November 17, 2005

Mixed-use Multi-Family Housing in Lincoln?

Lincoln, Mass. - the upscale town where residents sometimes asked that potholes be kept in their roads to discourage added traffic - may be getting condos along with an expansion of the Mall at Lincoln Station, the Boston Globe's West Weekly reports. The mall's owner is considering adding 16 to 24 units to plans for phase 2 of the expansion (the 10,000-square-foot phase 1 would be commercial/retail only). Such a plan would require Town Meeting approval.

Wow, you'll know walkable "mixed-use" housing/retail developments are becoming a formidable high-end trend if one comes to Lincoln. I briefly covered Lincoln as a reporter for the then-Middlesex News (now MetroWest Daily News) in the early '80s, and to say that the town wasn't interested in adding a lot of commercial activity or high-density development is somewhat of an understatement. Lincoln is a gorgeous town, and residents tend to be fiercely protective of its rural character (although at the same time, Lincoln is substantially farther along in offering "affordable" housing than most nearby wealthy communities, reasonably close to the state-desired 10% level).

Some suburban planners still dislike mixed-use, believing it somehow impinges on the 50-year-old vision of the American Dream -- which somehow morphed from "owning your own home" to "owning a house in a suburban housing tract where there's no possible way to walk anywhere except to other houses - and even then you wouldn't want to because the neighborhoods are so car-centric and pedestrian hostile."

However, others view mixed-use as a return to more traditional neighborhood development along the lines of historic New England village patterns, where it was indeed possible for some residents to walk to local stores. It will be interesting to see how this project proceeds in Lincoln.

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