What makes a street come to life?

Posted on August 22, 2017 by Karin • Filed under:

People in streetWe have been working on three buildings in historic Norwich, Connecticut, where masonry and stone-faced buildings line a brick-sidewalked street linking City Hall to Main Street. Buildings are 2 to 5 stories high on both sides, hinting at the once bustling city nicknamed the Rose of Connecticut.

Historic buildings are difficult to maintain and building interiors are not always ideally suited to new uses. In difficult economic times, this combination leads to failing structures, unsuitable living spaces and vacant commercial spaces. On this stretch of Broadway, roughly a third of commercial spaces at street level are either vacant or hidden behind blank blinds. It is difficult to maintain a lively streetscape when a critical mass of its buildings are underutilized.


We’ve been thinking about how to bring renewed life to this street. It has good connection points—Main Street to the South, City Hall to the North. There are opportunities for small retail, commercial or otherwise public spaces on the ground floor of every building.

So, what is it lacking? People and places of interest.

First, to address the lack of people on the street, we need to assess why there are few pedestrians. There are a number of upper-floor spaces that simply don’t work well either as business spaces or as apartments. A critical mass of people is needed to both live and work here in order to make the street lively. Then at street level, commercial spaces need people to frequent them and people living downtown need successful businesses to frequent.

One of the tools we like to use to measure the potential of an area for growth is WalkScore, an app that measures walkability. The key to walkability is to have amenities and conveniences within walking distance of one’s home (or business). Walkability measures align well with our philosophy that a lively street is a walkable street. This street scores an 83 out of 100, considered ‘very walkable’.

The app measures the distance to various key places of interest: Restaurants, Coffee, Bars, Groceries, Parks, Schools, Shopping, Entertainment and Errands. This list is a good basis to create a list of the types of spaces ideal for this neighborhood. We like to recommend these types of spaces at street level:

  • Convenience: café, deli, restaurant, grocery
  • Other businesses (public): banks, real estate offices, pharmacies, co-working spaces
  • Luxury or spur-of-the-moment shopping: clothing, bookstore, gift stores, art galleries

For upper floor uses, we recommend some office and mixed residential apartments—studios, 1-bedrooms, and 2-bedrooms—which attract a variety of people (students, employees, young families, and empty nesters).

Commercial street


Well kept storefronts with plenty of glass (and plenty to see behind it!), bold signage, awnings, planters, light posts and street furniture together combine to create the finishing touches of a pleasing streetscape.

Good street design isn’t just about the way things look. It’s about creating a livable, lively and, above all, safe environment for residents and visitors alike.