November 30, 2005

Center City Sensibilities

Warrenton, Va. resident describes describes going for coffee at a local (not chain) shop, going to the bank, returning a library book, mailing some letters, getting a haircut, and generally "wandering around" town where he can "can window shop to my heart's content and admire the classic architecture of Old Town. Not once did I get into my car.

"It is this very mix of private and public uses I encountered that are, by definition, center city sensibilities. They are what make Warrenton as authentic a place -- dare I say 'rural urban village' -- as one will find anywhere."

Alas, he points out in the Fauquier Times-Democrat, most suburban communities around Washington, D.C., "are built around the calculated separation of venues and complete reliance on the automobile. "

Sound familiar? There are pockets of walkability in Boston's western suburbs as well, but we've got way too much housing where residents can't walk to destinations; and retail centers that no one can walk to from anywhere except a parking lot. And the newer the development, the more likely it is to skew auto-only, unless a conscious decision is made by planners to encourage mixed-use neighborhoods and walkability. Mixed-use doesn't always have to mean apartments over stores, but it does mean blocks where stores and homes are well integrated, as opposed to having strip malls surrounded by asphalt oceans.

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