The revitalization of retail storefronts at the intersection of Morse Avenue and Carteret Street in Bloomberg NJ, is a perfect example of simple urban interventions that can enliven a community.
Watsessing Park Neighborhood
I happened to drive by the Watsessing neighborhood in Bloomfield NJ one day when I discovered dilapidated storefronts at the corner of Morse Avenue and Carteret Street. This residential neighborhood is within walking distance from the Watsessing Park. It is also within walking distance from the Watsessing Avenue train stop on NJ Transit’s Montclair-Boonton line. The street corner is frequented by joggers, commuters, and school children from the Watsessing district.
A store owner greeted me as I got off my car to take a closer look. He said that his business was struggling because he had to compete with large shopping malls and smaller strip malls. He could use some help in sprucing up his façade to attract local residents. I told him that I was an architect and could help by developing plans for façade improvements but he would need to raise the funds for the construction.
Existing storefronts before revitalization
Bloomfield Community Development Program
The next stop was the Bloomfield townhall to see if there was any interest in revitalizing that area. Interestingly, the town engineer’s office said that they had some community development block grant (CDBG) funds available. They were trying to find appropriate projects to fund. After some discussion, the town engineer agreed that this would be a perfect project to leverage the CDBG funds for community revitalization. It would also be a test case for transit-oriented development.
Storefronts after revitalization
Façade Improvement Project
What resulted was a façade improvement project for the corner of Morse Avenue and Carteret Street. My team investigated and developed plans for the revitalization of existing storefronts. We worked with the store owners in developing individual façade plans. As we were developing the plans, we realized that the storefronts needed a sense of identity. Instead of putting up a giant sign, which was typical at retail strip malls, we thought of using architecture to provide a sense of identity. By articulating the corner and placing a clock at the top, we were able to create a unique urban identity for this area.
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Urban interventions at a neighborhood scale
This simple project has been extremely successful in improving the urban character of this residential neighborhood and in promoting economic development. It also led to similar projects at other communities in New Jersey. What began as a research project in Iowa in the eighties had found its fruits in the urban intervention projects a decade later. This project received Innovation in Construction award from Remodeling News. But the real reward is the realization that this retail strip is still thriving after three decades.