In the summer of 2013, I helped start a grassroots organization called Space Equals Work (aka SEW).
Somerville has been going through major changes lately: a new subway line in the works, rapidly rising rents and resulting displacement, and a major zoning overhaul among them. One of the upshots is that developers are looking to buy buildings to rehab and flip, or to just tear down and start fresh-and Somerville's industrial building stock is becoming a very hot commodity.
Industrial buildings have long provided affordable work space for artists, musicians, makers and small business owners-a group of people that add to the community in their own important ways. Artists, for instance, provide joy and celebration, and often thoughtfully address local concerns as well. Small businesses provide economic opportunity and self-sufficiency to residents.
Somerville is justifiably proud of how many artists and small businesses it has, but rising rents mean that the spaces these people need are becoming threatened. The group behind Space Equals Work began to see this as a major threat to our community as a whole-and, over coffee at Diesel Cafe, decided to try to change it.
Our first success story came in the fall of 2013. The city was looking to rezone a group of industrial buildings on Somerville Ave. as residential--buildings that are home to dozens of art and music studios, a renowned makerspace, and a dozen small businesses. SEW organized residents, ran a media campaign, and successfully convinced the city to drop the proposal.
Over the years, SEW has also successfully encouraged residents to write letters to city officials about the need for affordable work space; motivated residents to attend public meetings related to our core issue; and organized meetings of stakeholders to study and offer feedback on the city's new proposed zoning code. An off-shoot group called Smart Space (which I'm not part of) has been working on a proposal to create a new space for artists and small businesses.
We've gotten a lot of support from the community, which shows how important this issue really is.
SEW's website is currently down, but you can follow them on Facebook.
Greater Somerville talk show, hosted by KyAnn Anderson. Somerville MA: Somerville Cable Access Television. Aired Nov. 12, 2013.
Marcia Dick. "This week's 'Greater Somerville:' What's developing." Boston.com. Nov. 14, 2013.