Building Community Momentum: The future of Maplewood Square

A view of the northeast corner of Maplewood Square at the intersection of Salem St. and Lebanon Street. Photo by Kim Brookes.

By Joy Pearson

Plans have begun to make improvements to the historic Maplewood business district in Malden.

A Maplewood Square Committee of Ward 5 and Ward 6 residents has been following up on the research done in spring 2023 by the ‘Initiative on Cities,’ a capstone project for Master’s students of the Boston University Metropolitan College in City Planning and Urban Affairs.

Maplewood Square is 1.5 miles east of Malden Center down Salem Street. Its name dates back to 1853 when Joshua Webster who, as surveyor, connected the Saugus railroad line to the Boston and Maine railroad.  In the mid-nineteenth century, Webster sought to establish a community in the area including 200 maple trees.  And so it was done.  Businesses grew; changes occurred. 

Ten years ago, the old Saugus railroad was transformed and made into a bike and pedestrian path that crosses Maplewood Street.  Since then, the path has been part of the Northern Strand Bike Path through the Bike to the Sea organization.  It is well-used by locals and by New England bicyclists. Then and now, Maplewood was built around transportation.  Soon MBTA bus route changes will add to the improvements the Maplewood Square Committee is making. 

In addition to the railroad line that ran nearby, Maplewood Square was served by a trolley. Looking west down Salem Street, perhaps in the 1930s; the Converse Building is on the left. (Photo courtesy of Jack Fusco – source unknown.)

The present business district — Salem Street at Maplewood Street to the south and its extension Lebanon Street to the north — is getting upgraded through the leadership of Ward 6 Councilor Winslow and a seven-person Maplewood Square Committee. Improvements will be ongoing for years. Some will need City of Malden Departments for structural changes. All will need funding.

The committee is basing its attention on the research of the BU students. The students and their lecturers, Emily Keyes Innes and David Valecillos, met with Maplewood residents (Wards 5 and 6) in three forums at the Salemwood School between February 2 and May 1, 2023. 

“I am struck with the potential for the space [Maplewood Square], with the beautiful historic buildings and local pride,” said Daniel Milbrandt, Master’s student of City Planning.

Innes said that this Capstone Course got “the students out from behind their desks, some working in a community for the first time.” 

Master’s students in City Planning and Urban Design from Boston University’s capstone course “Initiative on Cities” project. (Photo by Joy Pearson)

The students in BU’s Metro Bridge Program identified four main areas for their research and recommendations — Economic Development, Demographics, Infrastructure, and Housing — researching each of them extensively.  They spoke to attendees of the forums and got ideas.  They used the Fall 2022 Ward 5 and Ward 6 survey in their research. They spoke to all business owners. They researched data about Malden in general. They, then, incorporated all their ideas into nine individual project displays presented on May 1, 2023. 

While identifying current conditions, students mentioned deficits that combine to limit the Square’s ability to have a thriving neighborhood center.  Students said that there is a need for ‘an anchoring business in the Square’ that would attract more foot traffic and help the current businesses grow. 

The research into the Economic Development and Demographics areas resulted in an overview of Malden and Maplewood with data and statistics.  Infrastructure will need to be addressed by the City of Malden.  Housing is an area that the residents of Maplewood themselves can help to address through accessory dwelling units (ADU’s), as well as an overlay of apartments above existing businesses. These are housing options that are “great for not altering the character of the neighborhood and great for creating affordable homes,” said  Zack Jones, Master’s of City Planning student.

Residents of Ward 5 and 6 were surveyed to allow further input into the initiative to improve Maplewood Square.

Students mentioned the 2021 Rapid Recovery Plan plans to prioritize improvements in Malden Center.  This could be extended to include Maplewood Square as well. The plan itself says that the “[b]iggest challenge to this plan is identifying a funding source.”

“The purpose of the Maplewood Square Committee is to work with [students’ ideas and presentations] to make a great Maplewood Square,” said Winslow. 

The Committee’s current focus is on seven of the points that the BU students identified: make Maplewood Square more welcoming; create an organization to promote Maplewood Square; promote Maplewood Square through events; support business with incentives and incubator businesses; simplify parking; include Maplewood in Malden’s Complete Streets and bus plans; and support zoning changes for housing.

The present businesses in Maplewood Square include but are not limited to:  a cold-pressed juicery, a custom-made curtain/blinds’ manufacturer, a fresh meat/groceries/vegetable market, a fresh fish market, a physical therapy store, a funeral home, a flower shop, an optometrist, a women’s boutique, a shoe store, a high-end sneaker store, a service station, churches, convenience store, and pizza parlors.  The Committee’s improvements aim to give Maldonians and beyond additional reasons to discover and explore Maplewood Square. 

A view of the southeast corner of Maplewood Square from the intersection of Salem and Maplewood Street. Photo by Kim Brookes.

The Maplewood Square Committee has begun cosmetic and functional changes. The Fortune Corner floor-to-ceiling storefront windows now have seasonal artwork. A recent circular walkability sign graces the Square near Salem and Maplewood Streets. 

A ‘Welcome to Maplewood’ mural is suggested for the blank brick wall of the Converse Building that faces Dunkin’ Donuts. Plans are to have a Maplewood Square logo. Also, large moveable planters will brighten up the Square and be seasonably changed.  Banners and flags can enhance the appeal of Maplewood Square. Blue Bikes, a public bike-sharing program, will be made available. Businesses will be encouraged to include games and puzzles for the public to enjoy.  The Mayplewood Fest will continue each year. Other festivals will be added.

Seasonal artwork now graces the windows of Fortune Corner, a restaurant anchored in the center of Maplewood Square. Naomi Kahn, artist and Maplewood Square Committee member, is spearheading this initiative to liven up the square with art. (Left photo by Joy Pearson, right photo by Kim Brookes)

However, there is tangible tension between Ward 5 and 6 residents and the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School (MVRCS) that has occupied part of Ward 6 for years. The real estate arm of MVRCS recently bought land in the middle of Maplewood Square, displacing three restaurants, a barbershop, a bank and two apartments and parking behind all of them. MVRCS students come to Ward 6 daily from seven or eight other cities and towns, which causes a lot of traffic congestion.  Most MVRCS students live outside Ward 5 and 6.  MVRCS does not actively participate in activities in Ward 6 or in Maplewood Square although its students frequent some of the Square’s business establishments.

Most residents want Maplewood Square to be primarily a business area. Kevin Duffy of the City of Malden Office of Strategic Planning and Redevelopment says, “Businesses are looking at Malden right now.”  But he says that money is tight and interest rates are high.  He goes on to say that the dimensions that businesses may need for their businesses may not be available in Malden right now.

Nevertheless, the students’ projects will continue to be an excellent point of reference for the Maplewood Square Committee. The students’ work will fashion a lot of what the Committee does.

“We hope that you choose to move forward with [some of students’ ideas] as you go,” Innes said.

“I am hoping the community sees these projects from the students and the genuine care and effort put into them as a strong starting point to take interactive and positive steps towards making a good impact for the community,” said Alejandro Lopez, Master of Urban Affairs student. “I hope this serves as a path towards consensus.”

“The Maplewood Square Committee has reviewed the students’ presentation and ideas and thanks them for outreach efforts to the residents and businesses in and around Maplewood Square, the studious research that went into the presentations and creative ideas they presented,” said Winslow.

The southwest corner of Maplewood Square is anchored by the 1896 F.E. Converse Lodge building. A ‘Welcome to Maplewood’ mural is planned for the rear exterior, which you will see as you enter Maplewood Square travelling east on Salem Street. (Photo by Kim Brookes)

In a subsequent forum on April 4, 2024, the Maplewood Square Committee presented details of the seven earlier-mentioned vision statements for the first time to the public.  Besides looking for new ideas, they also want to bring out the best of what used to be. Since there is hunger for participatory government, the committee included sign-up sheets for audience members who would like to work on subcommittees for each vision. These subcommittees will be the additional arms and legs of the Maplewood Square Committee, reaching out to officials and non-officials and coming back to the committee with findings and fresh ideas. 

Anyone who is interested in being on one of these subcommittees can contact the Maplewood Square Committee through Ward 6 Councilor Steve Winslow or Ward 5 Councilor Ari Taylor. An upcoming community meeting is scheduled for May 13, 6-8 P.M. at the Salemwood School cafeteria.

It is said that what makes a great community is the people.  It’s the people who want it to thrive. All in all, Maplewood Square is looking to be a vibrant part of the entire city of Malden and beyond. 

Joy Pearson is a citizen journalist for Neighborhood View. She resides in the Maplewood area of Malden.

2 Comments

  1. I believe third picture is at intersection of Lebanon and Salem Streets in Maplewood Square, not Pleasant Street in Malden Square.

    • Sorry, did you mean the old trolley picture? You’re right, we had the wrong street captioned on that photo and changed it to Salem Street instead of Pleasant Street. Is that what you were referring to?

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