April 14, 2004

Successful Downtown Revitalization: Waltham’s Moody Street

Have you been to Moody Street in Waltham lately? The city's South Side main commercial street is a great example of revitalization done right, in a way that turned a once borderline-seedy neighborhood into a regional destination. People from throughout the area come there to park, stroll, eat at one of the many diverse restaurants and then walk to the cinema for a movie -- the theater is at the sidewalk with municipal lot parking around back. (Ever tried to walk to the Framingham multiplex from the Natick Mall? No, not a very pedestrian-possible experience).

I lived on Waltham's South Side, two blocks off Moody Street, in the early '80s. I loved it there, in part because it was so walkable; but the neat local restaurants and shops (anyone remember Grover Cronin department store?) were interspersed with biker bars and a porn book store, among other places you wouldn't necessarily want to spend a night out with the kids. For large stretches of the weekend, Moody Street was a ghost town.

Today, Moody Street has several blocks with all sorts of interesting restaurants, ethnic grocers and a few specialty stores. The old Grover Cronin now has retail on the first floor (including a nice-looking restaurant I've never been to yet) and upscale residences above, as well as attractive and wide sidewalks and a walking path along the Charles River. It is an extremely friendly pedestrian environment, with a buffer between strollers and traffic (on-street parking helps, as well as sidewalks wide enough so you don't feel jammed against the street), and parking lots behind the stores not fronting the main street so walkers see the shop windows and not the parking lots.

Commuters going to and from the nearby train station would want to stop and spend an evening.

But Moody Street hasn't gone totally yuppy; my favorite definitely non-upscale pizza place from more than 20 years ago is happily still there.

The Boston Globe's West edition has a piece on Moody Street today, talking about its ethnic markets.


  1. If it can happen to Moody Street (or, for that matter, Roslindale Square), why not downtown Framingham?

  2. Good question! Framingham has been talking about downtown revitalization at least as long as Waltham has.

    But they took action not only to bring in development, but a good mix of retail, and they created a very pedestrian-friendly streetscape. I haven't seen the design proposals for the mixed-use "Arcade" project yet, but it will be crucial to have that appealing mix of commercial/retail as well as an attractive, walker-friendly exterior and interior.