Background & Project Area
Student work in the course will principally address the section of Needham Street that stretches from its intersection with Winchester and Dedham Streets on the north, to the Charles River at the Newton/Needham line on the southerly end. The 2007 Comprehensive Plan (PDF - 6.6 MB) acknowledges this section of the roadway as a transitional area. Once an active manufacturing and industrial section of the city, many of the original businesses along the corridor have moved out and been replaced with retail uses and numerous restaurants. The street features multiple curb cuts, a tangle of overhead wires, no bike lanes, incomplete sidewalks, and poorly managed circulation. Because of the poor conditions and lack of amenities, including those for pedestrians, it is primarily accessible by car and is appropriately categorized as a "commercial strip." Traffic is nearing capacity on this street, and it is especially congested at peak times.
Scope of Work
Thoughtful consideration is needed to maintain the character of the residential neighborhoods that abut the commercial district while enhancing their ability to benefit from the amenities offered in the commercial area. There are three major questions that Newton would like answered in this project:
- What is an appropriate vision for the Needham Street Corridor?
- What interventions can the city make to encourage that vision?
- How might the city finance those interventions?
Within these major categories, some specific things will be critical to evaluate, including:
- Will the identity of Needham Street as a "commercial strip" change by applying new streetscape strategies, use regulations, and form-based planning rules to selected catalyst properties?
- Can traffic-calming interventions in selected locations serve to reinforce a new identity?
- Can the street support the traffic generated by proposed zoning and interventions?
Tasks & Deliverables
Working under the direction of their instructors, and connecting with city officials, neighborhood residents, and business leaders, students will prepare a land use and enhancement plan of the target area. The Envisioning Needham Street Plan should address the question of redevelopment along the Corridor and the surrounding neighborhood by completing the following tasks:
- Evaluate the build-out potential remaining on key properties, and the degree to which such properties can be re-shaped to encourage alternative and more sustainable design and development.
- Conduct a detailed zoning diagnostic to determine if current codes and guidelines (including use, dimensional, and density allowances) are appropriate and sufficient for the area given project goals.
- Identify opportunities to re-classify existing properties to alternative zoning district classifications with new use regulations, density and dimensional rules, and design guidelines.
- Identify specific interventions (e.g. pedestrian and bicycle improvements, wayfinding, parking improvements, green space, traffic calming, etc.) that the City can make in order to encourage appropriate projects, streetscape improvements, and mix of transportation modes.
- Illustrate (conceptually) the re-development potential of catalyst properties in a manner that will demonstrate the power and applicability of a new form-based planning approach.
- Examine the extent to which the existing utility infrastructure (e.g. overhead wires) can be subordinated.
- Identify possible future uses of the abandoned rail line that runs parallel to the Needham Street project area.
- Recommend regulatory tools the city can use to protect and enhance the goals of the Comprehensive Plan and the proposals in the "Envisioning Needham Street" plan.
- Determine the costs, added value, and risks involved in implementing the aforementioned interventions.
- A Preliminary Findings public presentation.
- A Final Plan Report public presentation close to the completion of the semester.
In addition to officials from the Department of Planning and Development, members of the community, the Mayor, Board of Aldermen, Planning Board, and other interested parties will be invited to attend each meeting.
Students will meet with representatives of the city at the beginning of the semester including contact liaisons from Department of Planning and Development. Students will have the opportunity to coordinate interviews with members of these groups as well as area business owners, local residents, and other interested parties.