Storefronts with nothing to hide

Glass, says John Dalzell, is a big ally in the revitalization of commercial districts.

As the chief architect for the design unit of the Boston Main Streets program (see main story), he often deals with business owners concerned about crime.

Many, he says, use pull-down metal grates to secure their businesses at night, or board up or fill in window openings.

"Putting in windows is risky," Mr. Dalzell says, "but it's also the way you bring about change both in the perception and the actual crime in the district.

"Windows that are illuminated feel more comfortable and have the added bonus of being the best possible advertising a business can engage in. You don't need a sign that says, 'I sell this.' People can see what you sell."

Still, Dalzell finds it important to address the security issue.

"A business without solid grills is actually more secure than one that has them," he says. "We know [that] from police statistics and the officers who work with the Main Streets program."

Being able to see into stores allows police to quickly spot problems. But with a grated storefront, thieves can break in through roofs and alleyways, then work undetected.

Some store owners worry about broken glass and the costs of replacing it, but Dalzell suggests the use of laminated safety glass, like that used in car windshields. It's very strong, as well as safe.

Dalzell sees his job as supporting the local community's personality.

"Our goal is to avoid uniformity and to help businesses express their individual character," he says.

In a Latino neighborhood, that might mean encouraging the use of vibrant colors or displaying merchandise outside. In Chinatown, factoring in the community's affinity for marble is important.

The challenge architects face is that sometimes businesses strike out on their own with ill-advised improvements, which are then copied by other businesses.

An example of this that Dalzell cites, is backlit, plastic awnings. These are often viewed as an inexpensive way to take care of a store's awning and signage needs simultaneously. They look cheap, Dalzell says. They also soil and wear more quickly than canvas, and often don't match the building's architecture.

By helping merchants find tasteful solutions, the Design Assistance Program gets ahead of the copycat curve.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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