During the early 1980’s, Clark University and the surrounding neighborhood shared a troubled co-existence. Viewed by residents as isolated and unresponsive, Clark was the focus of many of the traditional town and gown tensions. However, in 1985 Richard Traina was appointed the President of the University and institutionalized the philosophy that “Clark is part of the community” rather than “Clark is the community”. Under Traina’s stewardship, Clark took corrective actions to address community concerns of noise and parking, and the inflationary impact of student demand on apartment rentals. What were small actions to Clark none-the-less fostered a new sense of trust between residents and the institution. As a result, a working group of community members and Clark representatives who were worried about the socio-economic and physical decline of the neighborhood, and who had a broader vision for an action strategy to reverse the ongoing decline of the neighborhood, was formed.
The first act of this group was to commission a planning study of the area to analyze the socioeconomic characteristics of the various sub-neighborhoods within Main South and to offer recommendations about a realistic but strategic approach to combat the ongoing disinvestment and social problems that were negatively impacting the quality of life for residents and threatening the economic viability of Clark University. As a result of this study, prepared by Don Chamberlayne in
1985 and entitled “A Planning Study of the Neighborhoods of Main South”, the group of activists decided that they needed to establish a capable development entity that implemented the plan’s recommendations, promoted desirable neighborhood change, and was accountable to the community that it served.
A grant application was prepared and submitted to SEEDCO for grant funding to finance the creation and initial staffing of such an organization. Through this, the Main South CDC was established and has subsequently enjoyed a long and successful working partnership with Clark University. The tangible benefits of this partnership are visible in over $50 million of new investment within the Main South area.
The Main South CDC’s neighborhood revitalization efforts have always been based on a
strategic development approach and over the years have evolved through what can be categorized into 17 four distinct strategic planning phases. The last of which is the Main South CDC’s current CIP which was adopted by the organization’s Board of Directors in 2013.
Phase 1: 1986-1995
Between the years 1988, when the CDC became a staffed organization, and 1995 the agency’s strategy was to concentrate on the targeted acquisitions of “problem properties” in proximity to Clark University and along the Main Street corridor. During this period, the agency acquired and renovated 186 units of housing at a development cost of $9.5 million. The approach was strategic but limited. It allowed the Main South CDC to establish itself as a credible development agency capable of undertaking the renovation of multi-family residential properties, however it was limited in terms of the broader holistic impact it was having on the community.
Phase 2: Creation of University Park Partnership & Strategic Development Approach: 1995-2000
In 1995 the Main South CDC’s Board of Directors undertook a critical evaluation of the agency’s first seven years of staffed operations. The objective was to assess performance in terms of the goals and objectives of Donald Chamberlayne’s original planning study. The Board concluded that although significant physical improvements had been made to the housing and commercial real estate along Main Street, these accomplishments were falling short of the goal of creating a community in which residents would seek to live and raise their children. The implications were clear: a better balance was required between physical development work and community development in its more holistic sense, and the agency would need to expand its scope of work.
The Board identified five key areas in which the Main South CDC and Clark needed to collaborate more closely: physical rehabilitation, economic development, public safety, social and recreational opportunity, and education. The Partnership between Clark and the Main South CDC was strengthened when the University committed to providing greater direct investment of staff and in-kind resources to the Partnership. The new strategy was designated as the University Park Partnership (UPP) Revitalization Initiative.
In 1995, the UPP was awarded a HUD Joint Community Development Grant in the amount of $2.4 million. This highly competitive grant award served as the catalyst for the expanded work of the Partnership during this period, and leverage over $11 million of private investment into the community. This brought new educational opportunities as well as physical and quality of life improvements to the neighborhood. Programs for Main South residents and business started under the UPP such as the small business loan program, the first-time homebuyers program, computer training, and a homework center. The University Park Campus School seeded through this initiative was listed by Parade magazine as one of the top 100 highest performing public high schools in the nation.
Another significant policy decision made by the Main South CDC’s board during this period was that the entire blocks should be targeted for comprehensive redevelopment efforts rather than continue a scattered site approach of acquiring individual problem properties. In 2000, the agency completed the renovation of nine abandoned and fire-damaged buildings on the corner of Beacon and Oread Streets. This project had a significant impact in that it facilitated the demolition of substandard property, the acquisition 18 of vacant and blighted lots, the renovation of existing buildings, and the construction of new affordable housing units that were aesthetically and architecturally compatible with the surrounding properties. The result was the transformation of one of the most troubled streets in the neighborhood.
Phase 3: The KGH Neighborhood Revitalization Project: 2000-2013
The success of the Beacon-Oread Redevelopment project heavily influenced the thinking behind the third phase of strategic planning in Main South. The result was Kilby-Gardner-Hammond Revitalization Project.
The KGH Project represents a community-driven approach to the redevelopment of an inner city neighborhood. The Main South CDC worked with its development partners (Clark University, the Boys and Girls Club, and the City of Worcester) to reclaim a 30-acre blighted section of the neighborhood that had over 40 vacant lots and over $600,000 of property tax liens. The guiding philosophy for the redevelopment of this area was established through a series of community planning sessions that led to the creation of a strategic plan. The vision was to bring about the social, physical, and economic resurgence of the neighborhood through the cleanup of contaminated property, the construction of affordable housing for both first-time home-buyers and renters, the development of a new Boys & Girls Club facility and an outdoor athletic complex, and the provision of quality of life enhancements and economic opportunity for neighborhood residents.
The Main South CDC used the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Sustainable Development Principles as a guide to its construction of these units and incorporated as much green design as financially possible. KGH units have energy-efficient appliances and heating systems, low-flow plumbing features, R-4 rated windows, and bamboo flooring. Ten of the homeownership units have photovoltaic solar panels on the roofs of the new buildings. Not only were vinyl products avoided for the exterior of the properties, healthy indoor environments were promoted through the use of non-toxic materials, adequate natural ventilation, and plentiful natural daylight. In addition, passive measures included optimizing southwesterly orientation for solar heat gain in winter and use of deciduous trees for shading in summer.
The KGH Redevelopment Plan incorporated more than housing development. A critical component of it was the acquisition, clearance and remediation of the 7.8 acre industrial brownfield site. Section 108 loan authority was used to assist in financing the acquisition of the site, which originally housed turn of the century manufacturing facilities that had become obsolete and largely abandoned. The revitalization plan called for the clearance of these structures and the creation of a new clean site on which to build a new Boys & Girls Club and a track and field facility that would be owned by Clark University, but also provide for shared usage with the adjacent Boys & Girls Club.
The KGH Neighborhood Revitalization Project cost an estimated $32 million. Through multiple construction phases, the KGH project produced 107 affordable housing units (58 of new construction and 49 renovated units), including 44 units that were sold to first-time homebuyers. Additionally, the project supported the construction of a new Boys & Girls Club building, which opened in 2006, and established the Main South CDC’s Center for Revitalization on Main Street. Utilizing a $2.4 million Federal Highway Grant, a new bike path and retaining wall were completed in the Spring of 2015, and Clark’s athletic facility was completed in 2016.
Phase 4: Main South Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) Project: 2014-2018
The Main South BCJI Project was a resident-driven, cross-sector collaboration between the Main South CDC and its institutional partners in the Main South neighborhood. The goal of this project was to develop a community-based, comprehensive, and holistic approach to the physical, social, and gang-related disorder that has persisted in the neighborhood for decades. This project was funded by a grant from the Department of Justice, and was supported by partnerships with the Boys and Girls Club of Worcester, the Worcester Police Department, and Clark University.
The BCJI project’s Theory of Change states: When residents feel safe and able to use public spaces, and when youth have access to recreation and resources for fun and success, it creates a positive environment where gang violence, crime, and social disorder are reduced. Based on this principle, the Main South CDC and partners implemented the following eight strategies over the course of the two-year implementation phase of the BCJI project:
- Programming of University (Crystal) Park: 45 free, family-friendly events and programs, including 18 recurring programs, over the two-year period, which drew over 8,000 attendees. These events included a weekly REC Farm Stand, weekly Zumba in the Park, family-oriented concerts and movies, and a youth summer soccer league.
- Main South Youth Corps: 27 week program focused on job readiness, leadership skills, and neighborhood stewardship
- Youth Outreach Workers: A place-based street outreach program to build relationships with neighborhood youth and connect them to resources
- Community mobilization: Increased opportunities for community engagement
- Youth-Police Dialogue Program: A seven-week program intended to build relationships and trust between Main South youth and police officers that work in the Main South neighborhood.
- WPD community policing and increased foot beats in target area
- Boys and Girls Club field activities
- Targeted physical revitalization
Surveys conducted after the Youth-Police Dialogues showed that police reported greater understanding of youth perceptions and realities, and demonstrated commitment to breaking down their own stereotypes of youth. Most youth had more positive impressions of the police after engaging with them in discussions and activities. They developed greater understanding of police as people and a greater willingness to talk to police.
Comparing the year before the project started to afterwards, there has been a 76% decline in arrests and an 83% reduction in crime victims in University Park, as well as a 44% increase in perception of safety of the space based on a door-to-door household survey. Additionally, there was an increase in youth from the target area becoming members of the Boys & Girls Club, and an overall decrease in juvenile arrests.