December 5, 2004

Natick Mall Expansion: Disappointment

I sat down with Dick Miller (chair of the Natick Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee) yesterday to take a look at detailed plans for the Natick Mall expansion, including a drive around the site .... and I was awfully disappointed.

At a time when pedestrian-friendly "lifestyle centers" are the cutting edge in suburban development, the Natick Mall plans appears to stick to the same old car-centric, pedestrian-hostile philosophy we've suffered through in the "Golden Triangle" for half a century. Unless local officials and residents make their demands NOW, we'll lose this opportunity for another generation.

From looking at the engineering drawings -- which show intricately detailed roadways and traffic flows but no similar attention to pedestrian access via the Cochituate Rail Trail -- it doesn't appear that foot traffic safety, flow and comfort were given a whole lot of thought. Right now, it seems that trail access to the mall will dump into the edge of a parking lot -- exactly what you do NOT want to create an appealing ambiance.

The "softened streetscape with curved lines" that General Properties boasts about on its Web site, didn't feature any kind of attractive screening between the concrete walkways and multi lanes of traffic that will be whizzing by.

And while they claim that "Surrounding the development, frontage landscaping will flourish with trees and public walkway and a bicycle path will create an appealing oasis for the residential owners," the actual plans don't appear to show a development you want to walk to or around.

If you take a look at a couple of photos from the Baltimore Sun, in an article about malls adding housing, restaurants and other amenities, making a walkable lifestyle until now largely impossible outside of cities. And you'll see that making a livable mixed-use community means more than sticking a couple of condo towers in a mall surrounded by asphalt.

"Residents, the vast majority of them 55 or older, can stroll around a man-made lake with fountains to reach about 40 shops and stores, including a Safeway, Italian deli and wine shop, and pharmacy. They also can walk to more than a dozen restaurants, banks, a day spa and medical offices - all built in a style vaguely reminiscent of a small-town Main Street, though broken up with lots more parking," the article says.

Maybe I missed it, but I didn't see anything in the current Natick Mall plans that invites outdoor strolling.

Public comment on the mall plans to MEPA close on Dec. 23. You can send in comments to

Secretary Ellen Roy Herzfelder
EOEA, Attn: MEPA Office
EOEA No. 12935
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston MA 02114


  1. Sharon, your "Planning Livable Communities" blog is a wonderful new local resource! I'll count it among the local inputs that should be given a more effective role if MEPA does support our request for a better Natick Mall Expansion plan.

    The NBPAC comment letter to MEPA is online now, at:
    An earlier NBPAC letter is appended, and can be read here:
    A copy of the revised (2004) Cochituate Rail Trail Brochure also was appended.

    Copies of the Natick Mall Expansion FEIR (along with the year-old draft (DEIR) are NOT online. (They're big!) But they can be found at the Natick and Framingham main libraries, at the Town planning departments, at the MetroWest Growth Management Committee's office in downtown Natick, and with any group that commented on the DEIR.

    General informtion on the Cochituate Rail Trail is at: and

    With comments like yours, I am hopeful that MEPA and then Natick and Natick Mall will quickly modify the current plan to serve our region better -- to the benefit of all for many years to come.

    Cheers from
    --Dick Miller
    Chairman, Natick Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee

  2. I'm glad the Bikers and Hikers/walkers are getting a chance to be included in this area.
    A non automobil tie-in access point is needed and should be part of the plans mandate.
    Rt. 9 & the Mall are hazardous and unfriendly to walkers and bikers.
    Thanks for promoting this effort!