A new report released Wednesday laid out a multi-pronged strategy for revitalizing Roxbury's Nubian Square and recommends Boston's Office of Economic Development take the lead role.
The report, published by The American City Coalition, suggested that current residents and businesses could benefit from alternative policing methods, better access to parking and more market-rate housing in the renamed business district formerly known as Dudley Square.
Christine Araujo, the coalition’s executive director, said the report is intended to inform conversations around the square — one of the last remaining frontiers of development in the city.
"It cannot be left to chance. It's got to be thoughtful, it's got to be focused," Araujo said of the forthcoming development. "We thought that it might help to inform future decision-making if we did a market analysis, especially since we're expecting new residents and new retail in the square."
Araujo said the OED is best positioned to lead to effort.
“They have the complete toolbox to make a difference,” she said, which would enable them to work in collaboration with advocates, business owners, residents and other agencies to better the area.
Topping the report’s recommendations is improving perceptions of safety in the square by improving street lighting and replacing seemingly ubiquitous police cruisers in the area with "active foot patrols."
Making that switch in policing, the report said, "will not only add to the sense of safety, but also provide opportunities for positive police interaction with the community."
Howard Wial, director of research at the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, which helped with the research, said participants in two focus groups indicated the constant presence of a parked police cruiser with flashing lights disconcerts many people.
"That kind of policing can be a signal to stay away from the area. It often signals that either there's a health emergency or a public safety emergency," Wial said in an interview with WGBH News. "On the other hand, community-oriented policing is important, so we recommend that the police car with its flashing blue lights be replaced by police on the beat who are engaged with the community and know the community."
Clarissa Cropper, co-owner of the Frugal Bookstore in the square, agreed that addressing the perception of safety is important, but adds that parking is crucial to drawing customers to spend money in the square.
"People shouldn't feel unsafe coming to Nubian Square," she said with a chuckle, acknowledging that she feels differently than a visitor. "It's, 'Where am I going to park?'"
The report said that business growth in Nubian Square will be stymied unless more public parking spaces are added.
For other business owners like Cheryl Straughter, proprietor of Soleil Restaurant and Catering, the biggest hurdle to business isn't the perception of safety or parking. It's reaching new patrons.
"This area is not really marketed. People know to go to Fenway, they know to go to Seaport and downtown, but people don't know to come here," she explained.
"You can easily get to various parts of the city on these buses," Straughter said, pointing to the soon-to-be renamed Dudley bus station across from her restaurant. "So it's not difficult to get here, but it has been difficult for businesses to thrive here."
Straughter participated in a business focus group for the report and supports the recommendation for more market-rate housing in order to draw new residents who have greater disposable income to spend.
"I think that we need housing that embraces an income level that is low, moderate, high, and have everybody come out and break bread," she said. "I just think that there needs to be some kind of balance and consideration as the community changes."
The report recommended new housing developments in the area make 50 percent to 60 percent of their units be available at market rates — well above the one-third some activists have advocated. Many longtime residents have called for building more affordable units to prevent their displacement.
In 2018, the Walsh administration released Boston’s first inventory of income-restricted housing. At that time, Roxbury was among the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of such units with 45 percent designated as income-restricted.
To craft the report, researchers from The American City Coalition, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, and the FXM consulting firm held focus groups with Nubian Square residents and businesses and compared the area to five other business districts: Ashmont-Fields Corner, Egleston Square, Hyde-Square-Jackson Square, Mattapan Square, and Brookline Village.