Although it had been a thriving commercial and residential district as late as the 1960's, New Haven's Chapel Street, lying at the southern end of the Yale University campus, had gone through a significant boom and bust cycle by the early 1980's when it's deterioration was evident in a 95% vacancy rate in residential and commercial buildings, SRO hotels and deserted theaters.
Beginning in 1982, Schiavone Realty and Development Corporation, a local developer, began buying and renovating historic structures along Chapel Street. At the request of the developer, PPS worked with the local community, merchants, and the city department of transportation on a streetscape improvement project, widening the sidewalks and extending key intersections, and adding parallel parking on both sides of the street. Brick pavers were installed in the crosswalks and along the perimeters of some sidewalks. Amenities were added, including trees, benches, bike racks, trash dispensers, special lighting, plantings and public art. A short time later, three outdoor cafes occupied the extended sidewalk and, with so many people passing by, a newspaper stand opened on one of the corners. PPS also assisted with design and marketing concepts for the area.
The developer's strong leasing policy--retaining key tenants, upgrading others, and resisting chain stores--contributed to the revitalization of the street and surrounding area. Retail spaces are now 90-95% rented, ranging from a jeweler to a bicycle store and coffee shop. Two theaters have been completely rehabilitated, and the neighborhood is busy both night and day, on weekdays and weekends, with thriving nightclubs, residential multi-family units, and restaurants.
Chapel Street is one of PPS's Greatest Hits.
Chapel Street is also on PPS's Great Public Spaces website.
It all started with the chairs. By simply placing some movable furniture in Harvard Yard in 2009, the University took the first steps in what would eventually become a long-term activation of its outdoor campus space. With just this small, temporary act of Placemaking, the change was dramatic and immediate.
Instead of hiring big-name architects to design flashy new campus buildings in an attempt to attract students, universities should be spending their time and money on improving the quality and connectivity of their public spaces.