COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Placemaking on America's Historic Main Streets

Craig Raphael
Jun 30, 2010
Jan 8, 2018

In honor of our new partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, PPS is revisiting a body of project work impacting historic places. Last week we looked at historic train stations and public markets; today we'll examine historic main streets.

The traditional Main Street is one of the most iconic images of America. With its unique blend of housing, retail and civic uses, Main Street served as the social and commercial hub of communities until World War II. Since then, suburban development favoring shopping malls and single-use zoning have driven resources away from these vital places. Road widening projects and the "forgiving highway" have also taken their toll: not only is fast-moving traffic less likely to stop, but speed kills a street's sense of place and diminishes its environment for all users.

Thankfully, today various organizations and communities are working to restore the historic functions of main streets and reestablish them as the center of towns and cities. Many have achieved success by using the Main Street® approach, a unique tool combining organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring that helps build a complete revitalization effort.

Below, a small sampling of  PPS' work with these historic places.

Madison, New Jersey

PPS has been involved with this small historic town west of New York City as early as 1980, when we worked on a downtown revitalization plan focused on design and management. Our work then included comprehensive surveys and time-lapse film analysis, a small portion of which is featured above. Most recently, we conducted a placemaking workshop centered on Lincoln Place, the street adjacent to the train station and a gateway to the historic downtown business district. The street houses the post office, train station and movie theater but lacks the public gathering points and inviting character that marks the rest of downtown Madison. To make these improvements to Lincoln Place, PPS to developed a plan for enhancing the street based on input from the community.

Lincoln Place could serve as a better gateway to downtown Madison.
‍A photo simulation of proposed improvements to the street.

Chapel Street, New Haven

Situated at the southern end of the Yale University Campus, Chapel Street was a thriving residential and commercial district as late as the 1960s. But by 1983, its vacancy rate had reached 95% and people found little reason to go there. A local developer began buying and renovating historic structures and hired PPS to help turn the street into a vibrant place once again. Drawing on the insights of merchants, community members and the city department of transportation, PPS came up with a plan to reclaim space for pedestrians and create a more favorable environment for retail and greater public use.

A corner of Chapel Street with its sidewalks under construction
‍The new sidewalks and amenities made Chapel Street a place where people could feel comfortable having a conversation

Arlington District, Poughkeepsie

Arlington is the historic heart of the Town of Poughkeepsie, New York, where shops, movie houses, and restaurants flourished in the past alongside banks, churches, libraries, schools, and other institutions, including Vassar College. In the 1960s, the district's main street--Raymond Avenue-- was widened to four lanes and landscaped medians were removed in the name of efficient traffic management. As a result, businesses suffered and the street lost much of its small-town character. In the late 1990s, a committee of businesses leaders, Vassar College, and public and private organizations worked with PPS to develop a revitalization strategy for the district to once again make it a vibrant place. Recently, many of PPS' traffic calming recommendations were implemented by New York State DOT.

Raymond Avenue before improvements were made.
‍Raymond Avenue after construction: Wider sidewalks, bollards, street lighting and on-street parking. NYSDOT also added three roundabouts to slow and improve traffic flow.

Hillsdale Hamlet, Hudson Valley

At the junction of two state highways and close to major recreational attractions, historic Hillsdale hamlet has a huge opportunity to become a small tourist destination in its own right. Its rural landscape, pastoral setting and handsome architecture are also important starting points for its revitalization. PPS conducted a community-visioning process with the town, gathering information through interviews and focus groups and facilitating a workshop to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Hamlet through the eyes of the people who live and work there.  Together with the Hamlet Committee, PPS developed a vision that includes making it more walkable, creating great places, attracting new businesses and enhancing private properties. The plan is also intended to help Hillsdale Hamlet become a more vital center for the Hillsdale community, serving the needs of a diverse local population as well as attracting visitors from around the region.

The crossroads of Hillsdale: the intersection of Rt. 22 and Rt. 23.
‍PPS' proposed improvements for the above intersection. Other diagrams focus on traffic calming and improvements for 6 key destinations identified with the community.

More Main Street Projects:

Littleton, New Hampshire

Tuscon, Arizona

Flint, Michigan

Craig Raphael
Craig Raphael
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