August 31, 2005

When Disaster Planning Is Auto-Centric

Often, people who are safe and far away from a disaster zone will look at the victims on TV and wonder: Why they didn't leave? Yes, sometimes it's bravado, or stubornness, or disbelief (expecting another false alarm), or a desire to protect their belongings. But in the case of New Orleans before Katrina, there was another problem: People were told to evacuate the city, but given no means to get out except their own cars. And a lot of people don't own cars.

Maybe they were poor, or elderly, or disabled, or in some cases not interested in the costs and obligations of owning a motorize vehicles. Some were tourists who didn't happen to rent a car, because they were in an urban area where it was cheaper to take public transportation and cabs. But it appears that the New Orleans disaster evacuation plan simply told them to get out of town. If they didn't have the means or money to do so, they were left behind.

This is what happens when a society becomes so auto-centric that the natural assumption is everyone must own their own private vehicles. Roads out of the city were jammed for hours with all those private cars; but many other residents were forced to suffer the grave dangers of a life-threatening storm in a below-sea-level city because they didn't own an automobile.

In major urban areas, a reasonably high percentage of people don't have cars or immediate access to cars. It seems to me we need to look at that issue as we're doing Homeland Security planning.

August 30, 2005

Anchorage Investigates Creating Pedestrian-Friendly E Street

"Wider, tree-lined sidewalks edging E Street downtown would wow tourists in the summer and, if they were heated and covered, lure locals in the winter," the Anchorage Daily News reports. "A raised section of E Street blanketed with brick and flanked by benches and good lighting could be shut off to traffic for special festivals." Or, an elevated enclosed walkway could link people on foot from the Alaska Railroad to major downtown attractions.

These are some of the visions for the E Street pedestrian corridor project, a concept that was floated about five years ago by the railroad, the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and business leaders. The idea has gained momentum recently, and believers say it will happen.

Great idea. Anchorage has some very pedestrian-friendly areas, especially its network of trails, but some downtown areas are more suburban than urban feeling when it comes to walker appeal.
Government officials have approved a $495,000 contract with Makers Architecture and Urban Design of Seattle, to develop a pedestrian-friendly corridor, the newspaper reports. Construction might begin in 2006. Some funding of the expected $10 million cost may come via "voter-approved road bonds and state or federal grants," the Daily News says.

August 28, 2005

Walkable Coolidge Corner

The intersection of two major multi-lane, commuter auto thoroughfares -- in this case Beacon and Harvard streets in Brookline -- would seem an unlikely spot for a pedestrian-friendly retail district to flourish. But that's just what happens in Coolidge Corner, where cars, pedestrians and public transit share space in a place that's reasonably appealing to all.

The streetscape is extremely walker-friendly, with stores sited up at the sidewalk, and amply-wide sidewalks adequately screened from the whizzing traffic nearby (thanks to on-street parking, trees, brick decorative strips and such) . In addition to a fair number of local businesses, Coolidge Corner has some of the same chain stores as Rte. 9 in Framingham. But oh how differently they're designed! Here's how Trader Joe's in Coolidge Corner appears from the street:

Trader Joe's, Beacon Street, Coolidge Corner

This encourages foot traffic in the front, while there's still a parking lot available behind the building.

And, here's the entrance to Walgreen's in Coolidge Corner:

Walgreen's, Beacon Street, Coolidge Corner

Notice the well-marked crosswalk at the busy intersection -- which plenty of people actually use -- as well as the store sited up at the street.

Have you seen many people walk, not drive, to Trader Joe's or Walgreen's on Rte. 9 recently? I didn't think so. With different siting and design of those and other buildings on Rte. 9, as well as adequate pedestrian crossings and a walker-friendly streetscape, you could have.

What a pity.

It's obvious that planners just assumed nobody really wants to cross most of the retail stretches of Rtes. 9 and 30 -- there are no clearly marked crosswalks and few pedestrian crossing signals (and the ones that exist are a joke; you have to sprint across the street to make it in time). Contrast this with the pedestrian crossings on Beacon and Harvard streets -- pedestrian signals even tell you how much time is left for you to make your way across the traffic.

Pedestrian signal, Coolidge Corner

August 26, 2005

A Mall Done Right: Cambridgeside Galleria

Malls aren't by definition bad for a neighborhood's walkability and sense of place. It's just that most malls are poorly implemented -- stand-alone, sterile environments surrounded by a sea of asphalt. If you want to see how a mall integrates well into its surroundings, head to east Cambridge (near the Lechmere green line and Kendall Square red line T stops) and check out the CambridgeSide Galleria.

It's not the only local mall I've seen that's simply a big city block you can walk to; the failed Lafayette Place in downtown Boston, for one, offered that as well (that "never worked as a retail mall, perhaps because of its uninviting design and lack of windows," the Boston Business Journal once observed). The Galleria in Cambridge features big windows fronting to the street, making it look from some street angles like a block of stores designed to attract passers-by.

But what makes it special is its location along the Charles. There's a lovely walking area on one side of the mall, with an outdoor seating area adjacent to the food court. How many malls encourage you to buy your food, walk outside, sit at a table and watch the passers-by, with river cruise boats and a sizable fountain as backdrop? It's an exceedingly appealing and pleasant walking environment, with human-scaled nearby access to offices - all with large windows fronting the walkways, which is a major plus for walker appeal -- and residences.

As the mall's Web site boasts, MIT is within walking distance , the Museum of Science and Boston Duck Tours are housed across the street and Charles River Boat Company tours depart daily from outside the mall. A visit to the mall, they say, "can combine great shopping, delicious dining with a wonderful Boston touring experience all in one day." They clearly aim to be integrated into the community, not only with words and location, but design and siting.

It's not only possible and safe to walk there from the surrounding neighborhood; it's attractive and appealing, both going there & back and walking around it. Which is a lot more than you can say about the Natick Mall. Why?

CambridgeSide Galleria

August 24, 2005

Walkable, Bike-able Communities Help Cut Obesity Rates

Obesity in America "is exacerbated by the lack of significant policies addressing community design issues -- such as sidewalks and suburban sprawl ," according to a report released this week by Trust for America's Health:

Communities and government must stress smarter community design, including requiring the evaluation of the health impact of new building efforts and updating existing development and encouraging design that promotes and integrates space for physical activity, such as recreational space, sidewalks, public transportation, and safe staircases, and the inclusion of food shopping venues in new development.

Oregon was the only state where obesity rates didn't rise over the past year, according to the report.

The Associated Press notes that "what makes Oregon different is its emphasis on urban design, which encourages outdoor activities like biking to work, the study's authors said." Ten percent of Portland, Ore's resident bicycle to work, thanks to a network of bike paths throughout the city.

"The solution to obesity is not that everyone should run a marathon," Michael Earls, co-author of the study, told AP. "It's the little things that begin to make a dent in the problem, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or riding your bike to work."

If a city or town is built in such a way that it forces residents to drive long distances, instead of walking or cycling, then physical activity becomes something that has to be planned rather than an activity which can be woven into the fabric of everyday life, he said.

Obesity expert Tom Farley, the author of "Prescription for a Healthy Nation," said research in the field has moved away from the notion of personal responsibility to the idea of creating environments that foster healthy living.

Thanks to Tim Lee for the link.

Rural Yearnings For Broadband: When Lifestyle Choices Have Consequences

Residents of some of the rural towns of western Massachusetts are frustrated over the lack of high-speed Internet access, the Boston Globe reports. Whether they seek work-at-home careers in pastoral settings or are concerned that their kids will fall behind their peers, some of these residents keep lobbying service providers to bring them broadband - although providers say the low population densities and (in the case of DSL) distance from switching stations doesn't make such service feasible.

On one level, I feel their pain - I'm pretty much addicted to my home high-speed Internet access and am already mulling Verizon's higher speed Fios offering. On the other hand, though, it's amazing to me that people who specifically moved to a small rural Berkshire town to "get away from it all" are now somehow surprised that they don't have access to the conveniences of a densely populated metro area. Too many people in America don't understand that the lifestyle choices they make - large home or small home? large lots or small lots? city, suburb or country? close to a city or not? - have consequences beyond how far you have to travel to a good deli or Chinese restaurant.

Yes, at some point it will probably become an equal-access issue for students. I'm not sure we're there yet, though. These same small-town residents probably give little thought to the fact that the rest of us are subsidizing their affordable access to telephone and electricity. But should we be expected to do the same for high-speed Internet for, say, a Princeton graduate who " planned an idyllic existence [in Shutesbury], working from home as a consultant while surrounded by piney forest"?

August 22, 2005

Look, Not Just Size, Is Important When Managing Growth

The Hartford Courant recently praised Stafford, Conn., for a new ordinance that requires a special permit for any building of more than 50,000 square feet. The move comes amidst expectations that Wal-Mart will seek to build a big-box store there.

Planning reviews that can only rule on "narrow concerns such as lighting, screening and parking" are not enough for communities that want truly smart growth, the editorial notes. Also important: "a building's appearance or its effect on nearby properties."

Indeed. If you want certain areas of your community to be pedestrian-friendly and not end up as a wave of strip malls, officials need to keep some control over those things.

Special permiting allows "more flexibility over decisions such as building size, type of business, location on the property, and to some extent the design of the building," the Courant observes. "The ordinance is more of a negotiating tool than a set of strict guidelines. That means big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target might still be welcome - in the right place and with the right proposal."

Other suggestions on generating the kind of growth the community wants: a design review committee, special village district zoning to restrict certain types of buildings in some areas, and "tax incentives for investors who reclaim vacant, deteriorating buildings "

Concludes the Courant: "Communities should be receptive to a variety of commercial proposals. But that doesn't mean they can't protect a town's character and control where certain types of businesses are built."

August 21, 2005

‘Mixed Use’ Isn’t Enough To Create Livable Communities

Simply combining residences and retail isn't enough to create a true livable community, the Washington Post notes.

Why not? Critics argue that some such mixed-use developments

are too exclusive and are basically enclosed communities with no civic parks, public space or income diversity, these critics say. Others are 'mixed use' in name but end up being compact versions of suburban development. An increasingly popular type, called a 'lifestyle center,' is an open-air mall that only seems like a livable community, detractors say.

This whole debate is incredibly ironic, because we already know how to create town centers that work - there are still some walkable, non-strip-malled communities with thriving pedestrian life, where residents can walk places and visitors can park once and walk to multiple destinations. Concord. Wellesley. Waltham. Coolidge Corner, Brookline. Comm Ave. in Brighton. Newbury Street. The North End. Beacon Hill. Parts of Somerville and Arlington.

Chuck Bohl, a professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture, told the Post: "You have to cast a pretty critical eye on some and ask, 'Is this something more than a reconfigured shopping center? Is there something like real public space there, where people can do something even if they weren't shopping there?' "

This gets to the heart of why adding condos to the proposed Natick Mall expansion will do nothing to create the kind of sense of place that the Golden Triangle desperately needs. Where's the public space? Where's the pedestrian friendly streetscape in and around it? How is it integrated into the nearby community fabric instead of being set apart?

The Oil Problem (Hint: It’s Not Running Out)

The problem with our increasing consumption of oil goes beyond pollution and geopolitics: There's also the critical issue of supply. But not necesarily the supply issue you think.

A lengthy article in today's Sunday N.Y. Times magazine makes the case that the world's oil reserves are NOT about to go dry. The crisis is one of capacity. Some experts - "still a minority in the oil world - contend that because of the peculariarities of geology and the limits of modern technology, it will soon be impossible for the world's reservoirs to surrender enough oil to meet daily demand."

In other words, it's the increase in demand that's causing our problems, because it's starting to outstrip the ability of the world's oil infrastructure to pump ever-higher amounts each day. According to a study by the U.S. government's own National Energy Technology Laboratory: "The world is fast approaching the inveitable peaking of conventional world oil production."

Notes the Times: " 'Peak oil' is the point at which maximum production is reached; afterward, no matter how many wells are drilled in a country, production begins to decline. Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members may have enough oil to last for generations, but that is no longer the issue....Crunch time comes long before the last drop."

In fact, "if too much oil is extracted to quickly ... the amount of oil that can be recovered from a field can be greatly reduced."

THIS is the danger of our society continuing its wasteful ways, where we think it's not only OK but admirable for people to drive SUVs on 30- or 50-mile single-passenger commutes to their energy-guzzling McMansions in the exurbs. It's not that the oil wells will run dry. It's that the oil can't be pumped fast enough to meet this increased level of daily global demand.

Add the surge in consumption in China, and we are heading for an inevitable day of reckoning. Yet as a nation we remain in denial, led by our oil industry president who does nothing to encourage conservation.

Back in the 70's, President Carter called for the moral equivalent of war to reduce our dependence on foreign oil; he was not re-elected. Since then, few politicians have spoken of an energy crisis or suggested that major policy changes are necessary to avert one. The energy bill signed earlier this month by President Bush did not even raise fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars. When a crisis comes -- whether in a year or 2 or 10 -- it will be all the more painful because we will have done little or nothing to prepare for it.

As Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson put it:

Gasoline is over $2.50 a gallon, the death toll of American soldiers in Iraq is over 1,850, and what patriotic, heroic displays of sacrifice can we find on the American landscape?

Bigger garages. Bigger houses. New fuel economy standards that will omit the biggest cars. Hoo-aah.

There IS a sane middle ground between expecting a majority of Americans to give up their mid-sized private automobiles - that won't happen until the wells go bone dry - and creating a society where people think it's normal to drive tank-sized vehicles half a mile away in nice weather because our communities are so pedestrian hostile. But who among our leaders will be courageous enough to move us there?

August 20, 2005

Eateries, Pubs Transform A Downtown

Interesting article in the Kane County Chronicle about changes in downtown Geneva, Ill. as a load of restaurants and bars come to the area. Some like the transformation of the town's Main Street, saying there's energy and activities that draw people to the area. Others, though, mourn the loss of conventional retail, complaining that the concentration of eateries is leaving little else in district.

It's an interesting issue, especially as I look at how Waltham transformed Moody Street into "Restaurant Row."

The owner of a specialty retail shop that's closing on Main Street, Geneva, Ill. makes an important point: It's not the high number of restaurants that's forcing her out; it's the presence of nearby chain retailers hurting her business. So, it's quite possible that for some communities, an eatery/entertainment theme is a more viable option for downtown business districts near major strip malls and shopping malls than trying to compete with the big-box stores and other national chains.

There's another issue in Geneva, Ill., though:

Mayor Don DeWitte attributed the growth of the pubs and restaurants along Main Street, in part, to the removal of on-street parking. That stemmed from the widening of the Main Street bridge and the rest of the street in 1997. The move eliminated on-street parking and narrowed sidewalks.

"I felt the removal of parking along Main Street would reduce the pedestrian-friendly environment," DeWitte said.

Aha, another important point. As I've said before, few downtowns can compete with malls for plentiful, convenient parking; their advantage is in streetscape and appealing sense of place. Waltham isn't trying to be a smaller version of Rte. 9 or the Burlington Mall. By offering something completely different, including an appealing park-once, walk-to-multiple-destinations streetscape - with a movie theater as anchor that offers some art cinema and foreign-film titles as well as commercial films - Waltham has created a downtown that draws people from nearby apartments/condos as well as residents of other communities.

What is Framingham creating in its downtown that will encourage anyone to come who doesn't have to, or anyone to stay and go to a second destination once they've gone to one?

August 18, 2005

‘The Day That Changed Edmonton Forever’

On the 50th anniversary of the opening of Westmount, Edmonton's first shopping mall, the Edmonton Journal's Mike Sadava (subscribers only now, sorry) can't help but wonder what the city would have been like without it and the flood of malls that followed.

Imagine Edmonton without the Eighth Wonder of the World, no seas of pavement, no food courts filled with Saturday afternoon shoppers. ...

Shafraaz Kaba, a local architect, thinks we have sacrificed plenty for our love affair with shopping malls.

'The first thing that comes to mind is that we would have been a little bit European in city planning,' Kaba says. 'They grew without the whole shopping centre paradigm.'

He thinks of London, which has a series of High Streets and town centres, little villages where people can walk to the butcher, baker or post office and rarely venture into a mall.

Kaba says without shopping malls Edmonton might have had numerous shopping streets with more commercial development intertwined with residential neighbourhoods. We might have been a city with a dozen pedestrian-friendly streets...

And what might the Framingham-Natick Golden Triangle have been, if it were planned as something besides a series of indoor malls, outdoor malls and strip malls? Rte. 30 could have been a pedestrian-friendly commercial boulevard, with storefronts at the sidewalk, outdoor seating at restaurants where you could watch people go by - picture Panera's and John Harvard's outdoor seating fronting a lively street scene instead of buried in parking lots. If planned differently, Rte. 30 could have had a pleasing street divider and well-designed crossings so people would be encouraged stroll from one side of the street to the other.....

Actually, it still could be that someday, if planners started now to demand such things in the area's zoning. It might take another generation, but at least it could happen.

A Happy Big Box Wasteland

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford speaks for many of us when he rails against the soul-less sameness of strip-mall America.

Do you want to feel like you might as well be in Tucson or Boise or Modesto or Wichita or Muncie and it no longer freakin' matters, because we as a nation have lost all sense of community and place?...

There is the Target. There is the Wal-Mart and there is the Home Depot and the Kmart, the Borders and the Staples and the Sam's Club and the Office Depot and the Costco and the Toys "R" Us and of course the mandatory Container Store so you may buy more enormous plastic tubs in which to dump all your new sweatshop-made crap....

Our crazed sense of entitlement, our nearly rabid desire for easy access to mountains of bargain-basement junk has led to the upsurge of soulless big-box shops which has, in turn, led to a deadly sense of prefabricated, vacuous sameness wherever we go. And here's the kicker: We think it's good. We think it helps, brings jobs, tax money, affordable goods. We call it progress. We call it choice. It is the exact opposite.

Result No. 1: Towns no longer have personality, individuality, heart.

I actually like the Container Store - and Borders, with the upstairs cafe (although I wish the deck looked onto a much better streetscape than the parking lot and Rte. 9) - but he has a point, and the column is worth a read.

It's a corollary of what Paul Krugman was talking about in his outstanding column French Family Values, when he noted that a "French family, without question, has lower disposable income [than an average American family]. This translates into lower personal consumption: a smaller car, a smaller house, less eating out. But there are compensations for this lower level of consumption." French schools are uniformly good, so families don't have to worry about getting kids into a decent district. They also don't worry about "losing health insurance or being driven into bankruptcy by medical bills.

"Perhaps even more important, however, the members of that French family are compensated for their lower income with much more time together. Fully employed French workers average about seven weeks of paid vacation a year. ... To the extent that the French have less income than we do, it's mainly a matter of choice."

How do we define quality of life? Is it how much money we have, how large our house is, how expensive our cars, how many TVs and computers we can buy? Or do things like leisure time, social ties and sense of community matter, too?

How do we definte quality of community? Is it strictly increasing tax revenues, higher property values and an attractive environment for large corporate development? Or do things like sense of place, walkability and appealing streetscapes matter too? I say they do. And I'm not alone.

August 16, 2005

Pittsfield Merchants Want Slower Traffic

While local officials in some communities worry about how to better speed traffic through their downtown centers, others actively seek ways of slowing traffic in order to make a more appealing commercial center for pedestrians. Among the latter: Pittsfield, Mass., where "increased parking and slowing down traffic on North Street were the two biggest areas of concern for shop owners," according to Capital News 9 TV.

"Slowing the traffic for pedestrians is the key to bring more people downtown," said Giora Witkowski of USBluesware, according to

Downtown business districts may not be able to compete with a suburban shopping mall for easy, free and convenient parking; but if properly designed, they can strongly compete in the battle for shoppers with streetscape, ambiance and unique sense of place. After all, upscale consumers don't flock to Newbury Street because it's easy to park. And they don't patronize Waltham's restaurants and movie theater because Moody Street is quicker to drive down than Rte. 9.

New URL:

After a year & a half doing this blog, I think it finally deserves its own URL. All the links still work - and still redirects here - but now Planning Livable Communities is also at .

Thanks for visiting, whichever URL you use!

August 13, 2005

Builder: We’re Not The Ones Demanding Large Houses On Big Lots

The message that builders prefer to build large homes on large lots has been believed and delivered by a number of professional planners throughout New Jersey," writes Patrick Bunn, president of the Builders League of South Jersey and director of construction at J.S. Hovnanian & Sons, in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It is not true, however. ...

"[Builders] are eager to work with municipalities and other governing entities to create smart, dynamic neighborhoods that can sustain themselves over time. Unfortunately, that opportunity rarely happens in New Jersey. In the end, builders build only what zoning and regulations allow them to."

According to Bunn, it's a lot riskier and more difficult to try "unconventional" smart-growth projects in the typical suburb, and THAT'S why so many builders stick to the classic subdivision. If you recall the lengthy process trying to get PUD district projects approved in Framingham, you might concede he has a point. If it's easier to build sprawl and more profitable to build McMansions, that's what businesses are going to build. But it's not necessarily true that all Americans want a McMansion; plenty of people still desire affordable housing in walkable communities.

August 11, 2005

Why Is One Community Left Out Of South Florida’s Redevelopment Boom?

"Redevelopment is sweeping South Florida's older cities, so why is Dania Beach, Broward County's first city, mostly left out?" asks the Miami Herald.

While other Broward County coastal cities boom, downtown Dania's streets are lined with aging storefronts that see few pedestrians. Empty buildings stay empty.
The city seems to have the right ingredients: It's minutes from the beach, has easy access to two interstates and Florida's Turnpike, and is minutes from downtown Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale.
So why not Dania Beach?

The answer, says the article, has to do with "a combination of antiquated building rules, an anti-growth reputation and a lack of organized efforts to help developers rebuild downtown."

Hmmm. A lack of organized efforts to redevelop downtown. Sound familiar?

August 7, 2005

‘Pedestrian Promenade Breathes New Life Into Downtown Medford (Ore.)”

So says the Mail Tribune, reporting on plans for "Evergreen Way," a "wide street next to the rail line that bisects downtown — once a 'gravelly scar through Medford' — [that] moves into its new incarnation as a pedestrian- and bike-friendly promenade for shoppers and downtown residents.

"The stretch of Evergreen between Sixth and Main streets, now 99 percent complete, will serve the shops and apartments of the old Acme Hardware building, both of which likely will create entrances on the new street."

There's been a $30 million investment in Medford's downtown renewal so far, including creating "the new street, head-in parking, 12-foot wide sidewalks, streetlights, trees and benches, creating a pedestrian walkway that will not be a through street, but will provide an environment for events like the Grower’s Market."

The Medford Urban Renwal Agency is offering business owners matching grants to spruce up their facades and otherwise orient their businesses toward the new greenway. For example, one restaurant owner has plans move one of its doors to front the new greenway, push out a back patio to the new street, set up sidewalk cafe tables and offer quick lunch service for pedestrians.

In Framingham, Mass., meanwhile, from what I hear, if a business even wants to have outdoor seating, it's an enormous hassle to try to get approval. Unfortunately, my guess is, if this was brought on the frambors e-mail discussion list, where many town activists discuss issues of the day, I'd get the same answer I seem to always read when someone dares mention that town rules may not be encouraging good development: Such-and-such committee did a lot of hard work coming up with bylaw [name]!! We were very thorough!! If you think there's a problem, change the rule!!


1) Thanks for all your efforts, truly I appreciate the many hours volunteers devote to town government. But I'm getting tired of hearing how hard everyone is working as the response whenever someone complains about something. That's what you sign up for when you choose to run for office (which I did for three years as a Framingham Town Meeting member and member of the TM Standing Committee on Planning & Zoning), it's a given. But you know something? It's possible to work very hard, and be very thorough, and still end up with a crappy result. "We worked very hard" is not an appropriate response to "something may be wrong here."

2) We have representative government so our representatives will represent us. That means they listen to our feedback, see the results of their actions, and adjust things accordingly, instead of telling us to do their work for them. That's how representative democracy is supposed to work. If every citizen is supposed to have to do the legislating, then Framingham shouldn't have representative Town Meeting, but should have open town meeting. But of course Framingham is too large to have open Town Meeting. (In my opinion, it's too large to have representatve Town Meeting as well, but that's a whole 'nother discussion.)


Tilting Too Far To The Automobile

When places are designed solely for the automobile, they become unpleasant and unappealing at best for pedestrians - but usually, they also become unsafe. That makes it even less likely people will walk, making it less likely drivers even think to watch out for pedestrians, making walking even more unsafe ... and the spiral continues, until you rarely see people out on foot at all.

My walking buddy at work and I have numerous examples of narrowly avoiding being hit by drivers who are simply not looking for pedestrians, even in clearly marked, brightly painted crosswalks. The average driver in Framingham waiting to make a right turn, will only look to his/her left to check for oncoming cars - even if it's an intersection with a crosswalk. Many do not also look right to see if a pedestrian has appeared -- one with the right of way -- because it doesn't occur to them that they have to share the roads with walkers.

The Globe has an editorial today about someone waiting for an oil change, seeing a Dunkin Donuts kiosk within walking distance, but being turned away from the "drive-up window" because they weren't in a vehicle. How sad is that? A business in a neighborhood where you can't even buy something unless you drive there.

As the Globe notes: "Today, walking is regarded as an exercise that one does in a designated space -- the gym treadmill, the park, the sidewalk -- rather than as a natural movement that is far more healthy than gripping a steering wheel."

Luckily, we can still drive to a few places still designed for walking - Concord's town center, much of downtown Boston (Newbury Street/Back Bay, Beacon Hill, North End), Waltham's Moody Street and so on. But unless you live in a city center, chances are you aren't walking to get anywhere, because your neighborhood, including neighborhood stores if there are any - aren't designed for it. Who but the most dedicated of walkers wants to cross a sea of asphalt with traffic zooming every which way?

I grew up in a suburb of New York, and spent my childhood walking to friends' houses, and having my mom send me out for milk, bread, lunch meat and other groceries. Yet it was a pefectly drivable neighborhood with plenty of free, easily accessible parking. Cars and pedestrians could share space in relative harmony. Even the "strip malls" were designed differently, giving equal weight to walker-friendly entrances as well as available parking. It IS possible. If planners bother thinking at all about pedestrians anymore.

August 4, 2005

Malls, Alfresco

GlobeWest has apparently discovered the latest trend in shopping centers: trying to mimic traditional town centers, noting "the roof is coming off the shopping mall.

In the mall's latest incarnation, trees line the walkways. The buildings are one or two stories high, and are designed to look quaint. Shoppers sit down for meals, their tables shaded by umbrellas. Some can even stroll across the grass to their nearby homes.

The story notes that such malls are planned for Wayland, with a "mix of stores, offices, homes, a public building and public space" as well as Westborough and Berlin, but amazingly neglects to mention that the major Natick Mall expansion is quite contrary to this trend, instead sticking to the formula popular from half a century ago.

In other mall news, the paper reports that the soon-to-be-closing Filene's anchor store at the mall could be subdivided, and possibly leased to "a hotel, a movie theater or a restaurant." A mall official said that Natick has "a shortage" of a good upscale restaurants such as McCormick and Schmick's or P.F. Chang's.

In fact, there's Maxwell's 148 in downtown Natick, which a great local upscale restaurant. I think the official meant on Rte. 9 in Natick. Or perhaps meant a shortage of high-end chain restaurants.

Actually, what Rte. 9 in Natick has a shortage of is somewhere you can enjoy a sense of place and civilized experience both before and after dining, not simply at the restaurant itself. You know, such as strolling in an appealing streetscape instead of the endless-strip-mall-on-steroids look of the Golden Triangle.