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A new plan for Mattapan imagines a safer, more vibrant neighborhood after decades of neglect

A view of the Mattapan Square business district in 2021. The economic hub is one of the target areas outlined in PLAN: Mattapan.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Imagine a Mattapan where residents no longer have to worry about displacement. A neighborhood where drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and MBTA riders can get from point A to point B efficiently and safely. And where a resident can obtain all their basic needs and material wants within a 10-minute walk.

Such a vision is encapsulated in PLAN: Mattapan, a 93-page report of zoning and urban planning suggestions prepared by the Boston Planning and Development Agency, that, if implemented, could improve housing, transportation, businesses, and open space in the neighborhood. The agency’s board is expected to vote on the report during its Thursday meeting.

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“This plan creates a path for a new community-driven vision for the neighborhood, one that benefits . . . those who have lived in the community for decades, and those new to the neighborhood,” Kenya Beaman, a BPDA community engagement manager for Mattapan, said in a statement.

If the plan is passed, Arthur Jemison, the city’s chief of planning added, the BPDA plans to lay out new zoning rules for the neighborhood within a year. Some other suggestions, like ones involving street safety, are already in effect, he said.

The city wouldn’t be required to adopt all of the suggestions outlined in the report. However, some community observers see the recommendations as a chance to change the trajectory of a neighborhood that’s undergone decades of neglect and disinvestment.

“So often, Mattapan residents felt like things were happening to them, and not for them,” said state Representative Russell Holmes, who represents parts of the neighborhood. With PLAN: Mattapan, he said, “we truly wanted to listen to what people who lived here wanted to have.”

The report is the latest in an effort by the city to craft hyperlocal zoning and planning recommendations to help revitalize a neighborhood. The initiative, started under former mayor Martin J. Walsh, developed recommendations for at least five other neighborhoods including Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and South Boston. The city is researching recommendations for Charlestown, Dorchester, downtown, East Boston, and Newmarket.

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Each plan is a part of Imagine Boston 2030, a citywide planning strategy to meet the needs of the area’s growing population.

PLAN: Mattapan focuses on a neighborhood where 68 percent of the residents are Black or African American, and more than one-third are foreign-born, according to the BPDA’s analysis of census data. It also has Boston’s largest Black homeownership rate.

Mattapan also faces challenges. Residents have $17,700 less in median household income than the average resident citywide. Thirty-nine percent of renters and one-third of homeowners are at a higher risk of displacement.

“Greater Mattapan didn’t get to where it is overnight,” said Fatima Ali-Salaam, chair of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council. “It’s a buildup of decades of neglect.”

The report outlines how to revitalize Mattapan Square, which many residents lament as a shell of its heyday decades ago. Developing multistory, mixed-use buildings as opposed to the square’s current one- or two-story structures would encourage more businesses to open and, in turn, allow more residents to access goods and services within a 10-minute walk.

Ben Echevarria, executive director of Mattapan Square Main Streets, said the report lays out a blueprint for how to revitalize an important city square.

“There really is no distinction between [Mattapan Square] and a lot of other places in Boston,” Echevarria said. “Having buildings built in specific ways, and maybe even specific colors can really give a neighborhood characteristics.”

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Among the suggestions for economic growth is the introduction of a local convenience zoning subdistrict, which some Boston neighborhoods already have. Such a designation motivates the creation of smaller, mom-and-pop businesses, rather than the corporations that currently dot Mattapan Square.

“You can’t say no to a national chain coming in, but there are things you can do to make it sort of a little bit less friendly,” Echevarria said.

PLAN: Mattapan also includes suggestions on tackling the housing crisis. The city should adopt an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) policy, which would allow property owners to build a detached residence on their lot. Proponents say the policy would raise the area’s housing supply, allow multigenerational families to live in one space, or give homeowners an extra stream of income by renting out the space.

If adopted, the BPDA estimates Mattapan could build around 750 additional dwelling units of 600 square feet each.

In addition, the report suggests expanding the neighborhood’s existing multifamily zoning into its major throughways along Cummins Highway, Morton Street, and River Street, and near the proposed Fairmount Station train stop at the edges of Mattapan and Hyde Park.

The plan also includes recommendations to improve transit in the neighborhood, and to incentivize alternative transportation methods. Among them are extending the Mattapan T Line into Readville, electrifying the Fairmount Line, and reducing transfers and wait times along bus routes 28, 29, 30, and 31. To encourage biking and walking, the report suggests adding a crossing that would connect Blue Hill Avenue to Mattapan Station and the Neponset Greenway, among other improvements.

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The report does not address what Holmes considers “the elephant in the room”: whether center-running bus lanes are a part of the neighborhood’s transit future.

In a neighborhood that’s largely car-dependent and where its many throughways make it susceptible to air pollution and urban heat islands, the report also recommends open space requirements for housing developments, adding tree canopies on streets, and implementing front yard setbacks for developments.

For Holmes, the BPDA’s approval of the report would mean another chance to hold the city accountable for its promise to invest in the neighborhood, another chance to bring change to Mattapan.

“I don’t want this to continue to sit,” Holmes said. “I’m ready for us to take it to the next step.”

Ali-Salaam agrees it might be in the neighborhood’s best interest to sign off on the report, to take advantage of what could be made available now.

The report represents a fixed time in the neighborhood’s development, she said, a framework to guide Mattapan through its “ebbs and flows.”

“Planning is a living, breathing process,” Ali-Salaam said. “And we have to allow the flexibility of change.”


Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at tiana.woodard@globe.com. Follow her @tianarochon.