Dedham celebrates publication of draft 2030 master plan
DEDHAM, MA – The city of Dedham celebrated the culmination of nearly two years of effort and its vision for the city’s future promise as authorities unveiled a draft of Design Dedham 2030, its master plan, during ‘a hybrid ceremony on Saturday. December 4.
Sarah MacDonald, selected board member, who also served as co-chair of the Blueprint Committee, thanked more than 40 people for attending the ceremony at Dedham Middle School, as well as members of the public who participated virtually via the Zoom platform.
“It’s a very, very exciting celebration for those of us who are on the committee,” she said, noting that this was one of the first “really hybrid” meetings organized by the city. “We are delighted to present our final recommendations to provide you with feedback and prioritization suggestions today. “
Making Dedham more connected and inclusive were two common themes discussed during the two hour forum. Ways to make the city more accessible for walkers and cyclists and to increase diversity in government participation and leadership were highlighted.
MacDonald added that inclusiveness was a key factor in writing the master plan as well as in the ceremony itself. Spanish translation and closed captions were available, and translations into other languages were offered in advance.
Co-chair and planning board member Jessica Porter said outreach to gather information for the draft master plan was extensive. More than 2,000 people contributed ideas for the master plan, whether through surveys or meetings.
“When we think of planning, there are a lot of big challenges ahead of us,” she said. “But I remain very optimistic because I saw the community’s commitment to make Dedham the best place it can be.”
While it was a celebration, Porter also called it “a starting point.” The publication of the draft master plan opens a 45-day comment period during which residents can provide feedback on their priorities for Dedham’s future.
The draft master plan analyzed the city’s current and projected needs from several perspectives for the next decade. They included public health and livability; natural, cultural and historical resources; land use and zoning; transport and connectivity; community facilities and services; housing and economic development.
Documents on each of these sections, as well as the summary and videos of this ceremony and other substantive sessions are available at the Massachusetts Area Planning Council link here. There are also numerous documents and videos to support the 22 Steering Committee meetings that have taken place to inform and engage residents.
MAPC Senior Planner Josh Fiala pointed out that while this is a celebration of almost two years of work, it is also the start of a larger process. He also noted the high level of engagement of the residents of Dedham in this endeavor.
MAPC worked with the committee to provide technical support. There will be a comment period until mid-January where residents can voice their ideas and priorities to be incorporated into the final version.
“We kicked off the first community meeting just as the world entered COVID protocols in April 2020,” he said, noting that more than 300 people attended this virtual workshop. At that point, a first community survey and a survey on the subject of the master plan were sent out, garnering over 1,850 responses between them. Three virtual forums on different aspects of the plan attracted over 300 responses.
“This is a map of the thoughts of the people of Dedham on the direction of the city,” Fiala continued. About 17 percent of households in Dedham have participated in the process to some extent, he noted.
Some of the “recurring core priorities” included inclusion and equity; accessibility on foot and by bicycle; habitability and quality of life; and aligned and effective policies. Dedham must also be financially responsible and committed to sustainability.
Public health was a key priority which has become more focused due to the pandemic.
“Social, environmental and behavioral factors are more important in determining the health of the community than health care and genetics combined,” said Fiala. The master plan hopes to build on the basic services already offered while better supporting emotional, mental and physical well-being.
The overhaul of the city’s zoning by-law was a major concern. Half of Dedham’s land is used for residences, while half of the developable land is concentrated in areas zoned for individual residences. This has led to a “more piecemeal approach” to development without a holistic view.
The master plan also showed that Providence Highway, although an economic engine, is seen as a barrier between the eastern and western halves of Dedham.
“This area could be transformed over the next 10 years, especially north of Rotary,” said Fiala.
The housing recommendations were aimed at making homes more affordable and designed to accommodate residents at all stages of their lives, whether looking for an affordable first home or looking for a smaller residence where older people can grow old in their homes.
One startling statistic the master plan showed was that 76% of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park. Yet awareness of this fact and residents’ connection to green spaces has been lacking. Part of the reason is that people tend to think of parks in terms of ball fields rather than more passive recreational opportunities.
Another key factor impacting travel, health and safety is the lack of sidewalks in Dedham. Forty-two percent of the streets in Dedham have no sidewalks on at least one side, making them difficult for walking and cycling.
“We have heard a lot about traffic and congestion as a major factor for the city,” Fiala said.
Ways to reduce traffic are increasing sidewalks for pedestrian and bicycle access, working from home, and better public transportation.
Survey participants noted Dedham’s investment in public buildings, such as the ECEC and the new public security building. What was requested was more transparency in the process. Residents wanted more equitable representation in city assembly as well as on boards and committees to ensure a variety of needs are considered.
Responses to the draft master plan can be submitted until mid-January via this link.