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Boston and the Main Street Program:<BR> Using the Roslindale Village Approach to Revitalize Neighborhood Commercial Centers City-Wide 

12-09-2015 17:35

Located in the southwestern part of Boston along Washington Street, an early stage route from Boston to Providence, Roslindale first developed as a farming community. In the mid-nineteenth century, the arrival of the railroad, the streetcar, and annexation to Boston stimulated suburban growth.

Following the construction of a regional parkway system, Roslindale Village blossomed from a quiet neighborhood center to a retail hub in the early twentieth century. With commercial buildings constructed from the late Victorian period into the 1940s, the village attracted shoppers from the surrounding Boston neighborhoods of Hyde Park, West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, as well as the nearby towns of Milton and Dedham.

The vitality of Roslindale Village ebbed following World War II. By the 1960s, outlying suburbs had drained many Boston neighborhoods of commercial life and, in 1968, the opening of the Dedham Mall signaled a decline for Roslindale Village that continued throughout the 1970s. Arson, high interest rates, and economic recession reinforced the change in shopping trends. By 1981, more than 20 fires had burned out remaining businesses such as a grocery store and a three-story department store. The center of the community was under-utilized and its economic prospects were grim.


Today Roslindale Village is a clean, active neighborhood commercial center with rehabilitated storefronts, low vacancies, increased parking, and a new commuter rail station. Revitalized Adams Park in the center of the Village hosts seasonal events including summer concerts, a farmers` market and a Christmas celebration.

The turn-around began in 1985 with the launching of a three-year Urban Demonstration Main Street Program. The planning period, the importance of cultivating partnerships, the establishment of effective dialogue, and the solicitation of local participation, as well as outside assistance, are all part of the lessons of Roslindale Village. From 1985 to 1988, Roslindale Village Main Street created 73 facade changes, 43 commercial building renovations, 29 net business gains and 132 net job gains totaling $5,141,200. The investment represented a three-way partnership between the City of Boston, the National Trust, and the local private sector.


Following the Roslindale Village model, a city-wide Main Street program was announced at the National Preservation Conference in October 1994 as a five-yearlong partnership led by the City of Boston and the National Trust`s National Main Street Center. In spring 1995 the program will select ten communities initially. By bringing in new communities every year, Boston Main Streets will ultimately involve up to 20 neighborhood commercial centers.

The difficulties and successes for Roslindale Main Street and the experience of the National Main Street Center in 1,000 programs nationwide will provide an important foundation for Boston Main Streets. Roslindale Village Main Street, now an independent local association, expressed the value of the outside technical knowledge it had received from the National Trust and the City of Boston. This assistance brought in marketing and management skills, such as those employed by shopping malls, and the architectural and design expertise to enhance historic buildings with storefronts and signs that can make commercial community centers unique from malls.

Roslindale participants emphasized that the educational and planning process provides a foundation, and that market analysis and an urban design plan encompassing the larger area are both essential. They stressed the importance of organization, coordination, and the time needed to lay good groundwork before obtaining visible results. Finally, they noted that ongoing success lies in a community-controlled, self-sufficient Main Street organization that includes businesses, residents, property owners and neighborhood institutions.


Based on the Roslindale and National Main Street Center experience, the plan for the Boston city-wide Main Street districts is divided into five stages:

1. Competition. Districts will be selected through a competitive application process. Emphasis will be placed on a district`s ability to bring together key participants.

2. Organization. The National Main Street Center and the City will work with each district for up to four years to create a strong neighborhood Main Street Association.

3. Start-up. In the early, catalyst stage of the neighborhood district revitalization effort, the new Main Street Association will hire an executive director and build economic development and urban design strategies.

4. Growth. This three- to five-year period will implement the plans and strategies of the start-up stage. Besides marketing and promotional activities, business recruiting, and physical improvement projects, this is when associations will develop organizational and fund-raising skills to sustain them into the future.

5. Management Each Main Street Association will chart a path for larger growth and development or to maintain what it has already achieved.


Reaching these ambitious goals will require close collaboration between the City, the National Trust`s Main Street Center, and a host of Boston-area organizations, agencies, businesses, and universities. Representatives of these public- and private-sector interests will serve as an umbrella Main Street Council, a working group charged with the task of identifying and coordinating resources to support the neighborhood Main Street programs and to strengthen Boston`s Main Streets.

Aside from what Roslindale Village has done for the economic and physical enhancement of its own community, it has provided a model for a revitalized neighborhood business district. This is one of my proudest achievements as a City Councilor. Now Boston is going to break new ground for urban commercial revitalization with the first city-wide Main Street initiative in the nation. As Mayor, I am very pleased to lead the Boston Main Streets program in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Publication Date: Spring 1995


Author(s):Thomas M. Menino

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