Winter Hill Design Charrette: Day 2

Day 2 of the Winter Hill design charrette was another beautiful fall day, with bright sunshine and mild temperatures. Our design team reviewed the public input we received on Monday, and created a “to-do” list of new drawings and study needs based on what we heard.

Small business planning and neighborhood economics were an important theme during the first half of the day. Our first stakeholder session was a “Small Business Roundtable”, led by City economic development specialist Max McCarthy. Max has been spending a great deal of time in Winter Hill collaborating with local merchants, and this session brought several business owners together to dig into the issues of storefront improvements, rents, walkability, branding and redevelopment.

At lunchtime, our economic team hosted a session titled “Focus on Food”. Members of the public dropped in to discuss all the various elements of the local food system, from full-service grocery stores to the Shape Up Somerville Mobile Market, which provides grocery-store quality fruits and vegetables at a fraction of the price. Consultants Ed Starkie and Glenn Kellogg (who opened an independent grocery store in downtown Rochester, NY earlier this year!) helped the group understand the economics of grocery stores.

Their research found that Winter Hill has demographic characteristics that are attractive to grocers. The major challenge is that potential investors use “service area” maps to illustrate where existing stores are. Since the eastern half of Winter Hill is technically within ½ mile of the East Somerville Stop & Shop, sites at the corner of Temple and Broadway are less attractive to potential new grocery tenants.  (Obviously, these formulas don’t account for the difficult walk across six lanes of traffic on McGrath Highway!). Interestingly, this type of analysis shows that sites further up Broadway toward Magoun Square would be far enough away from other full-service grocery stores that it could be very attractive. Ed and Glenn’s market report should be finished over the next couple of days, and we will link it here.

Our open studio really started to come to life in the afternoon. We painted our giant pumpkins and set them up along the sidewalk. The Somerville Arts Council brought their M.U.S.C.R.A.T. (“Multi-Use Somerville Community Roving Art Transport”) bus to the site and parked it on Broadway. It was a real conversation starter with folks on the street! We showed a documentary film on the bus called The Human Scale (the same film that brought 900 residents to the Somerville Theatre back in January 2014). And later in the afternoon, Somerville Neighborhood News offered video storytelling interviews on the bus. Special thanks to Rachel Strutt at the Somerville Arts Council and Erica Jones at Somerville Community Access Television!

A power outage occurred in Winter Hill during the late afternoon, causing concern that we might not be able to keep the studio open after sundown. Fortunately, power was restored after only about 15 minutes. In the meantime, we captured some film footage of the busy intersection of Broadway, Temple Street and Marshall Street. It was fascinating to see that when the traffic lights were out, drivers and pedestrians managed to figure out how to navigate this complicated intersection during rush hour traffic without major backups or screaming arguments. When the power was restored, we ran back outside to get more footage. With the traffic signals running again, cars immediately backed up in all directions as far as we could see. Footage is being linked to the website and should be up in another day or two.

Green space was the focus of afternoon and evening sessions. We spent an hour looking specifically at Foss Park, in a session led by City Parks Director Arn Franzen and landscape designer John Dempsey. John walked a group of residents through two quick scenarios for re-imagining Foss Park, with design elements that included better screening from Interstate 93 and McGrath Highway, better pedestrian connections across the park from Jaques Street to Blakely Avenue, playing field upgrades and even new elements like bandshell or concession/restroom facilities. The most ambitious idea was to restore the historic pond that was the centerpiece of the old “Broadway Park” until mid-century. Later, a session titled “Greening the Neighborhood” drew our largest crowd, and provided the opportunity to discuss small “pocket parks” scattered throughout Winter Hill, street tree planting and maintenance strategies, and stormwater management issues on private lots.

Stay tuned for another blog post about Day 3, focusing on the “Pin-Up Presentation”. We will post all of the ideas that were shared during that public presentation, along with an electronic voting and commenting system for everyone who couldn’t attend the meeting at the Healey School.

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