This is a proposal for a vehicle restricted pedestrian plaza to be created in Chicopee Center in order to:
1. Economically advance the city, and especially the Center.
2. Create a social environment for people to come together.
3. Advance the city culturally.
4. Improve food access with the creation of a farmers market in the plaza.
5. Create an attractive visual aesthetic in the Center.
6. Improve the flow of traffic by changing the vehicular road infrastructure.
7. Improve people’s health.
I will explain how the city will greatly benefit from a pedestrian plaza through each of these points. Before I do that, I’ll explain how I envision the plaza should be laid out and how it will affect vehicular traffic.
The center of the pedestrian area is the intersection of Exchange Street and Center Street. The border of the plaza would extend to Miller St. on Exchange St. to the west, Spring St. on Springfield St. to the east, Front St. to the north, and to the south, the entrance on Center St. of the parking lot at the corner of Center St. and School Street. This will allow for the parking lot entrance to be used. Some sort of barricade and signage will be used to deter vehicles from entering the plaza, but it would not totally prevent delivery vehicles, emergency vehicles, or other necessary vehicles from entering. The barricades would be aesthetically pleasing, and definitely not rectangular cement blocks. They can be moveable, and/or nature can be incorporated. To the north, the triangular green space at Front St. can be extended into Springfield St. and Center St. to act as a natural barrier.
– Cabot St. will become two-way.
– Exchange St. would be made two-way for the half block in-between Miller St. and Cabot St. There would be a cul-de-sac turn-around at the end near the plaza for cars to turn around to go west on Exchange St. Or they can take Miller St.
– Front St. will become two-way until the intersection with Cabot St. At that intersection a roundabout would be put in place.
– A roundabout would also be put in place at the intersection of Front St. and Davitt Memorial Bridge.
– Center St. would be made two-way and a roundabout can be created at the intersection of Cabot, Center, and Union St.
– Traffic wanting to head north from the Shell Gas Station through Chicopee Center to cross Davitt Bridge would primarily travel down Cabot St. and the same goes for traffic wanting to go south from the Davitt Bridge in the opposite direction.
– Traffic travelling north on Springfield St. wanting to cross the Davitt Bridge would primarily take Grape St. to Front St., or South St. to School St. to Cabot St. to Front St.
– On top of the full barrier on Springfield St. at the intersection with Spring St., another barrier would be placed in the north travelling lane on Springfield St. at the intersection with Chapman St. to deter north travelling vehicles from becoming trapped further down, given that Spring St. is one way, while still allowing traffic to flow from Spring St. to Springfield St.
It is important that the plaza area itself be aesthetically pleasing and attractive for people to come to. To start, painted driving lines on the roads within the plaza area would be removed. Tables with umbrellas and chairs would be placed throughout. More trees can be planted within the plaza. Decorative hanging lights can be strung across buildings. Streetlights should be shielded with dimmer light bulbs put in place. Currently the streetlights are far too bright and are totally unshielded. Art sculptures can be installed periodically. This can be made a temporary plaza with moveable barriers to prevent vehicles from entering
Now I will explain each of the positive benefits that the plaza would produce.
1. Economic advancement
There is no question that Chicopee Center needs economic revitalization. The small shops are struggling and something needs to change. The solution is to create a cool area for people to want to be at, shop, and go out to eat. The only way for Chicopee Center to set itself apart and attract people is to bolster the small businesses in the area and encourage foot traffic. Using the model of bringing in large corporate box stores like on Memorial Drive will not work in Chicopee Center, nor would that help the city to begin with. The current physical and economic layout in the heart of Chicopee Center is perfect for a pedestrian plaza to be created. Businesses will be dying to get a prime location within this area. Also, permanent kiosks can be installed in the streets for low-cost business start-ups, for entrepreneurs who can’t afford to buy or rent space in a building.
2. Social environment
People need a location to get out of their homes and become a part of public life. The community is dying for a new location where people of all types can come together and interact. The Downtown Getdown at that location is an example of the kind of social interaction and feeling of community that people are looking for. Of course every week you are not going get numbers of people that an event like that will draw. But you will see a consistent number of people choosing to go to the plaza to meet with friends, acquaintances, or strangers. Events of all sorts can take place at the location.
Without any social activities or cohesion or civic engagement, it is hard to say that Chicopee has much of any culture, although there seems to be some momentum to improve things. The pedestrian plaza can be the vehicle to drive activities in the arts, music, entertainment, intellectual pursuits, all sorts of social events, or business/community relations. The center of the city’s government, City Hall, is also right at the heart of the Center and this may encourage people to get more involved or become more aware, and the city government can use the plaza, being a place of high foot traffic, to reach out to citizens by setting up a booth outside. Students at Elms College will be drawn to the plaza and contribute to making it an exciting, vibrant area. The plaza will also make Elms College more attractive to prospective students.
With a real living/breathing community and higher numbers of people in a collective public space, it does attract homeless people looking for a place to go or possibly panhandle. This is a complex issue in American cities that should not prevent a plaza from being put in place. Using resources like government/community assistance, the police presence in the Center, and new opportunities for jobs, I think that homeless people can get the help they need, crime will not increase, and the area will be a positive experience for all.
4. Food Access
There is a food access issue in the area of Chicopee Center. There lacks access to freshly grown produce, and farmers in the surrounding communities lack access to the citizens of Chicopee. The plaza would be the perfect location for a permanently installed market where vendors like farmers, bakers, craftsmen, and others can sell their goods. Wooden display tables and canopies can be permanently installed for vendors to display their goods, or each day the vendors can bring their own setup. This could be a daily or weekly event during the warmer weather months. During the winter a building location nearby can be used to continue the market and allow for access to locally grown/created goods year round. Recently I heard there will be a farmers market started in front of the old public library in Chicopee Center called Center Fresh, and it can be made more enjoyable and expanded upon with a pedestrian area created there.
5. Visually attractive
A well-done plaza is a sight to see. It is stimulating and enhances the aesthetic of the city.
6. Improve traffic flow
Blocking off traffic from the intersection of Exchange St. and Center St. may seem like a bad idea because this intersection is currently used for through traffic. But I think that diverting traffic away from this intersection and making the proper changes to some one-way streets, adding in roundabouts at three locations, and other changes will improve traffic flow. And traffic flow is not the goal of a city. Livability is one of the goals. The city should not cater to, nor design itself entirely around the automobile. If a person’s driving time is increased by 5 seconds due to the plaza, this is not an issue whatsoever. I do not perceive any safety issues or externalities in residential areas due to the diversion of traffic. Adequate main roads may still be used for through traffic.
7. Improve people’s health
People in Chicopee may walk to the plaza, ride their bike and lock it at bike racks, or drive to the plaza and get out to walk around and enjoy the fresh air, unpolluted by direct vehicle fumes. Handicap access parking spaces will be provided at spaces at the edge of the border of the plaza. There is ample parking in the area, especially with the new city hall parking lots. People’s mental health will be improved with the walkability, social atmosphere, and things to see and do. You also have to consider that in the times of the coronavirus, people (and businesses) are looking for outdoor spaces to come together for outdoor dining, drinking, shopping, etc.
I do not know the cost of creating such a plaza, but it can be done cheaply. It could even be done temporarily once a week or once a month. The immediate and long term benefits will far outweigh the costs.