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?

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