May 24, 2004

‘The Lack of Pedestrians’

"Aside from the relative quiet and cleanliness of Framingham, what impressed the two journalists about the town was its lack of pedestrians -- which they believed was the result of everybody working," says a MetroWest Daily News article about two visiting journalists from Macedonia.

"We don't see people hanging out in cafes," Arben Ratkoceri told the News.

Having been to the Balkans five times since the breakup of Yugoslavia -- all five times staying in the homes of local people in Bosnia and Slovenia -- I can say it's more than just everybody's working.

Communities there are designed for walkers and those taking public transit, and people live their lives outside of cars. People often walk to the local bakery for bread in the morning, for example. And like Paris is said to be, many areas around the Adriatic are also cafe socieities. People spend lunchtimes, after work and other free times with friends in cafes.

I've also had friends from Europe startled by the empty streets, and surprised by the absence of cafes.

But this isn't a matter of people here working and people there being unemployed. In areas of America that aren't designed solely for auto-based living, things look quite different. Go to Manhattan anytime on a weekday during business hours. People are working there, too. But the streets are teeming with pedestrians.

You don't have to be a city to have street life, though. Concord center on a nice day has plenty of people. It's also got destinations people want to visit -- and get out of their cars to walk around and see.

What makes a difference is planning a community with pedestrian needs and desires, as well as (NOT instead of) cars, in mind.

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