Through it all, Golden, as Director of the Boston Planning and Development Agency, led a planning process that recognized and responded to the critical demands of the climate crisis, while preserving the elements that make a city livable – parks and open spaces, and streetscapes that work.
But Boston Mayor Michelle Wu made it clear during her campaign and after her election victory that she has her own strong ideas about what the city’s planning operations should look like, and that the tail end of development doesn’t would certainly not move the planning dog. Last January, Wu launched the ‘Help Wanted’ sign for a cabinet-level planning chief who would ‘play a central role in reviewing structural reforms’ at the BPDA.
It’s no surprise, then, that Golden, who was named head of the BPDA by then-mayor Marty Walsh, took this as a cue to announce his impending exit on Thursday.
He takes his leave after spending eight years not only revamping the agency itself, but also leading the development planning effort in a coastal city, where sea level rise and flooding are not a merely theoretical; they are already there and must be recognized for the danger they represent.
During Golden’s tenure, the BPDA approved some 10,000 new low-income residential units. In a recent op-ed, Golden noted that this means about 27% of all rental housing in the city is now income-tested, among the highest of any U.S. city.
Yes, Golden has been good at his job, but he’s also the kind of outspoken, outspoken guy who’s highly valued in public service these days.
Of course, every mayor is entitled to a team of their choice – people who they truly believe reflect their vision, their priorities and have their trust. But there’s also something to be said — especially in a role that remains at the very heart of the city’s economic future — for someone who has the independence of thought and vision to push back when it’s time to push back.
The job as described by the Wu administration includes the ability “to advance reforms that ensure a planning-focused approach to development review.” Also leading plans for “zoning code reforms” – which can’t happen soon enough – and leading “public engagement initiatives to engage residents and community groups” in the planning process.
Frankly, if Golden had a leadership flaw, it was because he too often sought an elusive consensus that would never materialize. Roxbury Prep’s now aborted four-year battle to build a campus in Roslindale was such a failure of the BPDA. The school recently announced plans to build in the Newmarket area instead.
Leading the city planning and development process will always remain a delicate balancing act – that of marrying a dream cityscape with the art of the possible. Wu’s goal of “a more equitable, resilient, transit-supportive and affordable city” is admirable, but it must also include a fair rate of return for those willing to invest in this city’s future. Its planning chief will have to walk that tightrope — and, as one urban negotiator recently put it, “not kill the golden goose” across the city.
The mission is nothing less than securing Boston’s future – whether in skyscrapers or life science labs or housing that will keep its young families here and give them places to live. , work, play and gather.
No matter what new title Wu bestows, the mandate will remain what it always has been – to keep Boston going through good times and bad. Brian Golden has an excellent record in this area. His successor must too.
Editorials represent the opinions of the Editorial Board of The Boston Globe. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.