New Brief: Political Lessons Learned from the Initial MBTA Communities Act Rollout

In partnership with the Initiative on Cities’ MetroBridge program and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), Urban-H Associate Director Katherine Levine Einstein and students enrolled in the Inequality in American Politics (CAS PO 519) course during the Fall 2023 semester recently published their findings concerning the implementation of the 2021 MBTA Communities Act (MBTA-C) in Arlington, Brookline, Milton, and Newton. This brief was first released at the Initiative on Cities event Zoning for Change: Insights from the MBTA Communities Act Implementation on March 4, 2024.

The MBTA-C requires municipalities served by MBTA’s transit systems to enact zoning changes for denser housing near transit stations. The MBTA-C required the adoption of zoning revisions by the end of 2023 in Arlington, Brookline, Milton, and Newton. The rezoning process and implementation by towns necessitate public debate — some with significant pushback by residents in the four cities and towns mentioned above. Students attended public hearings and town meetings, interviewed local officials and advocates on both sides of the debate, reviewed previous meetings and plans, and observed local online forums to analyze the implementation of zoning revisions by the four cities and towns — and results by the beginning of 2024.

This brief summarizes reports produced by Professor Einstein and BU students in the Inequality in American Politics course: Elizabeth Allen, Natalie Canter, Bailey Clark, Emily Henault, Alanna Hoffman, Andrew Howel, Julian Jimenez, Dhruv Kapadia, Ilana Keusch, Anika Mamoon, Kaya Manolt, Laurel Murphy, Elizabeth Reichman, Matthew Mijares, and Alice Scollins.

Key Findings: Recommendations Going Forward for the MBTA Communities Act

  1. Tailor organizing for the institutional structure of your community — including election timing.
  2. The loudest voices do not always represent the broader community.
  3. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.
  4. Much of the important organizing happens well in advance of the final vote.
Read the Full Brief