Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 1.5 hours / session

Work Sessions: 1 session / week, 2.5 hours / session

Course Description and Objectives

Revitalizing Urban Main Streets focuses on the physical and economic renewal of urban neighborhood Main Streets by combining classroom work with an applied class project. The course content covers three broad areas:

  1. an overview of the causes for urban business district decline, the challenges faced in revitalization, and the type of revitalization strategies employed;
  2. the physical and economic development planning tools used to understand and assess urban Main Streets from physical design and economic development perspectives; and
  3. the policies, interventions, and investments used to foster urban commercial revitalization.

The course has dual goals: to explore the integration of economic and physical development interventions in ways that reinforce commercial district revitalization efforts and to apply this knowledge through the development of a formal neighborhood commercial revitalization plan for a client business district.

Overview of the Client and Project Focus

The spring 2005 class will work with the City of Boston’s Main Streets Program and Main Streets Partnerships to formulate plans for two Boston neighborhood Main Streets: Hyde/Jackson Square and Roslindale Village (pending sufficient enrollment to undertake two projects). The Hyde/Jackson Square district is the northern Centre Street corridor in Jamaica Plain. Roslindale Village is located approximately one mile south of the Forest Hills T-Station. The district extends along Washington Street and Belgrade Avenue and includes surrounding streets.

The Boston Main Streets Program designates neighborhood Main Streets districts and provides funding and technical assistance to help these districts create healthy and sustainable commercial areas. Each designated neighborhood district has established a separate 501(c)(3) corporation to implement its Main Streets program and has funding for one full time staff person. Main Streets districts work under a framework developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Center that organizes work into four interrelated activities, each overseen by a volunteer committee:

  • Design: addressing the district’s physical design needs, such as façade improvement;
  • Promotion: marketing the district to attract more customers;
  • Economic Restructuring: identifying and attracting new and viable economic uses; and
  • Organization: addressing organizational issues such as governance, fund-raising, and volunteer recruitment within the district.

Class Project

The class project will consist of a three-stage process:

  1. baseline/existing conditions analysis leading to a proposed improvement agenda confirmed with the client;
  2. detailed research, analysis and design related to the agenda; and
  3. formulation of plan elements, review with client and preparation of final plan.

Each neighborhood Main Street district will serve as a separate client for a team of six to ten students. Each district team may divide its planning work into smaller sub-teams of three to four students. Throughout the semester, these teams will present their work for discussion and commentary by the entire class with client input. The Main Street district’s role as client will include:

  • Facilitating student research by providing background material, serving as liaison to community members and organizations, and integrating student work into their planning process
  • Providing guidance on the district’s goals and priorities
  • Assisting student efforts with district volunteers if necessary
  • Providing feedback on the proposed agenda and draft plan elements

The three stages of the class project are the following:

Baseline Analysis to Document Existing Conditions and Identify Priority Areas for Detailed Planning

In this first phase, student teams in both districts will collect and analyze data to better understand existing physical and economic conditions in the business district, local visions and goals for the district among stakeholders, existing activities and plans, and key future opportunities. This work will include: (a) reviewing existing data, regulations and studies; (b) surveying and mapping existing environmental and physical conditions; (c) conducting an inventory of existing properties and businesses; and (d) conducting demographic and economic analysis to create profiles of the district’s market and key business sectors.

Based on the findings from this preliminary analysis, student teams will recommend an improvement agenda with priority opportunities and issues to address in their revitalization plans. After reviewing these findings and recommendations with the client and agreeing on the planning agenda, student teams will conduct more detailed research, analysis and design work to help formulate proposals around the selected agenda.

Detailed Research, Analysis and Planning in Priority Areas

In this second phase, student teams will undertake more in-depth research, analysis and design in priority areas to better understand the requirements needed to realize goals and opportunities, assess existing resources and assets, identify critical obstacles and resources gaps to address, and define other factors that shape effective strategies and interventions to generate the Main Street district’s desired revitalization goals.

While specific research tasks will depend on the priority issues chosen, tasks may include conducting interviews with key stakeholders, surveying district customers and businesses, researching applicable zoning and regulatory obstacles, investigating design options, identifying best practices used in comparable neighborhoods/districts, and analyzing potential resources for implementation. Based on this detailed research, each student team will develop findings and recommendations for their final plan.

Formulation of Recommendations and Preparation of the Final Plan

In the final phase, each student team will review the results of its analysis and research, develop initial proposals for key elements of the plan and integrate these recommendations into a draft overall business district revitalization plan. After a review of this draft plan with the entire class and the client, each team will revise its plan for a final public presentation and written report. Students will present the final plan to the client and an invited audience sometime during the final two weeks of class. The final report will be due one week after the last day of class.

Class Requirements

This class is a workshop. The class will meet twice weekly. Monday classes are 1-1/2 hours in length and are devoted to lectures and some discussion. Wednesday classes are 2-1/2 hours and are reserved mostly for in-class work time and site visits. This schedule does not apply to the first two weeks of class, which will be mostly lecture with some discussion.

Class requirements include extensive reading, ongoing assignments related to development of the plans, active class participation, field trips and site visits to the team project area and active involvement and contribution to the team project.


activities percentAGES
Active Participation and Contribution to Class Discussions 15%
Attendance 10%
First Short Assignment 10%
Group Project (Develop an urban design/economic development plan for a Main Streets District in Boston) 65%

Team members will be asked to evaluate and grade each member of the group (including themselves) based on individuals’ active participation in the project and contribution to the team. These evaluations will be considered during the grading process.

Course Info

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