March 28, 2004

$52M Arcade Project OK’d For Downtown Framingham

In a meeting that ended after 1 a.m., the Planning Board approved a major mixed-use project that will bring 260 apartments, 40 hotel rooms and 50,000 square feet of commercial and office space to downtown Framingham, the MetroWest Daily News reports.

I haven't seen Arcade design plans yet, but I fervently hope that great attention is placed on making an attractive, inviting streetscape around the complex.

Mixed use is a great idea, but mixed use alone will not revitalize downtown. Design is critical.

Imagine a wide, well-landscaped front patio area, with an outdoor eating area in the nice weather (restaurant or cafe), interesting store fronts that appeal to pedestrians strolling by. Sort of a Copley Square feel on a smaller scale.

If the Arcade project is going to be set in a sea of uninviting asphalt and concrete, it's not going to do much for the surrounding neighborhood.

Have you ever been to Detroit? The Renaissance Center was supposed to revitalize downtown there, it brought all sorts of great mixed-use space, but it was a hideous monstrosity of "modern architecture" -- massive, cold, dark, confusing and off-putting. Or, think of the failed Lafayette Place in downtown Boston.

Don't mimic a mall in a downtown setting, because the downtown usually loses -- it can NEVER be as drive-in convenient. But it can win big-time if it creates what malls can't match -- a sense of place. Successful revitalizations like Waltham's Moody Street do this not only with a careful mix of residential, commercial and retail, but with an inviting streetscape, creating a destination where people want to arrive, park and stroll.

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