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A Chat with Darlene Donovan

By Elizabeth Hawley

Longtime Roslindale residents can't help but notice the changes in Roslindale Village over the last three decades. The appearance of the Square is perhaps the most easily defined change to come to the Village in that time. As we look back over the last thirty years, and forward to the next thirty, we sat down with long time RVMS Design Committee member Darlene Donovan to discuss the Design Committee's work over the years, and the vision for the future.

"The Blue Star block... was really our first breakthrough," Darlene says. "It didn't even look like the same building. The pilasters were covered up with fake stone, there was metal on some of it, it was just really hodge-podge-y over the years."

That's when the Design Committee stepped in. The city of Boston was providing support to redevelop signage and redesign storefronts, but prior to the renovations to that block of Corinth Street (between Birch and Cohasset Streets) in or around 1986, Main Streets projects tended to have the same look and feel.

"You could always tell a Main Streets Project," Darlene remembers. "They always had the same awnings and fonts. They always had the same goose neck lamps. They always looked the same."

The Design Committee decided to do something a little different for Roslindale. "We don't want Roslindale to look like other communities," Darlene explains. "We're a funky, urban, diverse community and we want that to be reflected. We're not trying to be something we're not."

[caption id="attachment_5976" align="alignleft" width="300"] The façade on the Blue Star block was a major project for the RVMS design committee.[/caption]

Instead, the committee developed a cohesive look and feel that steered clear of uniformity, making sure that each building and store front had its own colors and its own graphics. RVMS steered clear of the awnings and goose neck lamps, too.

The end result wasn't popular with everyone right away - some people felt the colors were too bright - but ultimately, the block became an example of what a Boston Main Streets project could be. As Darlene puts it, "you don't have to do all the same things. You can still have architectural cohesion, but that doesn't mean the signage has to be exactly the same. That was a real turning point."

Other major projects followed the redesign, including the Environmental Branding Project, which Darlene spearheaded, and which developed a brand for Roslindale as a neighborhood.

"People said 'where's Roslindale?' It had no identity," Darlene describes the Roslindale of the past, "So it was a lot of work for a lot of years with a lot of people to create an identity... It was really about changing people's minds when they thought about Roslindale."

The new branding was incorporated into the RVMS logo, which takes into account the urban nature and diversity of the neighborhood. That led to the first custom kiosk in an urban Main Streets district. "We always try to push the envelope and have our own branding," Darlene says of the Design Committee's work, "we want people to see that this is a special place."

[caption id="attachment_5978" align="alignright" width="168"] Roslindale was the first Main Street organization to install a business kiosk.[/caption]

"Hopefully, what design does is it communicates," Darlene says. "How do you communicate to people who aren't in the know - people that might consider moving here, or that don't really know the community personally? It's taking what's already here and communicating it to the larger audience, and making people feel that they belong here."

As for the next thirty years?

Darlene and the design committee are focused on reinforcing and building on the vision that they've been realizing all along.

"We were the first urban Main Streets, and we were the first ones to do so many things," Darlene says, "and I think that we're such a strong community. We owe it to the other Main Streets to be always pushing the envelope."