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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Somerville residents, civil employees convene at the city’s first Civic Day

Mayor Ballantyne promotes public engagement with Somerville city services.

somerville high school.jpeg
Somerville High School is pictured on May 1, 2023.

Somerville hosted its first-ever Civic Day on Sept. 30, where visitors were invited to learn about a variety of city-wide departments. In an interview with the Daily, Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne shared details about the city’s aspirations and priorities.

The event, which took place at Somerville High School, focused on introducing residents to the city’s government services and programs. Along with the mayor, the city’s Rat Czar and several councilors were also in attendance.

The number one comment that I’ve heard today is: I didn’t realize there were so many departments,” Ballantyne, who greeted visitors at the entrance, said.

At a wide range of information booths, guests were able to have one-on-one conversations with staffers. The event featured booths for the Community Preservation Committee, the Digital Bridge initiative, Community Outreach Help and Recovery, participatory budgeting, the Somerville city council, the treasury, the SomerViva Office of Immigrant Affairs, parks and recreation, racial and social justice, the 311 service center and public health nursing.

Employees at each table voiced a recurring concern: Many residents are unaware of the breadth of services their departments provide.

The Participatory Budget program gives residents as young as age 12 the opportunity to vote on Somerville projects.

“Our primary goal is to get many people involved and excited about [our] projects and feel ownership over them,” a staffer for the Participatory Budget explained. 

The Digital Bridge initiative is committed to providing internet connectivity for everyone in the city, and envisions Somerville to host 100% internet connectivity amongst residents. Not only does the initiative connect residents with federal discounts for their Wi-Fi costs, but also works with the city to provide internet connectivity in public spaces, including parks and buildings.

The Community Preservation Committee held a poll at Civic Day as to which project should receive more funding. More affordable housing had a significant majority over historic preservation or open space preservation.

Housing shortages and higher rental prices have hit Somerville particularly hard with some neighborhoods facing some of the largest increases in the Greater Boston area. In her plan, Ballantyne will try to flatten residential taxes with a “mixed-use development concept,” which combines retail offices and housing into multi-purpose buildings. 

As Somerville’s real estate taxes have increasingly come from commercial rather than residential sources, this greater revenue stream has enabled the city government to build Somerville High School and open three new offices: the Office of Housing Stability, the SomerViva Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Department of Racial and Social Justice.

The Office of Housing Stability works to prevent residents from eviction and rehousing the homeless. SomerViva provides services for non-native English speaking residents by providing translators to connect them with adequate legal help, housing options and more. The Department of Racial and Social Justice prioritizes eliminating racial inequities, social disparities and injustices.

Ballantyne reflected on the opportunities offered at Somerville’s first Civic Day event.

“I thought it would be a good idea to have a Civic Day so people in the neighborhood could meet the city departments and ask them one-on-one questions,” Ballantyne said. “Not behind an email or something, but you actually are meeting the people and trying to puzzle through whatever questions [there are], and maybe you [get to] learn something.”