The Essex Street Pedestrian Mall

The Essex Street Pedestrian Mall

In 2010, The Salem Partnership in collaboration with the City of Salem and the Peabody Essex Museum began working on an initiative to update the pedestrian mall.

The mall was developed during the mid 1970s. After close to 40 years, most would agree that it is in need of a facelift and redesign. Physical issues include: cobblestones are uncomfortable for walking; some landscaping is in poor health and/or obscures storefronts and architecture; the sidewalk is pinched along Museum Place Mall; benches don’t relate well to context; there are maintenance issues with the two fountains; there is a safety issue with East India Square fountain; and there is limited sunlight. Furthermore, East India Square does not feel “owned” by anyone and does not have regularly scheduled programming; the mall is cluttered with a hodgepodge of stands, vendors, and ticket sellers; delivery and service vehicles drive throughout the day; and the lack of vehicular access impacts traffic circulation and congestion downtown. The partners agreed that the time is right to be proactive and tackle this thorny issue by determining a direction and design criteria for the redesign of this key component of Salem’s downtown.

Utile Design and facilitator Larry Langford were hired to conduct four public forums. The forums, which were held between January and April 2011, gave businesses, property owners, and residents who are interested in the future of the mall to come together for a discussion of idea. The four forums took participants through the following process:

  • What is good about the pedestrian mall that you want to keep and what would you like to change
  • Your vision for the future
  • Discussion of alternative design scenarios
  • Selection of a preferred scenario

In 2011 and 2012, several funding opportunities have been pursued to continue the work. In parallel to these funding efforts, the city has continued to work with Utile Design and Landworks Studio to see what incremental improvements might be made, and they have prepared a conceptual scope.

The focus of the current work has been to address the uneven surface, maintenance difficulties, blocked views, and unclear pedestrian paths. The conceptual scope includes removing the fountain at Washington and Essex Street, removing understory plantings and replacing with canopy trees, and replacing uneven cobblestones with a new block pavement material.

Utile Design and Landworks Studio presented the conceptual scope of work at the Salem Redevelopment Authority’s meeting on April 11, 2012. That evening, the Salem Redevelopment Authority (SRA) approved the conceptual plan for pedestrian mall improvements.

To minimize disruption from construction, the city has decided to implement the improvements in phases.

In conjunction with the redesign of the pedestrian mall, the three partners (the City of Salem, PEM and The Salem Partnership) received a grant in April 2012 from the National Endowment for the Arts to create a policy and procedures for use of public art in the City of Salem. During the past year, they hired a new consultant, held two public meetings, interviewed a wide variety of people, and became involved with a working group to create a Policy and Procedures Document. This document is now complete and will be submitted to the NEA this coming August. The next step in this process is to create a public art commission.

Concrete planters and the bulletin board kiosk have been removed, new trees have been planted, and brick to match the existing brick surface has been replaced from Museum Place Mall to Washington Street. Cobblestones have been reduced or removed. The final phase was the renovation of the Washington Street fountain.