As development comes to Roxbury and specifically Grove Hall, advocates for the community are looking for ways to improve the neighborhood’s infrastructure to increase economic development, support existing businesses and attract new ones, and encourage outsiders to visit the bustling urban area.
Community advocates, residents, small-business owners, and government officials met at the Franklin Park Clubhouse on Thursday to begin developing a new vision for the area and tackling some long-standing problems.
“We think we can make Grove Hall a model that other communities will follow and this is one step towards that,” explained Ed Gaskin, the new executive director of Greater Grove Hall Main Streets.
Laying out his objectives for the neighborhood, Gaskin said he wants to boost the neighborhood’s economy, bring more tech jobs and development dollars to the area, make the community greener, and improve quality of life.
Thursday’s meeting was a step in that direction, as the group discussed the challenges facing people who visit the commercial district defined by Warren Street, Blue Hill Avenue, and Geneva Avenue.
“Improving the streets can improve the local economy,” explained Christopher Kuschel, a planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council in partnership with the Roxbury Greater Neighborhood Coalition, a community group led by the Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation, has been studying traffic, parking, and access in the neighborhood for the past year.
On Thursday, a report detailing the challenges and solutions in the neighborhood was unveiled.
The report found that there are a total of 512 private and public parking spaces in the neighborhood, with the vast majority of the private spaces located in the Grove Hall Mecca.
Although the community sees a lot of vehicle traffic, especially during the evening and morning commutes, parking in the neighborhood is largely adequate, but often hard to find because of poor signage and lack of enforcement.
“There’s definitely plenty of parking, but the question is, how do you manage the parking you have,” explained Eric Halvorsen, a planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.”
Other suggestions to remedy parking issues included adding stripping and encouraging employees of local business to park in the Mecca parking lot.
Parking is always a hot topic, but the majority of the conversation Thursday, centered around ways to bring more people into the area and make the area welcoming for all users including cars, bikes, busses, and pedestrians.
“One of the challenges is, how we create better pedestrian flow into and through Grove Hall,” said Bruce Bickerstaff, who sits on the Great Grove Hall Main Streets’ Board. “Where can we slow down things to create more access and synergy in the square?”
The report found that sidewalks are in disrepair, the main intersection of Warren Street and Blue Hill Avenue can be daunting for pedestrians, and that crosswalks need to be repainted.
For cyclists, the report found that infrastructure was lacking and that the installation of bike racks, new bike lanes, and possibility a Hubway station could make the area more comfortable and safer for bikes.
Improvements for the busses that cut through the neighborhood included ticketing people who park in bus stops, installing more shelters, and other cosmetic improvements.
For cars possible improvements centered on adjusting signal timing, better enforcement, and improving road surfaces and stripping.
With the challenges laid out before them, advocates began the process of finding ways to remedy the situations.
“Gatherings like this are how you get to the action steps and the resources,” Patrick Hoey, a senior planner with the Boston Transportation Department, explained. “Gatherings like this bring problems to the city’s attention. I think Grove Hall is ripe for some redesign and maintenance and this is the first step towards that.”
Although the conversations are happening, the neighborhood faces a number of issues.
“Everything in Grove Hall is pretty much old,” explained Joel Harper, owner of Got Sole 1981, a Grover Hall-based sneaker shop. “We can do a lot of things to fix Grove Hall, but we have to figure out how to get people to Grove Hall and make them feel safe.”
Grove Hall may face challenges, but it has a number assets that our communities don’t.
“Franklin Park is an asset and we have to find how to connect that to Grove Hall,” said John Linehan, president of Zoo New England, which oversees the Franklin Park Zoo.
“We’ve been looking at the historical points in the area that could attract people and generate interest,” said Bickerstaff. “I think we need to make those things known.”
As the meeting came to a close, the phrase that stuck in the minds of many was “place making.”
Now with the information, residents and advocates can begin planning and fighting for changes in their commercial district and community.
A follow up meeting is expected to be held sometime in the spring.