March 25, 2004

A New Vision

Where would you prefer to spend an afternoon? Walking along Newbury Street or fighting traffic on Rte. 9?

63% of Americans surveyed say they'd like to walk more to stores and other places to run errands (2002 study, Belden Russonello & Stewart). Yet current development patterns make it MORE difficult for increasing numbers of Americans to actually walk to shops, offices and other destinations. Despite the cluster of stores, restaurants, theaters and apartments along Rte. 9, it's almost impossible to actually walk from one mall to the next, or a hotel to a restaurant right across the street. People aren't simply taking their cars to get to the store; they feel they've got to drive between places that are less than half a mile apart.

It doesn't have to be this way.

It's only since World War II that American communities became so pedestrian-hostile. Two generations of unwise sprawl have given us horrendous traffic jams, longer commutes, an increasing sense of alienation and a longing for more human-scale communities.

Now, though, a nationwide movement has sprung up to rethink development in 21st century America. No, it doesn't mean car-free, mass-transit only living! It does, however, mean creating more balance between the needs of pedestrians, mass transit and the automobile instead of developing solely for the car.

This is more than building sidewalks and bike lanes. There are sidewalks along Rte. 9, but who wants to walk there? It means creating pedestrian-friendly inviting streets and streetscapes, environments where it's inviting to come, walk and BE. Not to mention spend money -- "new urbanism" is good for business!

Oh, who am I? I'm a former member of Framingham Town Meeting's Planning & Zoning Committee. During my Town Meeting term, I worked on the neighborhood business district zoning plan. I don't think we can get rid of the car, nor do I want to. I just want us to get back to balancing the needs of all forms of transport instead of always designing solely for the automobile. I'm a passionate believer that walkable communities are great for residents, business AND the environment.

I'll be writing lots more about this here, as well as following development issues both nationally and locally. Hope you'll be back.

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