Editorial: Crompton Place, Jane Jacobs and you

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Crompton Place is one of the feel-good stories in Worcester’s recent past.

In the heart of the Canal District and home to, among others, Crompton Collective, Birch Tree Bread, the Canal District Farmers Market and Seed to Stem, the former home of the Crompton Loom Works is a prime example of the reuse of an industrial building as a destination marketplace in an urban neighborhood.

Crompton Place

Patrick Sargent / For Worcester Sun

Crompton Place

Owner Dino Lorusso purchased the building in 2007 for $1.3 million, according to an article in Worcester Business Journal. “He went to work not only fixing up the building but also fixing his sights on tenants that would help build his vision for mixed-use retail and residential,” the article reads. “Ultimately, he wanted to build up a neighborhood feel that had been a huge part of his childhood.”

It’s the kind of development that would make Jane Jacobs proud.

Jacobs was a journalist and activist who was a champion of community-based urban development. According to one biography, “Her 1961 treatise, [The Death and Life of Great American Cities], became one of the most influential American texts about the inner workings and failings of cities, inspiring generations of urban planners and activists.”

Her work was the inspiration for the mostly eponymous blog “Jane Jacobs in the Woo”. The blog is an insightful and thoughtful look at Worcester using the principles of Jacobs’ style of urban planning. It was started by Joyce Mandell in May to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Jacobs’ birth.

Crompton Collective fits so nicely into the Jacobs model of urban planning that Mandell gave it a shoutout in a May post in which she asked, “Are you a ‘Jane Jacobs in the Woo’?

In September, Strong Towns — an organization whose mission “is to support a model of development that allows America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient” — began the Strongest Infrastructure Project with a contest.

“As part of our conversation on infrastructure spending and the #InfrastructureCrisis,” the contest reads, “we’d like to highlight good infrastructure spending decisions—the ones that truly provide a return on investment, the ones that genuinely make their neighborhoods better and take public ideas into account.

“We believe that a nation full of towns that take on small, incremental projects to improve their neighborhoods is a much better model than a nation where the federal government goes trillions of dollars in debt in the hopes of growing the economy through megaprojects.

“To that end, you’re invited to nominate a project from your town (or a town you’re familiar with) that exemplifies Strong Towns principles including:

  • local decision-making and public input
  • bottom-up rather than top-down action
  • project design that’s built to adapt or change incrementally
  • utilizing existing resources, land and infrastructure instead of building from scratch
  • true return on investment

“In other words, don’t send us your new stadium or performing arts center. We’re looking for homegrown, neighborhood-based small bets.”

Late last month Mandell nominated Crompton Place. The post read, “Crompton Place demonstrates the core Strong Towns principles in the following ways:

  • Creative and adaptive reuse of Crompton Loom Works, an historical  former industrial textile mill purchased in 2007 by a local small-scale developer who actually lives on-site
  • Mixed use development combining retail and service businesses, an artisanal bread bakery, a nonprofit homeownership center, the Blackstone Canal Historical Museum and residential units in the process of being developed on the top floor
  • Incremental pace of development
  • Celebration and promotion of small, locally owned businesses
  • Project integration and  enhancer of “walkability” within the Canal District neighborhood: hosting weekly Canal District Farmers Market, free summer Thursday evening outdoor music concerts and free horse and wagon tours led by local high school students trained to narrate the history of the neighborhood and the Blackstone Canal.”

Crompton Place is now one of five finalists for Strongest Infrastructure Project.

Early voting for the presidential election has already begun. You have heard and will hear again about voting being your civic duty.

Take a moment, though, to consider voting for the Crompton Collective, not so much as a matter of civic duty but rather as a matter of civic pride.

Voting on the Strong Towns website continues until Sunday night.

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