cities line the rim of the river’s basin.
They were built out at the end of the era when deepwater
access for shipping still mattered.
They were built out for industry.
Most of that industry has gone away, and, where the
cities thrive today, it is on modern-era profit centers.
Everett, East Boston, and the east sides of
And south Malden.
They are all one place, bound by common interests.
If this place had a name, it would be Mystic.
impression of the Mystic cities is of low income, dense housing, and
bygone industry. The
impression is unnecessarily negative and only half accurate.
“Dense” is no longer a bad word for urban planners.
prevents the sprawl that eats up open space.
It puts workers near workplaces and reduces commutes.
Density is green.
The Mystic cities’ dense housing is home to communities that may be
low-income but that offer a rich mix of first-generation immigrant
cultures. And the bygone
industry provides large sites for re-use with new and profitable
is the source of much of the new life of Mystic.
The airport only partially serves its own needs on-site.
It spins off demand for a variety of support facilities.
Cut-rate hotels have gone up on main arteries in East Boston,
Chelsea, and Somerville.
Rental car and park-and-fly lots take up large sites in East
Boston and Chelsea.
Air freight handlers occupy much of the modern industrial
space near the airport.
Air freight handlers need one-story buildings with long rows of
tailgate loading doors.
The air freight industry is vulnerable to spikes in fuel prices, as
occurred in 2008. But
rents and prices for air freight space historically have stood at
the peak of rates for industrial space anywhere in Greater Boston.
New England Produce Center
and the satellite buildings that surround it are west of the air
freight district, on the Chelsea/Everett line.
While the rest of
sleeps, the produce district comes alive, with three a.m. pickups of
the fruit and vegetables that go on display in Greater Boston’s food
stores later in the day.
Some of the produce center’s facilities are state-of-the-art, with
temperature controls and remote monitoring that allow operators to
bring produce to ripeness on a schedule that matches stores’ demand.
The Everett tank farms stretch west from the produce center
along the Mystic River to Route 99.
of the industrial district operates under a looser set of rules than
do suburban industrial parks.
It is built on man-made land that was created long before the
laws that forbid the filling of marshes came into being.
Some of the fill consists of contaminants like coal tar,
which to this day sometimes seeps to the surface.
The industrial district has no vegetation.
Everything is paved.
Roads have no curbs, and streets blend into parking lots.
Some of the businesses here operate out of trailers.
The King Arthur
Motel, scene of fatal
shootings, occupies a prime corner. The apparent lack of rules would
be seen in the suburbs as an impediment to high-value development.
Here, to judge by the usual real estate benchmarks of vacancy
rate, rent rate, and price, it seems to allow many businesses to
appraisers valuing property in the
River cities need an
awareness of the special market forces at work here more than at
other locations. The
seemingly derelict state of some properties can mask substantial
value. Land prices of
$30 per foot are common in the industrial district.
Land prices can range as high as $75 per foot or more for
fast food and branch bank sites with good traffic exposure.
Contamination and the status of soils are issues for a large
proportion of the district’s properties.
Appraisers typically value property as if “clean.”
But an awareness of contamination and of the costs of any
required cleanup can be important to an understanding of comparable
demand in Mystic is weak.
Good-quality office buildings in Chelsea,
East Somerville, and Malden
earn a level of rent that is at the low end of the suburban scale.
The Mystic River
cities are without a major mall.
Assembly Square in
is one that failed.
Shopping is more small-scale and less franchise-dominated than at
more affluent locations.
The Mystic cities make their living primarily from industry.
industry, the Mystic
River cities present some
of the area’s best development opportunities.
Large, old industrial sites that are visible from major roads
provide good locations for new, “big box” retail.
Large sites with water views are good locations for
A riverfront site near Assembly Square in Somerville, formerly the
home of the H.K. Porter plant and others, is scheduled for
redevelopment with high-density housing, shops, and an Ikea store.
New development at
Wellington, at an Orange Line stop of the T,
is just across the river.
One of the prime opportunities for retail development is the
stretch of Mystic
Avenue that abuts Route I-93 in Medford.
With access at a highway interchange at one end and with
exposure to 175,000 cars per day, its retail outlets tap only a
fraction of its potential.
Suffolk Downs in East Boston has the inside track for licensing as Greater
Boston’s only urban casino.
In a way
that it didn’t in 1973, when the Great Chelsea Fire leveled 18
industrial blocks, the
River cities have a
future. The American
manufacturing sector has been in long, slow decline for more than a
half century. It took
the Mystic River
cities with it. Their
future is in other things.
It is in an airport, in a produce center, in a highway, and
in the opportunities that come from abundant big sites by the side
of the river.