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MAPC’s Development Database: A Window to the Future

There is no doubt that Metro Boston real estate is on the rebound from the recession of the late ’00s.  From Downtown Boston to our smallest towns, cranes and carpenters are hard at work building the new homes and commercial spaces that signify a growing economy. Individual developments may be small or large, but their collective impact is sure to be substantial.

What’s less immediately obvious is how much development, as a whole, is under construction, where it’s happening, and what else is coming down the pipeline. Unfortunately, finding definitive answers to these questions is difficult, especially when growth is happening across more than 100 individual cities and towns. As Metro Boston’s land use planning agency, however, MAPC tracks development across the region and forecasts where new growth is likely to occur.

The Development Database: a Crowd-Sourced Tool

The Development Database (dd.mapc.org) is our ongoing, online, crowd-sourced inventory of nearly 3,000 (and counting) residential and commercial development projects in the Commonwealth. The website takes submissions from registered users on the who/what/when/where of land development. A map interface allows users to ‘pin’ their project and add details on the number of housing units, commercial area, project acreage, likely completion date, and more.

Serving as a track on real estate trends is one application of the dataset, but it also has larger implications for regional planning. MAPC is responsible for providing population and employment projections to support the transportation planning conducted by the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), and the Development Database is a key input to these projections for the new the long range transportation plan to 2040.

The Database’s Latest Update

Over the past four months, MAPC’s Data Services staff has completed a major update to the database. In October, we contacted all our member municipalities and neighboring Regional Planning Agencies (RPAs), provided them with information about known projects, and asked for updates and additions.  Extensive follow up, additional research, and a detailed staff review has created the most robust inventory to date. We have added 900 new records to the inventory and made substantial updates to hundreds of existing entries.

Even bad news can be good news when it comes to an accurate database: 170 existing records were reclassified as cancelled or stalled due to indefinite delays, withdrawn applications, or expired permits, giving some sense of the likelihood of completion for newer entries. Is it perfectly comprehensive and error free? Not yet, we’ll admit, but you can help. We encourage you to visit the site; register as a user; and make additions, corrections, or updates of your own.

The Shape of Things to Come

Overall, the database catalogues more than 120,000 housing units and 160 million square feet of commercial space anticipated to be developed in the next 25 years, with one in six projects being mixed use. The map below depicts the geographic distribution, size, and type of the inventoried upcoming projects around Eastern Massachusetts (this doesn’t include the 1,600 known development projects already completed.) Commercial projects are visibly concentrated at nodes of transportation access, while residential projects are more distributed throughout the area.

Approximately three quarters of the anticipated development is located in the Inner Core subregion. This subregion, which contains Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and other dense urban municipalities, has reported over 90,000 new housing units and 115 million new square feet of commercial development in the pipeline. The timing of projected development (in the table below) also shows that the Inner Core municipalities are actively planning for a pipeline of development extending over 25 years; whereas in most other subregions, municipalities know of many projects happening in the next five years, with little sense of what might happen after 2020.

 

# of Developments in… 2015-2020 After 2020 Housing Units Estimated Jobs
Metropolitan Area Planning Council
Inner Core Committee 362 393 90,200 286,900
Minuteman Advisory Council 73 5 2,500 4,600
MetroWest Regional Collaborative 66 4 3,200 17,200
North Suburban Planning Council 59 4 2,700 9,200
North Shore Task Force 58 2 1,900 3,100
South Shore Coalition 81 5 3,600 4,900
SouthWest Advisory Planning Committee 57 4 3,100 8,000
Three Rivers Interlocal Council 33 15 4,500 11,000
Subtotal for MAPC 789 432 111,700 344,900
Other Regional Planning Agencies in Boston MPO Modeling Region
Central Massachusetts Planning Commission 7 1 500 3,800
Merrimac Valley Planning Commission 8 400 100
Montachuset Regional Planning Commission 1 1 300 12,500
Northern Middlesex Area Council of Government 51 2,400 3,800
Old Colony Planning Council 44 1 5,400 8,000
Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District 17 500 9,900
Total for All RPAs in Eastern Massachusetts (164 Cities and Towns) 917 435 121,200 383,000

Another way to parse trends is with the classification for Community Types. These groupings are identified by their common land use and growth patterns and will face similar challenges in attracting and managing growth. In this case, the database shows that Regional Urban Centers, many of them former industrial hubs, contain the fewest number of projects. Reversing this trend will require a toolset to turn developer interest away from green fields and towards conservation and infill development.

# of Developments in… 2015-2020 After 2020 Housing Units Estimated Jobs
Inner Core 339 390 81,900 274,224
Regional Urban Centers 139 6 12,218 36,381
Maturing Suburbs 223 26 12,661 29,529
Developing Suburbs 216 13 14,413 42,885
Total (164 Cities and Towns) 917 435 121,200 383,000

Is it enough?  Or too much?

MAPC has also prepared population and employment projections for the region from 2010 out to the year 2040. Our Stronger Region scenario identifies a need to build 435,000 housing units in Metro Boston over that time period in order to accommodate our existing population and house the workers needed to grow the economy by approximately 178,000 jobs.

Are we on track to meet those goals?  If we include projects completed since 2010, the Database accounts for 161,000 housing units and space for 459,000 jobs over the 30-year forecast horizon. This suggests that we don’t have enough nearly housing in the pipeline (or haven’t documented it well enough); but that there may be an oversupply of commercial space in development. If those trends continue, we may not have enough housing to serve a growing workforce, and an abundance of commercial space may result in increased vacancies or cancelled projects.

What’s Next

Additions, corrections, or updates to the Database are always welcome.  Simply visit dd.mapc.org, create a user account, and start editing!

MAPC’s Data Services department is now gearing up for a major upgrade to the Development Database website itself, to allow for data downloads, summary reports, a comment feature, and more.  In the meantime, if you’d like a copy of the complete database, have questions, or would like to request a feature that we should prioritize, please contact Meghna Hari, MAPC Research Analyst, at mhari@mapc.org.

 

Tim Reardon, Assistant Director of Data Services

Stephen Houdlette, Data Analyst