Urban Revitalization Needs Community Cooperation

I grew up in Central Massachusetts and have been fortunate enough to have a job that allows me to work within my community and help play a role in its revitalization. Having lived on the outskirts of Worcester for most of my life, I have been witness to some of the city’s crowning moments. The Worcester of 30 years ago is a far cry from the Worcester of today.

From the successes at Gateway Park, the WBDC’s redevelopment of the former Telegram & Gazette building, the opening of the Hanover Theatre and the investment in the Canal District to the rise of CitySquare and Mercantile Center, we have seen the power of public and private initiatives and well-thought-out, targeted development. With this knowledge and power, it is our responsibility as good community stewards to build upon their successes.

Worcester is a case study in resiliency and ingenuity, embracing each new challenge as an opportunity. Today, one of our community’s greatest challenges can be seen in capitalizing on the momentum of development and investment to realize the revitalization of our downtown.

The City of Worcester recently filed its urban revitalization plan with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), beginning its review process with the commonwealth and bringing us closer to having a final plan that will assist in conquering this aforementioned challenge.

The plan submitted to DHCD is a far-reaching proposal that is comprised of a patchwork of our older urban downtown areas and former manufacturing sites of our industrial history. With such a comprehensive plan, it is certain there will be near-term wins and long-term wins, but we must continue to be strategic in our approach – not a one-time flash in the pan but a continued economic development approach to better our community.

Urban revitalization has seemingly been a menacing term for property owners and business owners alike, with visions of wrecking balls and bureaucratic tape stifling the spirit of the community. Just as Worcester has made great leaps, urban revitalization should no longer be viewed as the specter that threatens the community. Urban revitalization can be a fundamental development tool, but it requires a great deal of community input and forward-thinking leaders who are willing to accept the next challenge as an opportunity to encourage redevelopment of blighted properties that have fallen victim to disinvestment. The true implementation of this plan requires property owners and business owners to open their doors, be willing to ask for help and be willing to listen to opportunity. It requires vision and patience, but first and foremost – it requires community.

Urban revitalization should be defined by the farmer’s markets on the weekend, cool new art that pops up where you least expect it, waiting lines for a table at the hot new restaurant, recent Worcester college grads staying and living downtown rather than in Boston, and boundless opportunities for enjoying a night out with friends.

As a community, if we truly want to realize the success of our downtown’s future, we must commit to the tough projects, have the tough conversations and accept these challenges as opportunities for the greater good of the community.

Julie Holstrom is a senior project manager with the Worcester Business Development Corp.