Project Spotlight: New Bedford Historic District (Massachusetts)
WGI’s Urban and Community Planning team worked as a Plan Facilitator for New Bedford, MA and the Massachusetts Rapid Recovery Plan Program. The goal for this project was to encourage a regional audience to return to downtown New Bedford for dining, shopping, arts, and culture-based programming following COVID-19 shutdowns.
The Mass Downtown Initiative, through extensive funding and collaboration, gathered 125 communities throughout the commonwealth to assess the impacts. The report began by conducting stakeholder interviews with the city and business leaders to understand the nature of their downtown commercial core. A business survey was conducted which identified concerns with businesses marketing strategies, parking facilities, permitting obstacles, and storefront activation.
The goal was to develop a better more effective dialogue between visitors/community members and city/local business.
The first phase was to develop a diagnostic framework to identify challenges and opportunities in the downtown core. This framework was comprised of 4 factors: customer base, physical environment, business environment, and administrative capacity – each equipped with guiding questions to direct data collection.
A series of maps and local data was included to provide context of the community and characteristics of their built environment.
Rapid Recovery Plan Diagnostic Framework
WGI provided a framework with guided questions to identify priorities and interests of the New Bedford Community.
- Customer Base: Who are the customers of the businesses in the Study Area?
- Physical Environment: How conducive is the physical environment to meeting the needs and expectations of both businesses and customers?
- Business Environment: What are the impacts of COVID-19 on businesses in the Study Area? How well does the business mix meet the needs of various customer groups?
- Admin Capacity: Who are the key stewards of the Study Area? Are they adequately staffed and resourced to support the implementation of projects? Are the regulatory, zoning, and permitting processes impeding business activity?
Following the diagnostic phase, WGI developed project recommendations to address priority challenges and opportunities. Specific projects included:
- placemaking to capitalize on the recent shared-streets success;
- outdoor arts and cultural programming;
- district marketing; and
- expanded technical assistance programs to businesses.
Each of the projects includes recommended actions and success metrics. WGI selected spaces that are accessible and can be used to activate otherwise under-utilized spaces. To ensure equitable access, locations vary so that all areas of downtown can benefit from the program.
One of the specific project recommendations to increase foot traffic in the downtown core was called “Activate the Gap”. The team recommended art installations occur at the primary nodes of the popular historic district and central shopping area with temporary art activations to connect them. The goal was to activate and create a connection between the two business areas and will draw visitors outside of the Historic District to discover the local shops and restaurants.
This project directly supports the City’s goal of re-establishing New Bedford as an arts and culture destination and increasing the number of local and regional visitors to downtown.
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