Monday, February 25, 2008

Malden Mondays: Downtown Redevelopment

Today's Malden Mondays entry comes to you at the 11th hour, but for good reason. Tonight's topic is Malden's plan for the redevelopment of the downtown area, and tonight there was a meeting at city hall to discuss just that. So I come to you with news.

This is, as you can imagine, a huge topic, so you can expect me to post on it again in the future. A quick summary: Malden center used to be pretty hopping, but with urban flight in the 70s and the fact that most people don't want to leave their cars, the pedestrian shopping center model just isn't working anymore. They're having the same problem all over the place, including Downtown Crossing in Boston (don't believe the hype). So the problems, as I see them, are
  • aging infrastructure
  • unattractive streetscaping
  • not parking-friendly
  • not particularly pedestrian-friendly either
  • no "anchor" stores that will bring in shoppers
    • such as a Gap or Kohls to bring people into the area, with the idea that they'd then shop around in the other stores
  • not enough mixed-use spaces
    • stores and shops on the first floor, living spaces on the floor(s) above
      • this increases population density in the downtown area.
        • helps create nightlife as well
  • too many public service offices
    • need greater variety in the types of restaurants and stores
  • the location of City Hall is problematic
    • it cuts off Malden Center from the T stop and doesn't allow for thru-traffic
The meeting tonight was held by the mayor, the Redevelopment Authority, and the Ward 4 councillor (Malden Center is in Ward 4). They laid out the blueprint that they're using to direct the development of downtown--which importantly confirms that they do in fact have a plan (many folks have doubted this). There are 4 "pillars" to the redevlopment plan (if I remember them correctly):
  • foster the arts
  • build new residential spaces in the downtown area
  • recruit new businesses
  • streetscaping and urban planning
So the interesting thing about Malden's planning process here is that they are systematically soliciting public input. This is something that I studied in some depth in college--local understandings of place and how those can be challenged by these types of development meta-plans.

Of course, the common term for this is gentrification (a word I didn't hear anyone use tonight). Do those of us who live in Malden think of ourselves as the kind of city that has a women's clothing boutique? Are we perfectly happy not to have one? If having a women's clothing boutique goes hand-in-hand with/causes/is the result of an "upscaling" of the city, where does Joe Smith, resident of Malden for the past 25 years, fit into the "new" city? Will his property taxes go up, and will he have to move because of that? Does the needs of the economically viable city outweigh the needs and desires of its residents?

The public meetings and visioning workshops that Malden is holding are an attempt to build concensus, which is great. I'm just worried that we haven't been drawing a true representation of Malden's population. Let's just say that the folks at these meetings don't look like the people in my neighborhood. My neighbors are Hatian, Chinese and Latino. Many don't speak or understand enough English to go to one of these meetings. What about their input? Are these people envisioned in Malden's future?


John Brownlee said...

"Do those of us who live in Malden think of ourselves as the kind of city that has a women's clothing boutique?"

Sure we do. It's called Sparks and it's a Malden institution.

Stacey said...

I think you're using the term boutique a bit too widely.

Stacey said...

@ John: ;-)

John Brownlee said...

Hey Stacey, where is this week's Malden Mondays, dammit?