Reinventing the Heart of Hebron: Placemaking as a Catalyst for Creating a Vibrant, Walkable Town Center
Opportunities & Challenges
Hebron, a small rural bedroom commuter town, attracts residents because of its accessibility to area jobs, the quality of local schools, and the beauty of the countryside. Formed in the early 1700s around a village green, shops, businesses, the post office, schools, churches, town hall and residences were all clustered around an expansive green sward where community gatherings took place. Over 300 years, natural disasters, fire, and encroachments by the development of major roads all diminished the town center, and with it, a sense of community.
For the past 15 years, Hebron’s land-use officials and staff have implemented public improvement projects along Main Street, designed to create a sense of place and make downtown more user-friendly. Sidewalks, benches, plantings, public/private parking, gateway signage, street lamps, façade improvements, and new mixed-use zoning provisions have gone a long way to ameliorate the depredations of past highway practices that favored cars over pedestrians and bicyclists.
Building on that framework of restoring the look and feel of the historic town, The Town Center Project (TTCP) sees “placemaking” as a catalyst for community, for creating the kind of downtown that people will want to visit and dine dine, a place to gather for music, ice skating, fellowship, and where they will choose to spend their leisure time and dollars. But getting people to come into town requires giving them reasons to come, and places to come to.
In its inaugural year, TTCP produced a full plate of events for the Hebron community including the organization’s fund raiser, a Town-wide Tag Sale. The family-oriented Lazy Days of Summer showcased local musicians, tai chi, and low-tech yard games along the sidewalks on Main Street and in Veterans’ Park. On the 4th of July, residents gathered at the Old Town Hall steps for a reading of the Declaration of Independence, listened to local high school students perform patriotic songs and enjoyed food trucks, music and races. The Summer Concert Series featured three regional bands and drew crowds to Veteran’s Park for music, dancing and more yard games. The closing event of the season, the Harvest Moon Festival, was most successful as over 2,000 people filled Main Street to participate in the costumed Barktober dog jog, kid’s games and activities, a pumpkin-carving contest, numerous food and artisan vendors, and of course, trick-or-treating.
TTCP was selected as a winner of AARP’s 2018 Livable Communities Community Challenge, with their entry of the creation of Adirondack-style chairs. A local company cut the lumber and provided 12 kits, that were primed and assembled by boy scouts and adult volunteers. While the chairs were being built, a call went out for artists to paint the chairs, working with the theme “Crazy for Color.” Two respected local artists served as judges and selected 10 artists from both Hebron and surrounding towns. Upon completion, the judges chose 3 winning chairs for cash prizes at an awards ceremony in the town center, and a 4th “People’s Choice” award was voted on by visitors at ballot boxes set up at local merchants. The completed chairs were installed, in pairs, on poured cement slabs and now beautify Hebron’s Historic District, providing additional seating for residents and visitors to downtown.
It takes a lot of money to put on free activities! Sponsorship and funding came from a variety of statewide and local organizations. TTCP’s board of directors gave generously of their time and money; local artisans and experts contributed their talents; town staff, local police and State Troopers donated their time, expertise, and manpower, all to make this first year a great success.
While Placemaking is still paramount in its thoughts, The Town Center Project’s strategy is to take incremental steps towards an overall goal of a vibrant, walkable town center:
- Traffic-calming measures on Route 66 are included in the Town’s Plan of Conversation & Development, but will require an implementation plan and buy-in from residents as to the economic, social and quality of life benefits attached to such an effort;
- Continuing to engage residents about their dreams and desires for the town center. So far, input has included a Community Center, a public pool, a temporary ice rink, more “fine dining” restaurants, and creation of gathering spaces for activities in downtown; and
- A series of one-day events, such as The Big Lunch, where people get together on the first weekend in June, with friends and family, on dead-end streets, in neighborhoods, in the town center, to share in public lunch parties for a few hours of community, friendship and fun. Another such event, Blue Sky Day, would be a Plein Air Painting Day in Hebron Center. A third possibility is a Community Sing, perhaps on June 21, 2019—“Make Music Day” in CT.