Columnists :: Blast From The Past
May 17, 1980: R/UDAT Envisions Revitalized Business
Thursday Jun 16, 2011
When the South End News first hit the streets on February 15, 1980, gentrification was in full swing in the South End, but the swath of condominiums that blanket the neighborhood now had not yet arrived.
It was a time of change, and a time of meetings, plans and actions that shaped the neighborhood we know today.
In our day to day lives it can be difficult to remember where we came from, and what brought us here. Therefore, in "Blast From The Past," the South End News will revisit its beginnings by republishing old articles online - from development battles, to trash concerns to profiles of people who still live here and as well as those who are long gone.
We hope "Blast From The Past" is not just entertaining, but that it provides depth to our paper and our community.
R/UDAT Envisions Revitalized Business
Written by Patricia G. Buddenhagen
May 17, 1980 issue of the South End News (Vol. 1, No. 7)
Picture yourself browsing through antiques and ethnic food specialties at a street fair near the Boston Center for the Arts, or doing errands at a community shopping center on Washington Street. Trade parking hassles or weary feet for a convenient ride on the neighborhood minibus; return to South End/Lower Roxbury through one of five "gateways" that present a positive image of the community to residents and visitors alike. These are among the proposals made by the R/UDAT (Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team) that visited the South End/Lower Roxbury area over the weekend of May 9 to May 12.
After talking with residents, business people and city officials, after touring the area and assimilating data from earlier studies of the South End, the team identified a series of problems to be addressed in their planning. They found that the South End/Lower Roxbury community has a blurry but generally negative image, and that it is more a collection of neighborhoods than a community. The transportation system moves people in and out of the area fairly well, but poor internal circulation hurts local businesses. The principal barrier to business revitalization appears to be financing, particularly of mixed commercial/residential use buildings which represents most of the available commercial space. Residents spend substantial sums outside the South End/Lower Roxbury area in part because goods and services aren’t available within the community. Lack of security - real or perceived - deters business development.
Among social concerns identified by the team was the fact that despite the ethnic and economic diversity of the area, there isn’t much interaction between different groups. The planners also noted that gentrification is reaching a critical level. They said that, left unchecked, the displacement of lower income persons by upper income ones can cause psychological and social upheaval that render communities unstable.
Regarding the environment, the team said that the area contained an irreplaceable heritage of Victorian architecture and streetscapes but said that, even with the high level rehabilitation, there is a general tone of blight. Vacant buildings and the terrible condition of the streets, sidewalks, and signs on the major avenues attract vandalism, derelicts and trash.
Faced with these problems, the team developed six goals to guide their planning: provide a positive, coherent image for the area as a whole; stimulate business expansion and development; protect the area’s diversity as it grows; plan improvements to primarily benefit local residents; balance historic preservation with current economic and social needs and build on market forces and public projects already planned and underway to avoid new public expenditures.
To improve commercial activity in the South End/Lower Roxbury, the planners offered five principal proposals. The overriding design concept is the establishment of four focused "commercial nodes" since a population this size probably could not support continuous commercial activity strung out along the major thoroughfares. The designated areas - Frederick Douglass Square, the Boston Center for the Arts, Mass. Ave. at the Southwest Corridor, and Mass. Ave. at Washington Street - are centered around existing activity centers and transportation hubs.
Leading to the commercial nodes, the team saw five "gateways" to South End/Lower Roxbury to present positive faces to greater Boston and define the unique qualities of the community. The gateways are: Copley Place; Mass. Ave at the Southwest Corridor; Frederick Douglass Square; Dudley (Washington Street South); and Dover Station (Washington Street North).
To reinforce the gateways and the commercial nodes, the planners recommended that "special activity centers" be developed. Two prime areas suggested are the Boston Center for the Arts, which could hold sidewalk fairs of work by local artists and craftspeople that would attract outsiders as well as residents, and Frederick Douglass Square, a focal point of Black history and culture which could be enlarged and revitalized with housing and commercial facilities.
The planners identified Washington Street as the opportunity area in the South End/Lower Roxbury for new construction of community shopping centers - at West Concord, Rutland, and West Newtown Streets and/or Mass. Ave. and Northampton Street. They proposed that light trail transit replace the Orange Line. Perhaps the most striking idea presented by the planners is the "Big Top" concept, which calls for the retention of all or parts of the elevated structure over Washington Street after the Orange Line is relocated. At street level under the E1, there could be a linear market with stalls of low-priced merchandise like New York’s Orchard Street. The top of the structure could become a bikeway and jogging track.
To improve circulation within South End/Lower Roxbury, the team proposed a community transit system to include supplementary fixed route service, special late night service, local parcel delivery, and transit service for children, the elderly, and handicapped. Special design minibuses would advertise the system as they drove through the neighborhood.
Other recommendations made by the team include the establishment of aggressive, systematic programs to attack the crime and trash problems in the South End/Lower Roxbury area. At the hearing to present the R/UDAT findings, one team member said that if crime and trash were not reduced, the revitalization efforts would not succeed.
To implement the R/UDAT recommendations, the planners suggested that a merchants’ association be established which would spearhead commercial revitalization and assist individual businesses in seeking financial assistance for development. They also said that community information systems should be set up, as many residents are not aware of the goods and services that exist in the area.
During the community hearings, the planners expressed optimism about the commercial revitalization of the South End/Lower Roxbury. They said they were impressed with the results of public safety here, compared to other cities, and predicted a bright future. 1000 reports were printed and will be available at 48 Rutland Street. The R/UDAT steering committee will continue to meet to discuss the report and talk about ways of implementing R/UDAT’s recommendations