June 9, 2004

Framingham Tomorrow Master Plan

After about two years of community meetings and work by town and regional planners, tonight was the Final Community Development Plan meeting to unveil the results. I was thrilled to see "develop a plan and identify funding sources for streetscape improvements to enhance pedestrian corridors" as part of the downtown revitalization recommendations!

OK, so traffic and housing were mentioned quite a bit more frequently; and the pedestrian-friendly issue only came up that once. Still, it's progress. AND, I got to make a statement after the 2 hours of presentations, where I got to bring up two of my pet points: "pedestrian-friendly" means more than the existance of sidewalks, and Saxonville desperately needs some additional pedestrian-friendly ambience because right now it's a patchwork of great pedestrian blocks (such as the one with the Artana gallery and renovated Victorians just north of the mill) and pedestrian-hostile blocks (such as the next block south, with the mill and its metal guardrail squeezing walkers followed by the never-pedestrian-appealing self-storage). I even floated my dream of a pedestrian walkway along the Sudbury River on Water Street to replace the chain-link fence and guard rails.

But getting back to what IS in the plan....

It deals with four areas: natural resources (primarily preserving open space), housing (discussion centered mostly on affordability issues), economic development (downtown revitalization was the big issue based on community input; possible mixed-use areas outside downtown included the old State Lumber site in Saxonville) and transportation (lots on the LIFT bus and commuter rail, as well as audience comments about the 126/135/railroad crossing problem).

The summary given out ran 17 pages, so I'm not going to try to recap everything here. But a couple of points I did want to mention:

* I don't have details, but town planners said work is already underway to improve the streetscape downtown, in the pedestrian corridor toward the Arcade building and the Dennison complex. Woo-hoo!

* Interesting statistical nugget: 33% of Framingham's labor force trips are within the town, and more than half (52%) are within Framingham or abutting communities. Only 11% travel to Boston.

* There are efforts underway to catalog the town's cultural resources, including artists, venues and events.

* Important recommendation on downtown: refine the vision of what it is we want. A neighborhood center? A regional center that draws visitors to enjoy specialty retail and/or arts and culture? One of Waltham's great successes was making an interesting restaurant zone on Moody street, in appealing walking distance to the movie theater. It's a one-stop destination for dinner and a movie, with no need to get in your car to go from one to the other. Plus there's some high-end housing above the retail, along with nearby more moderate income apartments and stores.

Update: Here's a Globe West article on the plan, "that town officials hope will open the door to funding for crucial housing and transportation initiatives," which is supposed to be submitted to the state within a couple of weeks.

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