By Joan Burns, Design Developer and David Westall, Principal, Westall Architects
Small economies can thrive on small retail business. Small businesses thrive on pedestrian traffic. Pedestrian traffic requires attractions at short distance. This is why successful small towns have streets with diverse businesses and engaging public spaces that pull people along rather than pushing them back to their cars. Everything depends on location and arrangement. Williamstown has a Main Street without pedestrian traffic. Its Spring Street combines business and public and college spaces inefficiently. We propose to make Water Street an important part of a more sustainable economy for the town.
Competition from giant stores and malls has killed village economies all over America. Water Street cannot and should not replace the Berkshire Mall, but with appropriate planning and development we can steal back some of its income and energy. We are against what other towns have done—made their center into a mall. But we can take what malls thrive on—walking, proximity, change encounters, and sales—and make it an important part of our village.
From the corner of Main Street down to Cable Mills, in the next ten years we see a Water Street where present buildings and businesses are complemented by new stores and new public spaces to attract residents and visitors all along an enhanced pedestrian way. We are proposing an innovative and efficient melding of the old, the contemporary, and the new. Imagine Water Street flooded with people strolling and shopping, relaxing and talking, townspeople and students and tourists, all enjoying beautiful Williamstown and, at the same time, supporting local business and employment.
- We propose accomplishing this through four initiatives:
Create a preliminary Vision for Water Street, including a map from Cable Mills to Main Street that shows every building, business, and vacant area, and a brief narrative of the histories of these sites and the street.
- Using the Planning Survey prepared by the Williamstown Economic Development Committee, and working with the Committee to develop a schedule of priorities, work to refine the Vision for Water Street into a development plan with short-, medium-, and long-term phases that would include supports for existing and additional businesses likely to succeed on the enhanced Water Street, as well as key design features for attractive and functional public space.
- Outreach. Once parameters have been recognized and goals established, we will employ a front person knowledgeable about local, national, and global business who will do the leg-work to find viable and enthusiastic business partners.
- We will work with town committees and the town manager to find specific ways to offer cooperation and incentives to potential business partners. We intend to seek both public and private financing.
We will assist in writing any necessary warrant articles for Town Meetings and publicity.
Our aim is to take the leadership role in a broad-based partnership to envision, design, plan, and develop the part that is missing from our town’s sustainable economic future: the new Water Street. We intend to work with local and Commonwealth government, development agencies, businesses, public relations and other professionals, and fellow citizens of Williamstown to bring this vision to fruition.