January 22, 2006

Grass, Trees & Gardens, Not Garages & Driveways

It's sometimes hard to get through to suburban planning officials, who obsess mostly about "setback" and occasionally "screening," how critical it is to create a pleasing sense of place and pedestrian-appealing streetscape by NOT having parking lots, driveways and garage doors as the chief features of your streetscape.

It's why I'm so disappointed with the two two-family townhouses built on Nicholas Road in Framingham. They could have enhanced the pedestrian experience, providing an attractive walking link between the Pinefield development of single-family homes on one side, and the apartments, condos and neighborhood retail on the other. Instead, the buildings have huge garage doors as the main feature you notice from the street, blacktop parking adjacent to the street and no sidewalk at all. Sigh.

This came to mind as I was reading about a townhouse development north of the border: "When homeowners at Garden Park Village in Whitby [Ontario] step out of their front doors, they will see grass, trees and gardens thriving with flowers instead of garages and driveways," the Globe & Mail reports. "Rockport Group's freehold townhouse development will be pedestrian-friendly, offering gardens, pathways and a central courtyard with benches. Each of the 163 units will include a built-in double-car garage, but it will be located at the rear."

Do you see garages and driveways when you walk along Newbury Street or Commonwealth Avenue in Boston's Back Bay? No. Does this enhance the pedestrian experience, quality of life and neighborhood sense of place? Yes. Has it hurt property values? Um, no, considering that's some of the most expensive real estate in New England.

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