Architecture & Building
Jamaica Plain is a former streetcar suburb on the western edge of Boston that developed largely around the turn of the last century with a large immigrant population, triple-decker housing and along a linear main street. In all those ways, it’s pretty similar to Rimmon Heights, one of Manchester’s few neighborhoods that developed along and because of a streetcar line.
While the Kelley Street streetcar stopped running in 1940, the MBTA Green Line “E” branch ran through Jamaica Plain for another 45 years before being “temporarily suspended” in 1985. Though this temporary suspension has become permanent, Jamaica Plain is much better served by bus than is Rimmon Heights, and a new development proposed at the end of the MBTA’s Orange Line and #39 bus line is a good example of the kind of mixed-use, transit-oriented development that could help re-urbanize and revitalize parts of Rimmon Heights and Notre Dame.
Arboretum Place, proposed by Jamaica Plain-based WCI Realty, will consist of two buildings with offices and commercial space above ground-floor retail built on currently underutilized, vacant land. The renderings of the project show an attractive design–contemporary, but informed and influenced by the form, massing, materials and patterns of existing buildings in the neighborhood. The buildings provide an urban edge to the sidewalk with strong corner entrances following the same urban and architectural patterns of traditional commercial buildings throughout New England. Another important similarity to traditional buildings is the pattern of fenestration–windows and doors–that appear as punched openings in the walls of the upper floors, and large, inviting expanses divided by solid posts at the ground-floor storefronts. The building isn’t pretending to be old, though, unlike some of the Disney-like stage sets built elsewhere recently; it is a playful balance of contemporary building methods and styles with traditional patterns, so that it fits in with its surroundings–both time and place.
Another important thing to note is that the retail anchor will be a Harvest Co-op Market grocery store, which already has another store in Jamaica Plain as well as Cambridge, with an additional store planned as part of another development in the Fenway. As the Manchester Food Co-op builds its membership and moves toward opening a grocery store in the city center, it’s interesting to think about how it, or another urban grocer, could perhaps one day be part of a new, mixed-use development on the West Side or elsewhere in the city. Grocery stores provide a lot of foot traffic to new developments, while serving a practical and vital need that is often unmet in urban neighborhoods, such as Rimmon Heights, in Manchester and throughout the United States.
Arboretum Place is a strong example of the sort of mixed-use development that could replace the blight created by the poor planning mistakes of the past, such as the Rite-Aid plaza on McGregor Street, and underutilized land throughout the city. Areas like McGregor Street have enormous potential of becoming great, urban neighborhood centers if they are redeveloped. Proper zoning, promotion by the City and more robust public transit–all things seen in Jamaica Plain–will give developers and community members the incentive to realize that potential.July 11, 2011
Planning & Urban Design
Transit & Infrastructure
Union Square Roadway & Streetscape Improvements (Somerville, Mass.)
Union Square is a busy intersection, secondary transit hub, and neighborhood center in Somerville, Mass. Currently, its layout heavily favors auto traffic at the expense of pedestrians. The result is a square that is more of an intersection, where many good buildings are overlooked because of the unfriendliness of those actually spending time there. In part because of an extension of the T’s Green Line light-rail/subway, the City of Somerville is working with residents and business groups to propose improvements to the square.
The Union Square Roadway & Streetscape Improvements plan calls for reducing the width of traffic lanes, widening sidewalks, reconnecting dead-ended streets, returning one-way streets to two-way, and improving pedestrian amenities. These sort of improvements could provide a good example for improvements of various scales at Granite Square, McGregor and Amory Streets, the Hollow, Corey Square, Queen City Ave, Massabesic and Valley Streets, South River Road in Bedford, and elsewhere.April 7, 2011