Monday, May 25, 2015

ESTHER HANIG: The New Executive Director of Union Square Main Streets talks about changing the face of Union Square

Esther Hanig

ESTHER HANIG: The New Executive Director of Union Square Main Streets talks about changing the face of Union Square

By Doug Holder

I met Esther Hanig, the new Executive Director of Union Square Main Streets at my usual comfortable perch at the Bloc11 CafĂ© in Union Square, Somerville. As head of Main Streets, Hanig will oversee the continued advocacy and promotion of the Union Square business district and neighborhood. The organization’s mission is to preserve the vibrancy of Union Square and promote dialogue between business owners, landlords and residents.

Although Hanig is from Cambridge, she told me she has a lot of friends in Somerville, and loves the vibe in the community. She also loves the diversity of the neighborhood, and hopes the Square will maintain its feel of a Jane Jacob’s- like urban village.

Hanig brings a wealth of experience to her new position. She was the deputy director of the Massachusetts Non-Profit Network, a member of the Central Square Advisory Committee in Cambridge, and Executive Director of the Allston Brighton Healthy Boston Coalition, and the list goes on.

When I asked Hanig about gentrification, and how she would help maintain “diversity,” when history has clearly shown that gentrification brings big rent increases, displacement of mom and pop and their stores, as well as low and moderate income tenants, and artists—the very people who created this vibe that has made it so attractive to developers, Hanig said, “There are no simple answers.” Hanig rattled off the standard talk of inclusionary zones, and other zoning to protect innovative venues like the Artisan's Asylum, and other  artist  enclaves that dot the Square. There was talk of tax incentives for landlords to keep the rents down for merchants, efforts for businesses to cross market and cross sell, and a strong effort to bring outsiders to the Square to shop, etc…

 According to Hanig, the new demographic in Union Square are the millennials, and to a great extent these new initiatives, this new “vision” will be geared to them in the form of hip new venues like Union Square Donuts, tony shops, cutting-edge eateries, etc…  with international cuisine, all this altering the face of the 'Ville.

Hanig talked about the upcoming FLUFF festival that Union Square Main Streets promotes, as well as SNAP, a program that helps folks on food stamps get more for their buck at the farmer’s market-- if this population even exists here in years to come.

Hanig is early in her tenure, and she is still in the seminal stages in the process of figuring out her game plan—a plan that many of us await with hope and not a little anxiety—here—in the—Paris of New England.

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