By Jessie Miller
By Jessie Miller
I am a member of the Outreach Committee of the USGBC MA Chapter and we strive to highlight great people who are doing great work in the green building community and beyond. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of chatting with Marie Mercurio, Senior Planner with the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Marie is a co-author of Article 89, the progressive and game changing zoning article that helped to create urban agriculture opportunities in Boston. To this day, Marie continues to facilitate urban agriculture activities around the city since the Article's adoption in 2013.
At the heart of Article 89, the regulation intends to “breakdown the barriers and the obstacles to grow food locally.” Before its inception, urban farming was challenging and “everything had to go to the zoning board of appeal.” A combination of foodie entrepreneurs, individuals, and other groups worked with the BRA and city organizations to help redefine citywide zoning and after three years of testing pilot farms, planning, and negotiating Article 89 came into existence. What does this mean for you and me? Thanks to Marie and her team’s work, “all ground level farming up to one acre is allowed as a by-right”, meaning that we can now grow food on up to one acre of ground level land in Boston without any required negotiations with the zoning board of appeal.
Marie has been at the forefront of helping cities, individuals, and organizations navigate and understand Article 89, both in its current state and its ability to be leveraged to help expand urban agriculture in new directions. When we sat down, she jumped in and told me about her day spent with Cambridge city planners and how she guided them through the ins and outs of Article 89’s development and implementation: “People know what we have done [in Boston] and so they are looking to do a similar type of regulation for urban agriculture and farming.”
Marie also takes Article 89 one step further by helping people use it as a foundation to pursue other agricultural interests, such as animals in the urban setting: “the nice thing now is they have the backing of Article 89.” She smiles as she talks about her hands on approach with Boston citizens to help them understand the potential of urban agriculture in Boston. She continues to stay involved with practitioners and farmers to develop and manage Article 89’s implementation in Boston.
Where does Marie see urban agriculture heading? Since January 2015, there have been several farms designated under Article 89 and two so far have been stamped for approval by the BRA for Comprehensive Farm Review, a design review process they created through Article 89 ensuring farms would make a good neighbor. She acknowledges there are more growth opportunities for Article 89, particularly with freight farming. She is keeping an eye on how rooftops evolve to support urban agriculture as well as interesting technological advancements in the urban agriculture field, specifically hydroponics in rooftop greenhouses, such as described in this Ted Talk by Mohamed Hage.
On the other hand, Marie works to ensure continued public involvement for the backbone of Article 89, ground level farming. The regulation was influenced by a groundswell of public support and Marie recognizes that varied interests and programming, such as youth involvement and other similar initiatives, are key to Article 89’s success.
While Marie does not have a green thumb herself, she is at the forefront of helping Article 89 evolve in Boston and beyond. She purposefully “inserted [herself] into this project” because she knew this was her calling. City planning has been Marie’s expertise for a number of years. Her first job out of planning school being in rural Alaska where she was the Village Planner for 20 Eskimo villages, traveling to community meetings by bush planes. Marie glows when she talks about how she knows that she is “amongst kindred spirits” when she helps other cities plan for their own Article 89s and as they “head in our direction.”
If you know of someone who should be featured like Marie, please email [email protected]