Upham's Corner Online

Taking a Fresh Look at Savin Hill Village

Posted: April 28, 2011     Nancy J Conrad
Savin Hill Village Photos

Savin Hill Village Business DistrictThe Savin Hill Village Development Committee (SHVDC) is taking form around the issues and goals of "The Village."  That's clear from their March and April 2011 monthly meetings. 

Yes, they are tackling the "same" issues that impact all business districts but this group is being proactively positive, digital, networked, experienced and enthusiastic.

They see themselves as a Main Street type entity while being a strictly volunteer organization and that's "not necessarily all bad.  The world has changed.  This group has the possibility of creating something new."

The target area is Savin Hill Ave from Avenue Liquors to the Savin Hill T-station.

(Click map to enlarge)       

The results of their efforts will be detailed in a report to be discussed at the June 27, 2011 meeting, the last before the summer recess, and it will be submitted it to their parent organization, the Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association. 

Topics will include:  mission statement, demographics, the business and resident surveys, parking, beautification and the MBTA/ Savin Hill T-stop.

For more information, contact Eric J Robinson, eric@rodearchitects.com.
"Our goal," said Eric Rode, chair, "is to develop a mission statement that is manageable and that leads to a model that can be replicated in other neighborhoods of the Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association."  

While still in its defining phase, the group has set some general guidelines:
  • Stay within the boundaries identified
  • Target no vacancies in the area
  • Promote a good mix of business types
  • Educate the business community on storefronts now open
  • Making sure existing and future businesses can thrive in the area
The Committee is reaching out slowly to the businesses and residents as they continue to hone the message and the method.  The goal is to be as inclusive as possible - anyone from the community is welcome to the monthly meetings.  People are starting to attend and the email list is growing.

Later on, the outreach may be through questionnaires, focus groups or larger meetings.  Networking to satellite organizations is the next important level such as crime watch, the over the bridge group, etc.

Inventorying the existing business district is the starting point for understanding how to improve it, so they've formed several subcommittees:   
  • Mapping and historical data of the neighborhood - demographics in the neighborhood, existing businesses and information about the businesses themselves, contact lists for these businesses

  • The relationship with the MBTA - as it relates to the entire village, trash and parking

  • Existing businesses - reaching out to the owners with surveys to identify their concerns and issues related to operating their businesses

  • Existing residents - a similar survey to identify the types of businesses residents want to attract to the village

  • Safety - lighting, crosswalks, police patrolling and related issues

  • Parking - What are the existing regulations in place now - residential parking, time restricted parking, access to other parking areas to support the business district, for example, valet services

  • Beautification of Savin Hill Ave.- Light fixtures consistent with the scale of the neighborhood, planting trees and more.  The Civic Association Beautification Committee will look at Savin Hill Village.
Bruce Shatswell has been looking at Savin Hill Village's history since World War II with an emphasis on the last 20 years.  Online newspaper articles indicate that the same issues keep coming up.  With newer technologies and readily available online databases (such as the 2010 Census data just released), a well-designed Civic Association website can add value to the community "without adding cost and reinventing the wheel."   

"How" they tell the story of Savin Hill Village is important, he said.  "We need to be able to quantify economic development in ways that are understood by politicians.  By tracking the fact that jobs are being created, or businesses are opening, people get the impression that something is going on ‘over there.' That, in itself, causes more businesses to be attracted to the area."  

Again, he emphasized the importance of image.  "It is really important to pay attention to how we are perceived and how we perceive ourselves.  If you say the word ‘Dorchester,‘ what happens?  But people who live in Savin Hill have the connections to make a difference." 

Rafael Carbonell is preparing a set of target questions designed for understanding the existing businesses - their concerns and their knowledge about their customers and customer needs for continuing to shop in the district.  
  • What are the challenges they are facing?  
  • Do the businesses have suggestions?
  • How could this committee be a clearinghouse for business services?  
While Rafael Carbonell is handing the businesses questions, Eric Rode will be preparing a survey for residents.  What are their thoughts about the existing businesses?  What additional businesses are they willing to support in the neighborhood?  

The group discussed styles of interviewing and how to frame the questions.  Staying positive is important.  Interviewing one-on-one will provide the opportunity to have a free flow conversation with the target questions naturally woven into the conversation.

Don Walsh suggested Zoomerang as a great online survey tool while Maureen McQuillen mentioned Constant Contact.  They also agreed that the "digitally challenged" people must be given an opportunity to respond using paper.  Leaving the surveys at businesses is a great idea.

The group emphasized the importance of beautification efforts, monitoring vacant property, taking care of trash and identifying infrastructure in need of repair. Reporting problems to the City right away using the Citizens Connect app or the Mayor's hotline at 617-635-4500 is high priority. 

Maureen McQuillen will be working with the association's Beautification Committee.  She also plans to create a form that both the residents and businesses can use to submit a report on deficiencies in the neighborhood (for planning purposes).

Don Walsh has been looking at the MBTA's relationship to the neighborhood.  How can they work together to improve the conditions surrounding the T station?  "1600 people use the T-station each day from Savin Hill and back again.  Are they simply passing through the neighborhood or are they customers?  How can the village change its relationship with these riders to encourage them to shop here?"

He also discussed the overall cleanliness of the T-station and how the MBTA can work more closely with their organizaton.

Don Walsh spoke with Inspectional Services about unattractive property or vacant commercial properties.  What can be done? The answer is:  "nothing."  As long as it is not open to the elements, as long as it is not falling down, as long as they are paying their taxes, the neighborhood cannot do anything.  

The group agreed that having constructive conversations with existing businesses was the best approach - demonstrating to them that if they take better care of their property or they redo redevelop the property that it will be to their financial interest.  

"If we don't have a stick available to us, we need to think creatively about using some combination of pressure and a carrot," although they agreed that a property owner acting irrationally might not respond.  As much as possible SHVDC will be emphasizing a positive spin instead of going after the negative. "Market pressures," they agreed, "will be more effective than anything else."

Chris Montani is looking at parking issues.  Is parking a concern to the existing businesses?  Businesses supporting foot traffic, businesses open at night and users of the T station all answer the question differently.   

Businesses with parking lots such as Rite-Aid and Lee Myles have been approached for night-time parking but they have said no for "liability" reasons.    If the City could provide a consultant to speak to all the businesses with parking lots about "sharing", perhaps the entire community could benefit.

Savin Hill Village
"The Bridge"
Savin Hill Village
Savin Hill T-Stop
Savin Hill Village
Sotheby's Next to the T-station
Savin Hill Village
Condos at the corner of Savin Hill Ave & Sydney St
Savin Hill Village
Mural on left side of McKenna's Cafe
Savin Hill Village
McKenna's Cafe and many other businesses
Savin Hill Village
At Home Realty
Savin Hill Village
Savin Scoop & two beauty salons
Savin Hill Village
Savin Hill Supply - Natural Food Store at Midland Street
Savin Hill Village
Avenue Liquors at Savin Hill Ave & Saxton St
Savin Hill Village
Looking towards the Bridge - Cristo Rey in the distance
Savin Hill Village
Cristo Rey High School
Savin Hill Village
Looking towards Dot Ave - Vacant commercial property (was a convenience store) and Savin Kitchen & Bar
Savin Hill Village
Property for sale between Savin Kitchen & Bar and I93

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