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