Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Gentrification and the Green Line Extension, over 30 years of MBTA mishaps

Sexualizing Boston’s transit system may not be everyone’s first instinct, but a recent article by The Bunion ranking T lines by “fuckability” has put Boston University’s beloved green line at the top of the list. The sentiment isn’t completely absurd — most BU students would agree that after a rainy night out, seeing the Green Line approaching to take you back to campus does inspire thoughts like “Hubba hubba manwhore!”

Recently, the MBTA has given the Green Line even more opportunity to prove that it “gets you where you wanna be and leaves you satisfied.” On Monday, the Green Line Extension project was completed, extending the line to Somerville. The extension comes after decades of clamor for more T stops in the area. 

Years before college students were projecting their hookup culture escapades on public transport, in 1990, the state promised that the line would reach Tufts University in Medford. However, it took 32 years of delays and debates before the extension would officially be completed. 

The new stops are undoubtedly an environmental win, with the MBTA claiming the project will “significantly reduce vehicle emissions on the road.” What is more, residents of Somerville and Medford now have easy access to central Boston without the hassle of buses, transfers or cars. The increased transportation flow goes the other way as well.

Perhaps as Somerville and Medford become more accessible — and the undergraduate hordes of Commonwealth Avenue and Chestnut Hill realize there’s a world past Lechmere — the brownstone-saturated TikToks romanticizing Boston will include these areas in their praise as well. That sentiment is one thing from our pre-Ukraine invasion editorial that hasn’t changed.

Despite these victories of the expanded line, however, doubts remain. The introduction of a transit line has made these neighborhoods more profitable, attracting property managers and new investment. At the expense of traditionally low-income residents, these new players buy up large amounts of land, develop expensive housing projects and raise rent prices.

Smaran Ramidi / DFP Staff

The result? People like Vanessa Vela, a Somerville resident for the last 17 years, being told to vacate their homes so landlords can list their residences at significantly higher prices. The mass conversion of working-class residences to expensive condos that push vulnerable populations out of their home neighborhoods. Workplaces caught in mass development sites forced to relocate, leaving their economically vulnerable employees scrambling for jobs. 

Ironically, these are the very people who the extension was created to serve. A 2010 study found that lower-income communities and people of color would benefit “slightly more” from the project. 

But as the years passed and we traded Hannah Montana sightings for Instagram posts about Zendaya and Tom Holland ordering at Tatte, this demographic has changed. A 2021 equity analysis revealed that the Green Line Extension would “disproportionately benefit higher-income, white riders.”

In light of this, calls to extend the Green Line further and hopes for a T system to rival New York’s feel vaguely colonial — an encroachment on traditional territory by society’s most privileged. 

This isn’t to say the MBTA is some kind of Bostonian British Raj. The extension comes with undeniable benefits, and the problem of gentrification extends beyond BU’s beloved Green Line. 

Boston is ranked as the third-most gentrified city in the nation, with neighborhoods like Roxbury and Jamaica Plain susceptible to, or already victims of, the urban phenomenon. Even universities seem like nothing more than real estate agents with academic offshoots these days, whether that be Harvard and its controversial conquests in Allston or BU establishing dominion over the Kenmore area. 

For Somerville residents, the Green Line Extension has, over its 32 year development trajectory, brought these looming threats right to their doorstep. But despite being given the lifespan of your average millennial, Massachusetts has done little to address the consequences of gentrification the project poses. It is important that the introduction of new train stops to the area comes with increased affordable housing and rent regulation. 

The immigrants, blue-collar workers and middle-class families that make up Somerville are vital to Greater Boston’s dynamic culture, and deserve to know that the City’s development won’t happen at their expense. The sounding of alarm bells at what should have otherwise been a victorious opening of an extended Green Line is evidence enough of their vulnerable position. More than anything, the concerns reflect the growing pervasiveness of gentrification. 

In one year alone, median house prices for the month of January rose by 10.7%. As the City sets its sights on development, gentrification will overshadow its various projects — unless politicians follow through on promises of rent regulation and housing solutions.  

The prospect of Tufts being a few missed T stops away, Somerville’s art scene becoming more accessible and Boston transforming into an increasingly connected area is exciting. But in the process of improving the city, let’s not forget the diverse communities and longtime residents that make Greater Boston worth discovering. 



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One Comment

  1. I hate to be that guy, but the correct spelling of the city next to Cambridge is Somerville.