Lecture Notes

Ses # Topics Lecture Notes


Course Introduction: Main Street Sites and Issues

Urban Neighborhood Decline: Causes, Consequences,

This class discusses the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s (NTHP) Main Streets program model in more detail and introduces the class to the Boston Main Streets program and the districts that we will be studying. Directors of the two districts will be in class to present issues and goals.

The class also introduces the problems facing urban commercial districts, the causes and forces behind their decline, and it describes some of the economic and physical consequences of their decline.


Urban Design and Development: Ways of Seeing

Ways of seeing the built environment will be explored. How do we use maps, visual clues, and other kinds of information to gather information about a place? Techniques for “seeing” the city and using clues to evaluate environments will be discussed. Ways of seeing economic districts will also be presented.


Physical and Economic Tools

Preparation for Field Trip

This class will introduce several urban design and economic development tools. We will provide an overview of the built environment/architecture of neighborhood commercial districts and examine the changes that have occurred to these features during the 20th Century. We will examine the historic form of these districts, the unsympathetic alterations to them that have occurred in the last fifty years, and some of the efforts that are now being made to restore or complement these features.

In addition, we will discuss economic theories of how retail centers work and how they apply to downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. We also will discuss the role of niche specialization in business districts and how to identify and evaluate economic and retail niches.

The final part of the class will include a student review of the assignment due for today and a corresponding review of the plans and agenda for the Friday field trip. The class will discuss how to maximize the use of the trip to gather and store information.


Field trip to Client Main Street Districts

The class will attend an all-day field trip to Roslindale Village and Hyde/Jackson Square Main Street districts. In each district, the class will visit the Main Street office, take a walking tour, meet with selected stakeholders, and record first impressions. Time will be reserved in each district for the class to discuss first impressions and to prepare a preliminary list of issues, goals, and possible interventions.


Revitalization Strategies I and II

This class extends the discussion of urban commercial district decline to neighborhood centers and introduces several approaches to urban neighborhood revitalization. It describes the spatial temporal pattern of progressive downtown decline, introduces definitions and concepts of revitalization, and discusses revitalization strategies that encompass housing restoration, reinvestment and resident employment.

Student assignments to district teams will be made today.


Project Discussion and Planning

This class is devoted to reviewing what we have learned about each district and drafting plan outlines. Discussion will include key revitalization issues, potential elements of a revitalization plan, and framing project tasks for the next three weeks. Other themes to consider for this discussion include: how economic development and physical planning interrelate in each study area and which are the historic and current roles of racial, class and gender issues in the Districts.


Economic Planning Tools II: Retail Market Analysis and Economic Planning

Economic Planning Tools III: Asset and Capacity Assessment

Market Analysis is critical to evaluating the economic potential of business districts and identifying which specific retail and service businesses are most likely to be viable in a specific Main Streets district. We will use two market study reports, one for Hyde Park and one for Brattleboro, Vermont to review and assess market analysis approaches. This class will also review several frameworks for understanding and evaluating community assets and capacity and discuss how they can be applied to better understand the opportunities and constraints in each neighborhood.

Market and Capacity Analysis for Commercial District Planning (PDF)


Work Session: Existing Conditions Analysis

This class will give students an opportunity to work in teams to discuss progress on their existing conditions analysis, present questions and issues they are confronting, and to determine how they can organize and analyze the information they have collected.


Physical Design Tools II: Streetscape

Physical Design Tools III: Image and Neighborhood Form

This class will provide an overview of the public realm of Main Street commercial districts - its streets, sidewalks, and open spaces. It will discuss the different ways in which streets, sidewalks, and public amenities can enhance or detract from the public realm and introduce methods used to enhance streets for both pedestrians and automobiles. The class will look at streetscape modifications and other physical improvements as tools to develop enhancements to a neighborhood commercial district’s sense of place through the perception of neighborhood residents and shoppers.


Work Session



Work Session (cont.)



Presentation of Student Work

Each team will make a presentation on Phase I analysis findings. Presentations will include assessment of existing physical conditions, results of demographic and market analysis, and proposed elements of the revitalization plan. Students must also present a work plan and schedule for moving forward. Discussion is intended to assist the teams in codifying ideas, focusing on challenge areas, and moving toward project goals.


Work Session: Synthesis

Synthesis classes are meant as in-class working sessions. Feedback during previous presentation discussions will be used to move projects forward and prepare for the first presentation of assessments and preliminary agendas/proposals to the clients. Instructors will offer individual critiques and assistance throughout the class.

Team presentations to the clients should be scheduled for around this time. Presentations will most likely be held in the evenings in the districts. While it is not required to attend all presentations in both districts, it is encouraged that students attend at least one presentation in the other team’s district to be able to compare and contrast differing issues, planning solutions, and clients.


Work Session: Discussion/Reflection on Work to Date

This in-class working session will conclude with a focus on reflecting on the work done to date. Students will write in their project journals to answer a series of questions regarding their role and the role of team members in the project and communities in which they are working. The readings below are meant to guide the students in their reflection.

Late March and April

Class sessions in late March and April concentrate on the major policies and interventions available to advance revitalization visions. These represent potential plan elements and levers that need to be customized to the local vision, goals and conditions. Readings provide background on these interventions and examples of how communities have applied them. The purpose of each class is to explore how these interventions may apply to Roslindale Village and Hyde/Jackson Square and to develop specific ideas how to incorporate them into each District’s plan.


Policies and Interventions I: Safety and Sanitation

Perceptions on crime and deterioration are a major obstacle to revitalization for many urban commercial districts and providing a safe and clean environment is often a precondition for progress on other revitalization goals. This class reviews approaches that Main Street programs and Business Improvement Districts use to address crime issues and improve the district cleanliness.

Commercial District Safety and Sanitation (PDF)


Policies and Interventions II: Development

Policies and Interventions III: Design and Zoning Guidelines

In this class, we will focus on the role of real estate development, both new construction and rehabilitation of existing buildings, in bringing new economic activity to neighborhood Main Street districts. The Central Avenue Corridor Plan for Albany, New York and the Worcester, Massachusetts Arts District Master Plan will provide case studies for this discussion. Key topics will include the role of catalyst projects, overcoming development obstacles, the role of existing building owners, and the merits of new construction versus rehabilitation. This class will also discuss the role of transportation in neighborhood revitalization and approaches to strengthening and leveraging transportation assets for commercial activity and development through the application of transit-oriented development principles.

This class will also discuss the roll of zoning guidelines in shaping development and the reasons for creating design guidelines for a commercial district. We will use examples from the two Boston-area commercial revitalization plans. The class will also review the design guidelines for the Boston Main Streets districts.

Please note that there are quite a few readings for this session. Priority should be given to the first seven readings on the list below. The remaining four readings/reserve materials are supplemental and should be used as needed for your team work on creating overall development strategies and design and zoning frameworks for the districts.


Policies and Interventions II: Business Development, Retention, and Attraction

Policies and Interventions III: Marketing and Promotion

As the economic foundation and key customer destination for commercial districts, revitalization programs pay special attention to managing the mix and quality of business. These management efforts encompass two broad activities: (1) retaining and assisting existing businesses; and (2) attracting new enterprises. This class reviews approaches and issues related to achieving a desired mix of businesses and their relevance to Roslindale Village and Hyde/Jackson Square. The Grossman reading, in particular, poses questions about whether new approaches developed to expand markets for micro enterprises programs can be applied to business districts.

The class will also discuss the need for commercial centers to attract and sustain customer markets for their businesses and the overall district. We will look at the tools and approaches used to develop a district marketing image or position and to directly market the business districts to distinct customer groups.

District Revitalization Tools: Business Development and Marketing (PDF)


Work Session


Policies and Interventions VII: Organization and Capacity Building

Strong organizations and mechanisms to strengthen coordination among key commercial district stakeholders are critical to successful implementation of revitalization plans. This class will look at two formal commercial district coordination mechanisms, Central Retail Management and Business Improvement Districts. It will review experience with collaborations from broader community development practice as well, while also considering implementation. A second part of the class will review and critique the implementation components of the Albany Central Avenue Plan to help provide insight into what constitutes effective implementation planning and proposals.


Work Session (cont.)



Work Session: Plan Goals and Themes

This in-class working session will seek to clarify major concepts of the plans and prioritize ideas and goals for the districts. The teams will use class time to articulate key concepts that will guide the goals and objectives of the revitalization plans and to develop a draft framework for the plans.


Presentation of Plan Frameworks

Each team will have 20 minutes to present a summary of the overall concepts and goals/objectives of its revitalization plan. A written outline of the plan framework (as an outline for the revitalization plan report) will show key elements of the plan in draft detail. After the presentations, the class will discuss the revitalization plan concepts and outlines and offer feedback to enable teams to move forward.


Work Session: Synthesize Plan Elements

Working with the plan framework presented in the previous session, each team will begin to assign individual work and to develop elements of its plan during this working session.


Work Session: Review Plan Elements

This working session will incorporate table critiques and discussion with each team. The session will focus on a review of plan elements and will seek to identify links between elements of the plan, describe key findings, and illustrate key themes with clear and compelling graphics and text.


Draft Presentation of Plans

Each team will have 30 minutes to present the key elements and concepts of its revitalization plan. Discussion will offer feedback on presentation style, clarity and effectiveness of graphics, and content of draft recommendations.


Work Session: Finalize Plan and Presentation



Last Day of Class: Reflections Presentation of Revised Draft Plans

A discussion of the working process, areas of frustration, and lessons learned will seek to contribute to the students’ experience with reflective planning practice. The second half of the class will allow time for team presentations of the revised draft plans and feedback from the class and others.


Final Plan Report Due


Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2005
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Projects with Examples