February 18, 2007

$2M Arts District Upgrade, Homeless Shelter Collide

Framingham isn't alone in wrestling with how social services fit in to hoped-for downtown revitalization. From the Denton (Tex.) Record-Chronicle:
"When city officials developed plans for an arts corridor along Hickory Street, they envisioned a pedestrian-friendly avenue with galleries, restaurants, music venues and public art.

"A homeless shelter wasn't in the picture.

"Meanwhile, Sons of Thunder Motorcycle Ministries was quietly housing the homeless in an East Hickory Street warehouse, in conflict with city zoning and code regulations. . . . 'A shelter wouldn't fit the image of a street dedicated to the arts, obviously,' City Council member Bob Montgomery said.

"Others say the shelter and arts corridor could coexist."

My belief is that while such services are possible within an upgraded business district, they're not necessarily ideal on the main retail/pedestrian thoroughfare -- and I'd say the same thing about medical offices, insurance offices, auto repair shops, and many other service businesses, regardless of their demographics. If you want to create a critical mass of appealing retail in a small business center, an area where people are willing to park once and walk to multiple destinations, you don't want to break up the streetscape with too many windows that don't entice people to window shop and walk in.

It's worthwhile to watch if and how other communities handle the issue of desired business-district overhaul vs. social service needs. Denton's plans for its "corridor" include nearly $2 million in improvements, the article says. The investments are "aimed at creating a more pedestrian-friendly corridor, with wider sidewalks, lighting, trash cans, benches, bike racks, trees and flowerpots." A new commuter rail station is likely for the area as well, which could draw more people to the avenue -- just as the commuter rail station in Framingham could, but doesn't, draw many more people to the downtown business district. Framingham's doesn't now mostly because there's no appealing streetscape between the rail station, parking and stores. That should be a major priority in any plans to revitalize downtown Framingham.

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