A Quick Look at POP Allston

Earlier this month, POP Allston, one of the most ambitious and impressive community spaces in Boston, opened to great fanfare. POP Allston includes a vintage clothing store, a bike shop, and a community yoga space. What really sets this project apart, however, is a large indoor skate park that is free and open to the public. This innovative inclusion of a play space in a project designed to activate a commercial property should be intriguing for those of us in Roslindale, where we have a shortage of both play opportunities and open spaces suitable for building traditional playgrounds. As Allston Village Main Streets director Alana Olsen told Boston.com, “We wanted to create a model that people could look at citywide for how to do this successfully.” We will take an outsider’s look at that model to better understand how (and if) we might be able to follow Allston’s lead as a way of bringing nontraditional play to Roslindale.

The main contributors to the skate park appear to have been:

  • Allston Village Main Streets
    This project is a great example of the kind of impact that a Main Streets organization can have thanks to their focus on community revitalization. As most readers of this blog are aware, Roslindale is home to Roslindale Village Main Street, an effective and well-established Main Streets organization.
  • Eden Properties, LLC
    Of course, it is not possible to develop a space without a willing owner. It certainly is not a given that any particular property owner in Roslindale (whether public or private) would be willing to take this kind of chance.  However, we imagine that many people in the real estate business are watching POP Allston closely; if it is a success it could pave the way for other property owners to consider similar projects.
  • Orchard Skateshop
    This local business provides expertise and passion to the project, along with a deep understanding of Allston’s skateboarding culture.
  • Converse
    While local businesses are largely driving this project, a major shoe company provided much of the initial funding for the skate park. Having recently moved their headquarters to Boston, Converse likely viewed this as an opportunity to establish itself in an area known for its large student population. It probably doesn’t hurt that Converse has produced skate shoes named after Allston, nor that competitor New Balance just opened its own new headquarters nearby in Brighton.
  • The Allston Community
    POP Allston was made possible by residents and a business community eager to embrace a new way of running a commercial space. Its creators are depending heavily on continued support from the community as well, with an ambitious goal of raising $50,000 within the next month via a Kickstarter campaign. The large number of residential and commercial developments being built in and around Allston suggests that the interest in this type of community space is likely to intensify.
  • The City of Boston
    While we have heard many stories about how difficult it can be to receive city approval for projects of this kind, the creators of POP Allston have uniformly had great things to say about the city’s handling of this project. As Amanda Olsen puts it:

    “One of the things I really respect about the Walsh administration is how hard they’re working to streamline the permitting process. The inspectional services division has really done a 180 and I’ve been lucky enough to work with the fantastic people there who are really clear in talking us through the it.”

Many factors came together to make the project possible, and there isn’t necessarily a clear parallel for each of those factors in Roslindale. Still, the city’s willingness to engage with a group that is bringing fun to their neighborhood in an innovative way is encouraging, and suggests that our vision of bringing more innovative play spaces to Roslindale may well be embraced by the city.

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