Meet Tom Skwierawski, the City’s New Chief of Planning and Community Development
October 25, 2022
REVERE, MA – Monday, October 17 marked Tom Skwierawski’s first day as the City of Revere’s new Chief of Planning and Community Development. Tom worked in the City of Fitchburg for the last eight years, where he was Executive Director of Community Development and Planning. During his tenure in Fitchburg, Skwierawski worked with city officials, Fitchburg State University, and other local organizations to revitalize the city’s struggling downtown.
Chief Skwierawski graduated from the College of Charleston with a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies and Political Science in 2008. Skwierawski continued his education at Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he received his Masters in Urban Planning, with concentrations in Housing and Neighborhood Development and International Planning.
“Tom’s experience and willingness to roll up his sleeves and get to work in our community has me excited about the upcoming opportunities in the Revere Department of Planning and Community Development,” said Mayor Brian Arrigo. “Right now we’re at a time in which affordable housing, climate change, and accessibility is at the forefront of discussion - and rightfully so. Tom’s experience in Fitchburg has prepared him adequately for this role, and we are incredibly lucky to have him in the City of Revere.”
Building on the work outlined in the Revere Master Plan, affordable housing, climate resiliency projects, small business support, and accessible city programs are Mayor Arrigo’s priorities for the Revere Department of Planning and Community Development. With the future of Suffolk Downs and impeding development opportunities, the mission of the Department of Planning & Development is to create an environment in the City of Revere that is conducive to retaining, growing and attracting businesses and residents, thereby strengthening and revitalizing our neighborhoods and stabilizing and transforming the physical, social, civic and economic environment of our community.
Currently Chief Skwierawski lives in Melrose with his wife Lauren and his three children Lucia, Camila, and Oscar. The Mayor’s Office recently sat down with Tom to discuss his priorities for the first 100 days, as well as lessons he’s bringing over to his new position.
QUESTION: What do you see as your priorities for the first 100 days as Chief?
SKWIERAWSKI: As a planner, one of my biggest pet peeves in the profession is when you have folks coming in from the outside who claim to have all the answers and tell you exactly what you need to do – in almost all cases they’re wrong. Although I live close by in Melrose and have some familiarity with Revere, I still have a lot to learn. I think my first 100 days is really going to be about working with my team, working with my colleagues in City Hall – and meeting folks in the private sector and non-profit groups to gain a better understanding of the lay of the land and what those local priorities actually are. At the same time, digging into a lot of the planning work that has taken place before me. My predecessor [Tech Leng] did a great job putting the Master Plan together and driving that community-wide process. It’s really about merging together the plans on the shelf with what people are saying on the ground and from there we can develop a strategic plan.
QUESTION: Are there other cities or projects across the country you take inspiration from?
SKWIERAWSKI: Being in Massachusetts, I have also been in Houston, Texas, before that I was in Charleston, South Carolina – I grew up in Milwaukee and I’m an avid traveler… I try to absorb it all and identify what works, what doesn’t.
I know Revere has this aspiration to become a destination city – and a destination beyond the summer, but one that extends year-round. In that respect, I think of other communities that are urban areas that have a beach right beside them – the critical component there is making things feel walkable, making things feel safe and green and a place where people aren’t just coming for the beach, but they’re moving upward to the city. In that area in particular it will be really important to create kind of a family-friendly atmosphere and a place where people feel safe to walk and grow.
With Suffolk Downs, and even looking ahead to upcoming development opportunities, looking at things like Assembly Row in Somerville and Arsenal Yards in Watertown is important because there were previous proposals for what was going to happen there – in Assembly Row, for example, there was a proposal to open an Ikea. The community really dug their heels in the sense that they knew they could have something better in their city. We have already broken ground in Suffolk Downs, but we have a several key sites where we can take time and be deliberate and figure out what we want to have there that fits with the surrounding neighborhoods and our community.
QUESTION: Are there certain policy areas you will be focused on during your time as Chief?
SKWIERAWSKI: At some point in time – probably not in my first 100 days – I would love to take a more holistic look at our zoning ordinance and see what improvements we can make to modernize that document - which has not been revised in quite some time. This was something I did in Fitchburg – we spent about 18 months doing a full-scale rezoning process. Usually this is what happens after the Master Plan, because you need to make sure your zoning falls in line with that. The affordable housing component, whether you’re looking at just how we can ensure affordability, but also how we can build more to meet the demand. I think for both of those things – zoning is a way to help support those priorities but it could also be a barrier to prevent it depending on how the law is written.
QUESTION: What lessons did you learn in Fitchburg that you will bring with you in this new position?
SKWIERAWSKI: Everything we did in Fitchburg was collaborative, so working beyond the walls of City Hall is something I definitely want to bring in my approach. It’s all about making decisions with the community. I think another important lesson learned is that with certain things like infrastructure – I oversaw in Fitchburg a two-way conversion of our downtown traffic system. At first it was something that no one thought was possible. Similarly with the rezoning process – we had a much more housing-forward approach. When I started five years prior no one thought we would be taking such an aggressive stance on housing. But I think in both cases, it’s really about taking your time and being deliberate in building your plan with the community. I just want to help us think about things in a different way.
QUESTION: What do you wish to know and learn about Revere? Do you have a favorite roast beef spot in Revere?
SKWIERAWSKI: It’s going to be the same approach that I said with the first 100 days… I will need to do more listening and learning – and I’m going to have to eat a lot more roast beef! There are a lot of great local restaurants I haven’t eaten at and a lot of great coffee I haven’t drank, and a lot more for me to explore past your typical outsider activities like visiting the beach and driving down Squire Road. Hopefully I’ll have a better answer for you soon but I’m excited to get started!