February 12, 2013

Website Will Gather Resident Input for Collegetown Development

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Correction appended

The shops located in the proposed Collegetown Crossing –– a development at 307 College Ave. that will include apartments and a GreenStar Market –– will be decided by popular consensus on a website that was launched to the public Tuesday.

This project’s page on the Popularise website –– which enables residents to propose building concepts –– will allow people to submit ideas and vote on them for the upcoming space.

“Popularise helps people post a location and pose a question, to which other people can propose an idea, and other people can vote in support of [it]. Here, we are asking what the businesses could be [in the 307 College Ave. space],” said Aylin Gucalp ’14, who started the project page on the Popularise website.

Gucalp said she began the online project for the course The Promise and Pitfalls of Contemporary Planning to create an easier way for residents to provide input for their community.

“As someone who doesn’t like writing papers, I wanted to create a project. And Collegetown, with so many open storefronts, seemed like a good place,” she said.

The space available for development ranges from 400 to 3,000 square feet, according to Josh Lower ’05, developer of the Collegetown Crossing project.

“There could be one larger space or several smaller spaces,” he said.

According to Gucalp, the page was first opened three days ago to about 30 of her closest friends, who posted ideas such as a bookstore, diner, gym, Chipotle restaurant and a bikeshare on the site.

“We will follow this up with some press and reaching to student groups and majors related to the built environment, and then hopefully to our larger community through social media and word of mouth,” she said.

After creating the crowdsourcing model and website, Gucalp emailed developers who had retail space available in Collegetown, receiving one reply, from Lower.

“It seemed like a new channel to encourage participation in a social media-like base. I had never seen it done before with commercial spaces, and we are excited to see how successful it will be,” Lower said.

Still, the prospective building options are dependent on the quality and number of proposals, Gucalp said.

“Some locations [which have crowd-sourced projects on Popularise] have had … 40 proposals and have … 500 people vote. I don’t know if we’ll be able to come up with 40 unique ideas,” Gucalp said. “I think because we have a majority demographic — college students, for the most part — the suggestions that people will come up with may be similar.”

However, the efficacy of the feedback initiative of the project remains to be seen. Popularise has never had its platform used as part of a college town development area, according to Brandon Jenkins, Popularise’s director of real estate.

“A college town is an ideal scenario where you’re looking to engage the community,” Jenkins said. “I think a lot of [college towns] have a connection to the community that they are in, and it’s kind of a logical market to tap into.”

After obtaining community input, Lower must find a developer to support the public’s ideas.

“Although this system holds the promise of listening to the community and allowing them to vote on what they want the most, it cannot guarantee that the business will agree to move into the space. Both parties have to come to an agreement,” Lower said.

Jenkins said an important goal of the site was not to agree on one outcome, but rather to understand sentiments in the area about potential uses for the space.

“The goal is not to have one answer, but to find out what is the broader message from the community,” Jenkins said.

Lower said he hopes the potential new businesses will fit in with the character of the neighborhood.

“We are really hoping for a startup small business or an entrepreneur, something that will be symbiotic with the neighborhood and the other retail tenants in the building,” Lower said.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the site was first launched to a group of Gucalp’s friends three months ago. In fact, it was launched three days ago.

Original Author: Jonathan Dawson