I first noticed it on Acushnet Avenue during Day of Portugal weekend in early June. Cafe Portugal, Cafe Europa, and Adriana’s Mexican Restaurant made liberal use of their sidewalks for al fresco dining throughout the street festival. And they did it right – colorful umbrellas, liberal seating, wise use of the expanded streetscape. Patrons loved it.
Downtown, the promise of the streetscape project at the foot of Union Street is being fulfilled as never before. Thanks to the addition of Moby Dick Brewing, a plethora of seats await you along this beautiful block. Slainte – which already boasts a stellar rooftop deck – doubles down with tables outside their window. And across the street, Cultivator Shoals joins the other establishments with a sweet new outdoor area.
In both places across the city, bars and eateries are taking advantage of ambitious streetscape projects that no doubt caused quite a bit of teeth-gnashing during construction. Yet now, the rewards of that pain are being reaped as New Bedford is learning to make like Toronto and wring every bit of summer out of the warmer months – to its benefit.
Big Dividends for the City
There are the obvious economic benefits: diners want to eat outside in the glorious sunshine so are more likely to return to a place offering outdoor seating.
It also makes a strong visual: seeing people enjoy themselves burnishes New Bedford’s appeal as a regional destination.
Finally, it refutes the perception that New Bedford streets are unsafe – indeed, more folks and eyes on the streets makes them all the more safer.
Whenever a municipality undertakes a disruptive construction process – as both the lower Union Street improvement and Acushnet Avenue International Marketplace redesign were – there’s plenty of second-guessing during construction. Business suffers, patience wears thin, car and foot traffic get re-routed. Sometimes, the very wisdom of doing anything at all is questioned.
Both on lower Union Street and Acushnet Avenue, though, the groundwork was being laid for a better future. New Bedford isn’t the same city it was 10, five or even three years ago.
It’s experiencing a boom that’s beginning to spread outward from downtown to envelope other parts of the city. And accordingly, small businesses and patrons alike now find themselves in the position to take advantage of the foresight some of these initiatives required.
It’s a useful lesson to ponder – as more such projects are underway or on the way.
Right now, Coggeshall Street is experiencing a long overdue transformation. Road and infrastructure refurbishment have been necessary since the popular Market Basket opened. Soon, more of Union Street past Moby Dick Brewery to just beyond Pleasant Street gets its turn.
The TDI fellow helping to implement that process, James McKeag, works from right here at Groundwork! – and we’ve been teasing him for months but about his predilection to “tear up Union Street!”
Of course, we’re joking with him. The affable McKeag is like the Jimmy Stewart of urban planning. Both his goal and the goal of the Purchase-Union Street Innovation District is to set the stage for more of the growth and streetscape harmony I’ve described above. We know Jim’s going to take some heat when the pavement starts to get ripped up. So we figured we’d help him out by getting out front and hashtagging the project #notthebigdig before too many people lose their minds!
But even better than a hashtag, dinner and a cocktail curbside during this glowing summer would probably serve best to remind everyone that the gain from the pain is indeed worth it.
New Bedford is benefiting everywhere – from Union Street to Acushnet Avenue to Clarks Cove to West Beach – from getting outside. It’s our moment in the sun – grab it.