Wicked Local Dedham: East Dedham arts district would help revitalize the area, study says

By Sara Feijo | sfeijo@wickedlocal.com

DEDHAM - The revitalization of East Dedham went under the microscope of a recent Planning Board meeting after a group of Northeastern University graduate students talked about the East Dedham Village Charrette Action Plan.

Developed by the students, the project aims at creating an economically thriving and vibrant East Dedham neighborhood, from Sawmill Lane to Bussey, Milton and High Streets.

But, with the number of youth declining and the number of seniors increasing, students say attracting younger folks is key to invigorate the neighborhood and the town as a whole.

“The town of Dedham, especially East Dedham, has a lot of older residents and bringing in a more mixed demographic into this area will allow that vibrancy,” Winthrop Roosevelt, a public policy student, said April 17.

The town’s population grew rapidly between 1940 and 1970, but then it began to decline, according to a recent study from the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University.

Dedham’s population is expected to continue to grow slowly, but age rapidly, the survey says.

According to the 2010 Census, 21.7 percent of Dedham residents were 62 years old or older. In order to revitalize East Dedham, students recommended:

The creation of an independent East Dedham nonprofit, similar to Dedham Square Circle, to advocate for community revitalization and economic growth.Approval of Town Meeting Warrant Articles 28 and 29, which would create an arts overlay district in East Dedham.The development of a visually attractive public realm with a system of connected open space amenities that maximizes connections to the Mother Brook.Marketing East Dedham as a regional center for creative economy workers and businesses.

“We think it would be a great start to get the ball rolling on implementing the (plan),” Noah Hodgetts, one of the graduate students, said of the arts overlay district.

Selectman Michael Butler, however, raised concerns regarding the overlay district, the town’s aging housing complexes and the assessed value of properties if general commercial zoning requirements are expanded.

“In and around Dedham Square in the past seven or eight years, there have been several unutilized commercial properties that were purchased and redeveloped,” Butler said.” If you compare the assessed value after construction with before construction, it’s pretty much multiple of ten.”

Barry Bluestone, director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, said the project would bring new taxes and new businesses.

“We’re going to need to have those young people here for new businesses that come in and new starters to expand that space,” Bluestone said. “If you’re successful at doing this you need to be working on that housing issue, developing that kind of housing that is not only going to be for seniors who will be indeed downsizing … as well as housing that young people will want and can afford.”

According to Bluestone, Cambridge, Somerville and Boston experienced a similar situation about 15 years ago, with an increasing older population, and youth who couldn’t afford housing in those cities and were looking for jobs elsewhere. He said younger population increased in all three cities after they addressed economic development.

“In the year 2000, 34 percent of that population was between the ages of 20 to 34,” he said. “But, for the first time, nearly three quarters of the net increase population of those three cities since 2000 have been young people, 20 to 34.”

The students also recommended that the town utilize East Dedham’s recreational spaces by creating walkways throughout the Mother Brook area; organizing public art projects, like custom made benches and sidewalks; hosting art fairs, music events and movie nights at, for example, Condon Park; and developing arts education/classes in parks along the Mother Brook, such as painting and sketching.

“It really has to be a grassroots thing, and so it’s important to support our board and the Board of Selectmen to really engage our neighborhood,” Joe Heisler, chairman of the Mother Brook Community Group, said, adding that there are emerging organizations that could advocate for the community’s revitalization and economic growth.

For more information, visit www.eastdedhamcharrette.com.

Staff writer Sara Feijo can be reached at 781-433-8336 or sfeijo@wickedlocal.com. Follow @s_fjo on Twitter. Like The Dedham Transcript on Facebook and follow @DedhamTranscrip on Twitter.

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