The Charles River Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated its first in-person fall breakfast in 3 years last week, the first since the Newton-Needham Area Chamber of Commerce changed its name and added Wellesley to its ranks.Among hundreds of friends old and new, attendees were reminded that we were this Together-this Re-emerging from pandemic isolation, new thinking on business and real estate development and the way we live.
“In this day and age, when we’re talking about housing and transportation, those are not local issues, these are regional issues, these are state issues,” Wellesley Executive Director Megan Chope said on a panel of city leaders at the gathering. “Just looking around the room and thinking about all the ideas in this room that will improve Wellesley’s businesses in this room, Needham, Newton, Watertown together to improve the whole community, we have to think about everything we do from a regional perspective… “
In a discussion moderated by Chamber of Commerce President Greg Reibman, other panelists – Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, Needham Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick and Watertown Town Manager George Proakis shared their thoughts on this and other topics.
The panel discussion followed a presentation by urban planner and urban designer Jeff Speck, who I learned was a celebrity in the field and even signed a book on his ideas for walkable communities at the end. Walkability has been found to have environmental, health, community and commercial benefits.
Spike, who now lives in Brookline, is more familiar with Needham, Newton and Watertown than Wellesley, and most of his conversations have focused on the work being done in those communities. This includes the ambitious conversion of the Riverside MBTA station and rail yard into a mixed-use space that will see new housing, and the conversion of a large surface car park into a garage with plenty of green space. (The trail to Wellesley has also been in the area for years.) Walkable advancements are being made throughout the area, from Newton’s first roundabout to Watertown rethinking the tangle of Watertown Square , to Needham’s Magic Tent, which invigorates is common during a pandemic.
Parklets and parking lots
In Wellesley, the planner’s attention was drawn to the small park of Central Avenue and Cross Street, erected in the summer, and he seemed surprised that some local businessmen weren’t fanatical about it because of vehicular traffic and other issues. “When they come to the city, things like this are usually very effective in bringing the inner city back to life,” he said.
One thing Speck warned the town not to do after seeing several conceptual streetscape plans from the architect was to widen the lanes in Wellesley Square. As he pointed out in part of his speech, wider lanes encourage speeding in urban areas.
The Wellesley Select Board, through the town’s Transportation Board, has begun evaluating the streetscape features of Wellesley Square, with conceptual plans displayed in downtown windows to help familiarize the public with the possibilities.
Jop noted during the panel discussion that at a meeting with businesses on the Wellesley Square redesign concept, there were concerns about losing any parking spaces (see also: “Businesses propose ‘park, park, park’ in Wellesley Square ‘concerns’).
“All we heard was ‘If I lose a parking spot, my business is going to die,’ and that’s tough to deal with,” Chope said. “We’re trying to show if we can revitalize and get pedestrian flow … we’ve got a lot of restaurants coming into town, but when you have restaurants, you need the retail to stay open later to really get from these people coming. benefit.”
(In terms of parking, Speck is pleased with Cambridge’s recent removal of minimum parking requirements for developers, as it makes progress on walkability.)
Other topics Joop touched on during the discussion included:
- Encourage more diversity within business ownership and township to help build more diverse communities. “Our Asian American population is growing, so we’ve been working hard to work with our Chinese American network and our Wellesley Chinese School to ensure that we [address any language barriers to make meetings or decision making more inclusive]” she says.
- Positive outcomes during the pandemic include the combined emergence of parks and outdoor dining options and helping attract more people to the outdoors. The same goes for the Wellesley Trail System, which allows people to discover or rediscover nature in town and travel to and from the business district without a car. She especially gave a shout-out to the little-known trail along the Charles River in Wellesley Office Park on William Street.
- The importance of making more town services available online, including permit applications.
You can watch a NewTV recording of the fall breakfast event in the conference room.