December 25, 2005

Open Space

What open space truly enhances its immediate surrounding community? In thinking about such space here in Framingham, the village green in Framingham Centre is at the top of my list. Easily accessible to nearby residences, stores and Framingham State College, it's often used for concerts and other events, as well as informally by people playing football or frisbee when the weather's nice. That's the best test for how well designed such spaces are -- how often are they used?

Even though it's surrounded by reasonably well-travelled roads, the green is an oasis that's well integrated into the community. And one reason it works so well is the architecture around it. Although several of the buildings are set back a bit from the road, they're not set back so much as to feel completely cut off from the green. Instead, the doorways and windows are quite visible from the green -- there are many "eyes" facing that public space. That's important for people to feel comfortable using the space for casual neighborhood activities (as opposed to a park's natural setting for specific nature recreation like hiking and bicycling).

If the same space was tucked away surrounded by fences, blank walls and huge parking lots, I don't think it would have the same inviting feeling.

"Open space" as part of the planning process is a great idea, but it's not simply the quantity of square footage left unbuilt upon that's important - it's also quality. There's a bit of "open space" around the redesigned Shoppers World, for instance -- I'm guessing it might be wetlands -- but that space doesn't really add much to the project. In fact, if anything, it just makes it more difficult for pedestrians to get there from anywhere else.

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