November 29, 2004

Romney Honors 10 Smart Growth Projects

Not a single one in MetroWest. Of course, Framingham's Arcade project, which would bring housing, commercial and retail development near the T station, stalled because the governor's administration hasn't developed proper regulations for tax-breaks for such mixed-use projects. Argh.

Anyway ... the 10 honored smart-growth projects include Cambridge's bicycle and pedestrian program, which assumes that people actually plan to get around by foot, cycle and public transit instead of designing for the automobile and then adding token gestures for others (such as sidewalks no one would actually ever want to use); and the Dennisport Village Center with a mix of retail, commercial, professional and residential use.

November 28, 2004

First “Lifestyle Center” Opens In Massachusetts

Derby Street Shoppes, recently open in Hingham, is Massachusetts' first so-called "lifestyle center," according to the Boston Globe: a retail development featuring "open-air areas with pedestrian-friendly streetscapes. ... While many of the stores are also found in malls, their ambience is intended to be more akin to a downtown. The centers typically have wide sidewalks and elaborate landscaping, in a layout meant to encourage window shopping, outdoor dining, and strolling."

''It is designed to give the customer a sense of place that is more than just a place to shop," Tom DeSimone, a partner in W/S Development Associates LLC of Chestnut Hill, which developed the center, told the Globe. "It creates something of a downtown feel."

It's a pity they had to give this cutting-edge shopping area such a gag-inducing cutesy name. That aside, though, Derby Street Shoppes is a great concept (although I haven't seen it in person yet), and a superior alternative to yet another conventional shopping mall.

A Framingham developer has planned another one for Burlington (see earlier posting) ... but no word on any such development here in Framingham. Instead, we've got the actively ambiance-hostile Shoppers World, which was designed to have a hideously unattractive parking lot as its central feature, not an appealing streetscape. Sigh.

‘Inner Ring’ Suburbs At Risk?

A study of Philadelphia's "inner-ring" suburbs -- communities between the city itself and more open, affluent outer suburbs -- finds them "increasingly vulnerable to economic decline."

The research, by Nancey Green Leigh and Sugie Lee at the Georgia Instiute of Technology, concludes that Philadelphia itself saw a reduction in poverty and the exurbs attracted new population and housing growth. But communities in between "are declining overall [and showing] early signs of blight."

Conclusion: "There is a need to stem the deterioration of the inner-ring suburbs, documented in our case study of Philadelphia, as well as to stem further sprawl-contributing greenfield development on the metropolitan fringe. This suggests that strategic policy approaches should favor the revitalization and enhancement of existing, inner-ring physical infrastructure over new infrastructure creation in the outer-ring suburbs."

Boston isn't Philadelphia, but planners in suburbs within Rte. 495 -- particularly those less affluent than their neighbors -- need to be paying attention here.

Why Much Of Framingham Isn’t Walkable….

...and how to make it that way.

That's the thrust of an article I had published in today's MetroWest Daily News.

The genesis of the piece was noticing how few pedestrians walk on Rte. 30 -- where sidewalks are ample and there are, in theory, attractive destinations for walkers such as stores and restaurants; yet so many more lunchtime office workers are out walking on nearby back roads, with no sidewalks or stores.

If you investigate this apparent paradox, you'll understand why simply installing sidewalks -- even sidewalks that meet government codes, and are wide enough to walk three abreast -- will not entice anyone but the most militant of walkers out of their cars. And why the Golden Triangle will NEVER resemble a walkable community, unless planners make a conscious decision to design for walkability as well as traffic flow -- even though office workers and residents are so tantalizingly close to restaurants, stores and financial services in town.

I invite you to take a look at it this week (before they put the article in their paid archives).

November 22, 2004

New Study To Examine Community Design, Health Links

"A new $2.8 million effort, partnering public and private funding agencies, will examine how better community design encourages people to be more physically active in their daily lives. Researchers will identify how our built environment contributes to obesity and how environmental changes can combat a growing public health problem," according to a press release from the National Institutes of Health.

"We'd like to determine if simple changes in the built environment and in individual behavior can enhance physical activity and reduce obesity for residents," said Dr. Kenneth Olden, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences , which is the public agency funding the effort. "Local municipalities could then look at the results and determine if modifying the built environment might affect the public's health and reduce health care costs."

Makes sense. If you not only can drive everywhere, but must drive everywhere, because you live in a pedestrian-hostile environment, clearly you're going to get much less incidental activity week in and week out, than if you live someplace where it's enticing to walk from place to place.

November 20, 2004

Shopping Malls a la Main Street

That's the title of a Boston Globe article about the new Wayside Commons development planned for the old Raytheon site in Burlington, Mass.

The $30 million, 190,500-square-foot outdoor mall will have " village-style retail with outdoor eating, small shops, walkways, seating, and landscaping threaded throughout the 16-acre site," the Globe says -- an attempt to recreate the feel of a New England village main street, within a 10-minute walk of 10,000 office workers and a hotel.

The project "will introduce a greater mix of uses to the district and make it more pedestrian-friendly," Kristin Hoffman, a planner for the town of Burlington, told the Globe.

Imagine what could have been done if Shoppers World, or areas of Speen Street, had been developed that way in Framingham, and office workers HERE had a village-style center to stroll through at lunchtime, instead of piling into their cars to choke area roads.

Framingham's Patriot Partners is developing the Burlington project. But the town of Framingham has no similar type of project, preferring conventional, pedestrian-hostile, aesthetically unpleasant "big box" retailers like Home Depot and BJs, set way back from the road and surrounded by a sea of asphalt.

You know what? Not every area suburb feels the same.

"Though [Burlington] was set against 'big box' retail development, officials liked the idea of a high-end, open-air retail village, which they thought would not deteriorate in value and would expand the town's tax base, [developer Steven] Rice said," according to the Boston Business Journal.


November 14, 2004

Downtown Framingham Arcade Project Stalls

Framingham officials approved the mixed-use Arcade building project, aimed at helping revitalize downtown, more than half a year ago, yet it hasn't gone forward. Why? Because everyone has to wait for the state to finalize guidelines for a so-called TIF (tax incremental financing) deal, which offers a temporary tax break for such developments. There apparently aren't any TIF guidelines for a residential portion of mixed-used developments, the MetroWest Daily News reports.

Hello! Hello! Earth to Romney administration! The governor's top officials SAY they favor dense housing around transit stations as a way to encourage "smart growth." Well, here's a plan that adds housing near the train station ... and it's been waiting since March for the state to come up with some rules?

It's not enough to talk the talk on smart growth. You've got to walk the walk. Making a grand pronouncement on smart growth doesn't mean squat if your'e not paying attention to hammering out the details to make it happen, instead of simply making headlines.

Meanwhile, interest rates are rising and local officials fear that too many more delays might jeopardize the project entirely. &%^$#@.

November 11, 2004

Arts In Downtown Framingham?

Globe West has a story about a group seeking to bring significant cultural events -- concerts, film festivals and the like -- back to downtown Framingham.


I say "back," because there actually were such events in Nevins Hall back in the '30s.

As much as I beat the drum about a pedestrian-friendly streetscape -- and I continue to think that's absolutely vital if there's any hope of downtown revitalization -- walkability alone isn't enough. There has to be something to draw people there. A "sense of place" isn't enough by itself. There's got to be something to attract people to the place.

In downtown Waltham, it's a concentration of good ethnic restaurants along with a movie theater that doesn't solely duplicate what you can see in any suburban multiplex, but also shows some edgier arts films and foreign flicks.

Things like concerts and film festivals could help entice people to downtown Framingham. Combined with planned new housing in the area, there's great potential. But I can't overstress the need to make an appealing park-once, walk-to-many pedestrian-friendly area. It's the best possible way to offer an attractive alternative to Route 9.

Kathleen Bartolini, director of planning and economic development, will be seeking a state grant to study creating of a cultural district downtown.

The MetroWest Daily News also has a report about the grant application.

November 4, 2004

Westboro Mixed-Use Project Moves Forward

"Roche Bros., Linens 'n Things, and a Lillian August home furnishings store are slated to become anchor tenants in the Westborough Centre project," Boston Globe West Weekly reports. "Developers are negotiating leases for the three retail stores that would occupy nearly half of the 247,000 square feet of retail, restaurant, and office space in the upscale 'lifestyle village.' "

The 22-acre project downtown, at the old Tyrolit/Bay State Abrasives site, has yet to receive Planning Board and Design Review Board approval. Officials have already asked developers to change the design, adding more walkways and roadways and creating smaller blocks, so it looks more like a village and less like a strip mall, Town Planner Jim Robbins told the Globe.

November 1, 2004

Top Ten Ways To Make Framingham More Walkable

I live here, I work here, and I walk here. And when I'm on foot, I get a look at places in a way that's not possible when traveling by automobile.
What I see is a town that offers a lot of sidewalks -- but too many places where it's technically "possible" to walk, but not actually enjoyable. And that's a pity, because walking improves both health and quality of life -- not to mention cutting congestion.
How could Framingham be a more walkable community? In this MetroWest Daily News column, I offer my top 10 list of places and features as they are ... and how they could be.