The leaves may be changing color, but Medford is turning a little greener, thanks to Alicia Hunt, Director of Planning, Development, and Sustainability for the City of Medford. We spoke with Alicia to learn more about the environmental initiatives she and her team are bringing to Medford and what she loves about living here.
We always kick off with the question: If you're originally from Medford, tell us where you grew up. And if you grew up elsewhere, what brought you here?
I grew up in New York, moved to the Boston area for college, and then kept working here after graduating. In the early 2000s, I was looking for a community that was affordable, close to my job, and would be a good place to live. Medford met all the criteria, and I've been living in Fulton Heights for nearly 20 years.
What do you love about your Medford neighborhood?
When people think of The Heights, they tend to think of the Fells, but the Fulton Heights neighborhood is a great place to walk around all on its own. There are many winding roads and attractive homes and gardens to enjoy on your way to People's Food Mart, Jim's Market, or Wright's Pond. My block is particularly wonderful because it's wide open, and the kids can play on the street. My neighbors put a basketball hoop in front of their house, and it's become a community gathering place for kids and adults alike.
Tell us about your role as Director of Planning, Development, and Sustainability. What led you to take on that role?
I love what I'm doing now. About 14 years ago, after a long career at MIT in IT and then in Residential Life, I wanted to shift careers into sustainability and began working in home energy efficiency and education. In 2010, the City of Medford had an opening for a part-time energy efficiency coordinator. It was part-time, allowing me to be with my young children, get into municipal energy work, and start making a real difference for the community and making the City a greener place to live. Eventually I became the Director of Energy & Environment and started collaborating with the City Engineer and Health Department on climate initiatives.
In 2020, Mayor Lungo-Koehn realized I had multiple degrees in City Planning and asked if I would help her implement her vision of bringing a broader sustainability lens to everything the City does, by expanding the scope of the Office of Community Development into a robust Planning Department. Together we created the Office of Planning, Development and Sustainability which encompasses the work of both of those offices and brought in new staff to work on affordable housing and economic development as well climate change, zoning and land use. It’s been amazing to be a part of growing this division and serving the community in so many ways - and our Go Green website is a great hub to learn more about it.
What are some of the initiatives that you're doing by looking through that lens?
The pandemic certainly shifted priorities and required us to think about what the business community needed immediately. It turns out that outdoor dining is very environmentally friendly, and we worked with restaurants to make that a reality as soon as possible. We also wanted to encourage residents to enjoy public and open spaces, which led to the Shared Streets Program. You've probably seen signs asking drivers to prioritize walking and biking so residents can enjoy these areas more.
Real estate development is also high on the agenda, especially in developing commercial space. For instance, there's a lot of interest in developing the Wellington area and putting some life science buildings there. Our current zoning limits industrial buildings to only two stories. Life science or high-tech businesses need at least six stories to be cost-effective. Bringing that industry to Medford means local jobs, shorter commutes, and positive economic and environmental impact, we’re looking at how and where to change zoning, to attract industries like these to Medford.
People want to come in and build big new buildings, and the City wants that done thoughtfully to support the local economy and the environment. When we meet with developers, we ask them how many jobs will be created; both in building the structures and the businesses that will occupy them. We discuss walking and bicycle access, how much energy the building will use, and whether solar panels will be installed. Finally, we ask what kind of open spaces developers will provide for the community.
We also support existing businesses in finding ways to be greener. Many small businesses coming our way are greener, like Trove Green Provisions, which offers eco-friendly cleaning products, a refilling bar, and a recycling center. While we help all businesses equally, giving a helping hand to business owners is a way to support your local community, which is in and of itself an environmentally friendly approach.
Finally - and I know this is a hot topic for residents - we are partnering with DPW to examine how we address the city’s garbage, recycling, and composting services. The last time we negotiated our contract with Waste Management was in 2010, and it's a whole new world now. We have a community task force of residents devoted to this initiative, which I'm co-leading with DPW Commissioner Tim McGivern. By September, we will be surveying residents and businesses about trash collection, recycling, and composting to determine what's working and what isn't. Together we're looking to make this an excellent product for the community, residents, and the planet.
Yes, let's talk about the composting element for a bit. I've seen compost bins throughout Medford, and like many of our readers, I'm curious to know more about that.
Thanks to our partnership with the Health Department, we've already introduced commercial composting in the community. It costs $100 a year out-of-pocket to residents, but it's a weekly pickup, and the compost bin locks to keep critters out. In short, kitchen-generated waste goes into the compost bins – food waste, paper products like paper towels, and tissues. Having that weekly compost pickup holds the potential to move trash pickup to every other week, freeing up funding to potentially pay for weekly recycling pickups.
Blue bikes have been top of mind for the community as well. What can you share about that program?
The Blue Bikes bike-sharing program is on its way to Medford. One of the rules of Blue Bikes is that stations need to be within a quarter of a mile from one another, so we are working our way in from neighboring towns. Right now, there is a Blue Bike station at the Wellington MBTA station. This fall, there will be three additional stations: Tufts Square; Brooks Park, near the intersection of Main and George Streets; and in Medford Square, across from Riverside Plaza. As a complement to Blue Bikes, we've been building out the bike lane system across Medford, most notably by Tufts University on College Avenue and the upcoming bike lane going up Winthrop Street out to Winchester.
You mentioned earlier about encouraging Medford residents to enjoy open spaces. What can you tell us what's happening behind the Andrews Middle School at Riverbend Park?
We are putting the final details on the meditative labyrinth in Riverbend Park, which should be open to the public early this fall. There are three paths for visitors to enjoy on foot that are wheelchair accessible, and the labyrinth is decorated with river stones and greenery that complement the existing landscape. The final touches we are waiting on include a breathtaking outdoor poetry display. People are going to love it!
Finally, we'll wrap up with our standard final question: if your best friend told you they were considering a move to Medford, what would you tell them?
What's great about Medford is that there's something for everyone, no matter their stage of life. We have loads of outdoor space for single people to enjoy, and we're so accessible to Boston and surrounding towns. And, of course, anyone in the throes of parenthood needs to know about the Medford Family Network, which will be your lifeline in the early years and your community as your kids grow older. When I was a young mom with three little kids, and between jobs, they were a lifesaver! Marie Cassidy is a great partner, and together, we've been renovating parks and creating events programs that encourage people to use the parks all the time. Medford is a great community for the empty nester crowd too. There's always an event or opportunity to interact in the community, so I encourage folks to sign up for the City of Medford's robocalls or email updates to learn about what's happening locally. You'd be surprised at all there is to offer!
We touched on many of the highlights of The Office of Planning, Development, and Sustainability, but Alicia and her team truly offer so much more to the community! The office has specialists to field questions about Sustainability, Housing, Economic Development, Land Use, Zoning, and Environment/Conservation. If you have a burning question about any of these issues, feel free to email the office at email@example.com, and a specialist will be in touch to answer your questions and concerns.
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