Upham's Corner Online

Planning the Fairmount Corridor at Upham's Corner

Posted: June 7, 2012     Nancy J Conrad Click here to Add Comment
Project Links
The PPS WorkshopKroc Center
Upham's Corner Train Station
Dudley Terrace
Nonquit Green
Leon Building
Page Links
Placemaking Workshop
What is a Public Space?
Workshop Objectives
A Coming of Age
PPS Concepts

Fairmount Indigo Line Upham's CornerThe Fairmount CDC Collaborative is looking at the entire length of what will become the Fairmount Greenway but on Thursday, May 31, all eyes were on the Upham's Corner commuter rail station and nearby.

Underwritten by the MA Smart Growth Alliance, the Project for Public Spaces facilitated a workshop on how to look at our community through a new and exciting lens - the "Public Spaces lens."

The results were astounding! (not to be biased).  The normal way of looking at the world as a sequence of disconnected dots was replaced by the concept of continuity.  The group learned how public spaces with limited and focused function could be changed with little effort to welcome the whole of a community.  Empty spaces could be reconfigured to create connectedness.

In less than three hours, attendees conducted assessments and presented their findings on how to change the feel, accessibility, function and sense of  community partnership at the train station and on Dudley Street, east and west:  The Kroc Center, the train station, the Leon building and adjacent empty lot, Nonquit Green and Dudley Terrace.  Impressive!

May 31, 2012 6-9pm Alexander-Magnolia Coop Community Room

The internationally-renowned consulting firm Project for Public Spaces, will be facilitating a "placemaking" exercise to explore ways to improve the area surrounding the Upham's Corner commuter rail station.  Learn how to, brainstorm, dinner served.

Fiarmount Corridor Upham's Corner Train Station Joan Tighe, who works for the Fairmont Indigo CDC Collaborative around transit and the coming soon Fairmount Greenway, helped organize the event.  Similar workshops were taking place in other locations in the city.  Over 25 people attended, almost all of whom represented civic and nonprofit organizations as well as city departments and the MBTA.   


The program was co-sponsored by Dorchester Bay, Upham's Corner Main Street and the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance.  

Jeanne Dubois, representing Dorchester Bay, focused her comments on the Kroc Center. As wonderful as it is, she said, the building is very much like a fortress. The question is this:  How can we make the Kroc Center more interesting for all? The continued revitalization of Upham's Corner will undoubtedly require commercial development and Dorchester Bay is prepared to assist with these projects.

The Fairmount Corridor CDC Collaborative was selected as one of first sites in in the Great Neighborhoods Program according to Dina Anderson from the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance.  Great Neighborhoods is offering support and resources to help further the efforts around housing near transit, around advocating for transit improvements, fair fares and other work around the Fairmont Greenway. Consulting services Project for Public Spaces, for example, was provided by her organization.

Max MacCarthy from Upham's Corner Main Street emphasized the importance of the Fairmont improvements in enhancing the business district that he oversees.

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is a nonprofit planning, design and educational organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities. PPS uses what they call a "pioneering placemaking approach that helps citizens transform their public spaces into vital places that highlight local assets, spur rejuvenation and serve common needs."  The two consultants facilitating the evening's activities were Fred Kent, President and Kathy Madden, Sr. Vice President.

A public space is anything other than home or office though the office building itself is a public space. It could be as small as a bus stop or as big as Central Park in New York. Public space can be both inside and outside. Public space creates a social asset for the community and it can be used to connect disparate entities. Public spaces provide a lot of benefit for the community from health to democracy, environmental and sustainability.

Example 1:  One or more cultural institutions within the town borders are not connected to each other or they not connected to the people of the community. 

Solution:  Create community gathering spaces such as parks, squares and streets that link everything together. 

Example 2:  Places such as buildings, bus stops, parks and squares exist separately (disconnected) within the community. 

Solution:  Traditionally objects are created in isolation of the context.  An object (a building, a park, etc.) is designed for a select set of people (coming and going).  Yet the object has no special meaning or use for the community as a whole.  Creating a public space in conjunction with the isolated object or creating a public space that links the object to other locations within the city greatly improves the overall function and feel of the community.

Objective: Use the "public spaces" concept to review the Upham's Corner Fairmount area and identify "lighter, quicker, cheaper" changes that could effect dramatic change in the overall feel, accessibility, walkability and friendliness of the area.

Think of the section of Dudley Street from Columbia Road to the Kroc Center as a district.   What temporary things can be done to create a sense of a center here at the train station?  Think of tonight's activity and efforts as ground zero - step one. It's important to get some small-scale things to happen, then more steps will follow and, finally, a center begins to form. 
  • Is this district currently walkable? 
  • Are there any dead spots or empty spaces where no one wants to walk? 
  • By creating active connections between places, can you find a way to bring the district alive?
  • How can we connect the space between the train station and the Kroc Center?
  • How can we connect the space between the train station and the business district?
Step 1. Learn about placemaking - theory, practice and see real world examples
Step 2. Conduct the placemaking walk through (three groups / three locations)
Step 3. Combine individual team member assessments and give presentation

Kathy Madden conducted the training.
  • What is place making?
  • The concept of "lighter, quicker, cheaper"
  • The power of 10
  • How isolated locations make a city smaller
  • How connected locations make a city bigger
  • Examples showing the challenges and how successful places have been created
Attendees divided into three groups to conduct a walk through of areas in close proximity to the train station.

Group 1:  Upham's Corner Fairmount/Indigo train station
Group 2:  Dudley Street West - from the train station to just past the Kroc Center
Group 3:  Dudley Street Ease - from the train station to Monadnock Street

The results - observations, suggestions, ideas, visions - created by a group of ordinary people is quite remarkable.  Each section is covered separately.

View list of results

The Project for Public Spaces has been around for 37 years - studying, researching and working with communities to try to get public spaces better than they are. Kathy Madden (PPS) said they have "cobbled together" an expression over time: 

"In today's world, you almost have to turn everything upside down to get it right." 

In the era of suburban living where homes and other public places were designed to be isolated and driven to, society constructed a set of public spaces with isolated function:  They act as conduits (train station, bus) or holding zones (office, church, school) but they do not offer functionality or meaning to the full spectrum of residents/visitors to the community.

As cities are seeking to revitalize, the concept of placemaking is coming of age.  Kathy cited streets that are too big, public spaces that are empty, buildings that are not at human scale.  Building by building, cities have been constructed or deconstructed without adequate consideration to their overall effect on the community.
  • Question:  What is it?  Look at any public space (building, park, square, bus stop, bridge, etc) and ask:  What is it?  For example, Is this a park?  From the perspective of a public space creating community social assets, "What is it?" comes first but another question follows. 
  • Question:  Is it a social asset?  (after we determine that it is, for example, a park) is to ask:  Is this park a significant social asset for the community?
If the park is mostly empty (used on occasion), then it is not a (significant) social asset.  Opportunity is being lost because the public space, as it currently exists, is NOT providing adequate social value.  How can residents redefine the spaces and use them reconnect isolated parts of the community together to create extraordinary social value?

For example, public schools are typically busy during the day and empty at night.  Why not schedule public use for meetings or adult education?  This would certainly provide a well needed benefit to the community and would get residents who would never otherwise (be allowed to) step into such buildings access and partnership.


What do public places do for a district?  They add continuity, function, an overall sense of welcome, and they create a social asset. 

Continuity Continuity is the connectedness from one object to the next across the entire district.  If a store is separated from the next store by an empty lot, then the district would benefit from creating a public space in the empty lot to connect the two stores together.
Function Function is the presence of an activity that adds value to the community.  For example, the empty lot could become the location of a farmer's market.
A sense of welcome is created by a humanizing space.  Replacing an empty lot with an inviting activity helps to humanize the space.
Social Asset
A social asset is a public space that over time develops a function that the community both supports and depends on and that develops a reputation that carries beyond the community.
From Adequate to Extraordinary

Every community needs to be, and can be excellent. Establish a slogan that reflects this attitude such" as "From adequate to extraordinary" or "Get to Extraordinary." A guiding principle is that the community is the expert in creating a place. You can't do it alone. People have to work together.

Develop a vision.  It must come from people in the community, not from a facilitator who does not live in the community and who doesn't know anything about the community. Once you have a vision for a particular place, you become a great communicator.  Then everybody begins to talk about what you're trying to do. 

PPS follows this rule: There are no obstacles.  At the same time, you have to be aware of impediments because they always exist - people who say no. Because there are always a lot of people who say it can't be done, just assume that your vision will happen, and figure out how to get around the naysayers. You can see a lot by simply observing. The place making vision is really important for making things happen.

The Power of 10 approach greatly facilitates being able to "get your hands"  around creating or improving public space.  What is otherwise an infinite set of options is reconstructed to be a finite number - both in the sense of limiting the options as well as in creating more. You can think of the Power of 10 as how you combine things.  After identifying the physical scope of the problem at hand, make a list of ten, whatever ten means in the context of your objective.

Quicker, Lighter, Cheaper

The concept of "quicker, lighter, cheaper"  is paramount in the place-making process. There are plenty of examples of people who want to implement a specific idea and it can take years just to get the opportunity to perform an experiment which could fail.  By comparison, short-term, lighter, quicker, cheaper changes allow communities to assess the effectiveness of implementing longer-term solutions.   

To create or improve a public space, ask what short-term activity can be done that will make it more inviting.  It could be something as simple as flowerbeds and finding people in the community who will maintain the flowerbeds. It could be something as simple as a map or signage so that people know where to go.  And that leads to identification of challenges within the culture itself.

A community that can see change in the short-term gains confidence that changes in the long-term will actually happen. It also provides an opportunity to experimentation.

In such a brief period of time (less than three hours), a group of people with significantly different backgrounds were able to work together to generate amazing vision for a small section of Upham's Corner.  As the facilitators said, the same process can be applied to the whole of our community.

Get excited!  Take a look through a different lens, the placemaking lens.  What is your vision for Upham's Corner?

View list of results

The Foundation Center
Description of the Fairmount/Indigo Line CDC Collaborative at the Foundation Center
Smart Growth Alliance
Detailed color brochure on the full scope of the Collaborative
Dorchester Bay
Dorchester Bay's page on the Collaborative and its role
Project for Public Spaces
Project for Public Spaces website

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