don’t leave the other business districts behind.”
Whatever the next steps are, St. Clair said, “we have to make sure they include the new Asian population that has been growing for three decades.”
Pointing to the businesses and jobs created by the city’s new residents over the last 30 years, she asked, “What would the area look like if they weren’t there?”