See What a Survey of Coolidge Square Residents Found

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Charlie Breitrose

Coolidge Square in East Watertown.

Coolidge Square in East Watertown.

Charlie Breitrose

Coolidge Square in East Watertown.

Two East Watertown residents decided to ask their neighbors what they thought about Coolidge Square, and particularly about the proposed CVS/Pharmacy and 65 Grove Street proposal. Here’s what they found.

Janet Jameson and Deb Peterson put together an online survey and publicized it. They received 90 respondents on questions such as how often the shop in Coolidge Square, what kind of stores would they like to see come to the area and whether their streets are impacted by traffic from the square.

Traffic is a big concern for residents, according to the survey, and more than half wanted improved conditions for pedestrians.

The survey found that people would like to see another coffee shop or cafe come to Coolidge Square. Other ideas were a wine bar, high-end restaurant or ethnic food restaurant.

About a quarter supported the proposed CVS, while 44 percent opposed it. Nearly half had no opinion on the proposal for the old GE Ionics building at 65 Grove St., which includes a parking garage.

A quarter go to Coolidge Square at least once a week, and the vast majority walk there.

Click here to see the statistics from the survey: 90 Respondents Tablesdocx

Here is the synopsis sent out by Jameson and Peterson:

COOLIDGE SQUARE SURVEY: Highlights & Recommendations

Surveys were distributed online to the East End Neighbors mailing list and links were distributed to other neighbors in the East End. Flyers were posted at bus stops and at the Hellenic Cultural Center poll on election day. As of Nov 15, there were 90 respondents.


High level of use and knowledge of Coolidge Square by all ages. Survey respondents frequent Coolidge Square often. Almost one out of four walk in Coolidge Square daily and 85% walk in Coolidge Square once a week or more. Almost all mentioned a favorite location in Coolidge Square and many had multiple favorites. Everyone had many specific suggestions for new stores or businesses that they would like to frequent in the Square. Coolidge Square does seem to operate as a village to many residents. Respondents had a wide range of tenure in Watertown evenly distributed between a low of 6 months and a high of 80 years. Three respondents mentioned they had lived here their whole lives.

Pedestrian amenities and safety concerns limit use of Coolidge Square. Over half of the respondents (54) said improved pedestrian conditions would make them more likely to visit the square. Bicycle accommodations (22) and parking (27) were other limitations to use of the square. Nine percent said better bus service would increase their use of the square. This number is likely low because most of the respondents already lived close to the Square. Another 20 individuals identified other improvements to the square such as better lighting, play areas for children, more green space and trees benches and slower traffic speeds.

Mixed responses to a CVS in Coolidge Square. 85 out of the 90 respondents had an opinion on the proposed CVS. Twenty-one ( 24%) were in support and 39 (44%) were opposed , but an additional 27 individuals (32%) felt it would be good for the neighborhood but had reservations about the proposal.

Both those opposed and those in support with concerns (76%) raised the same issues – traffic and parking and the effects of a corporate chain store over and over again. Widespread concern about the effect on traffic. More than 1 out of 3 respondents raised concerns and sometimes alarms about traffic generated by the proposed CVS. There were concerns about speeding on side streets and congestion at intersections where traffic currently backs up during rush hour at Arlington and Grove, Bigelow and Mt Auburn.

Widespread concern that a corporate chain is out of place. Thirty out of the 90 respondents felt that a chain store of the size of CVS would be detrimental to the Square. They felt it was incompatible with smaller local stores, ruining the “village” atmosphere. They felt the aesthetics and size of a corporate chain store would detract from the local and independent feel of the Square.

Reactions to Grove Street Development Many respondents (40) did not have an opinion on the 65 Grove Street proposal and 21 felt it was an improvement on the site. But 25 respondents mentioned concerns about traffic and 7 made recommendations to improve the plan such as more green spaces and less surface parking.


Need for Traffic Intervention beyond those sited in the traffic study. Residents concerned about traffic noted that intersections such as Bigelow and Mt Auburn, and Grove and Arlington are already backed up at rush hours. Others noted cars speeding down side streets to avoid congestion. The CVS traffic study and traffic mediation do not adequately address these issues.

In addition, the lack of curbs and sidewalks and the high need for pedestrian infrastructure call for a town response to improve these conditions. Curbs and sidewalks encourage pedestrian use and by narrowing streets slow down traffic. The town and developers need to go beyond tinkering with traffic signals when evaluating traffic impacts and proposing improvements.

Need to reduce the negative impact of a corporate chain store in a village environment. Three out of four (76%) of the respondents expressed concerns about the CVS even though some felt the convenience was an important factor. This really calls for some accommodation to the concern that a CVS would change the character of Coolidge Square from a village square to a big box neighborhood. It appears that there is willingness to accept a CVS if it made some accommodations to minimize the impact of a run-of-the-mill chain store.

Some suggestions that came from survey respondents include adding green space, more trees and flowers, creating a small attractive place for congregating, breaking up the façade, active windows to extend the Coolidge Square storefronts to Arlington Street and adding mixed use within the CVS site.

The most popular choice for a new business to the Square was for a café or coffee shop. While the building size and architecture may be consistent with the neighboring stores, the huge red plastic CVS sign doesn’t seem to fit into the aesthetics of the neighborhood. Attention needs to be paid to details such as these and suggestions like the ones above to reduce the impact of this large chain store.

Opportunity to meet unmet demand A total of 62 out of 90 said they would frequent the square more often if there were more restaurants. Mentioned were cafes/coffee shops/bakery, Pub/WineBar, Ethnic Restaurants and High End Restaurants, ice cream shop. A total of 34 respondents said they would frequent specialty stores such as gift/book stores, specialty foods such as organic or other ethnic foods, clothing, shoes and household goods. A craft store and a small gym were also mentioned.

Watertown’s Commitment to Coolidge Square There is ample evidence from this survey of a high level of utilization of Coolidge Square by its neighbors. It is valued as a village center and it seems important to preserve and enhance its village qualities as a Watertown asset. The town has an important role in integrating new development into the village character of the square. It should provide a traffic management plan that moves cars, bicycles, and pedestrians slowly and safely through the Square and the surrounding area. Survey respondents identified other areas for town action such as pedestrian amenities and public spaces that will enhance the vitality of the square and attract new small businesses.

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