January 16, 2006

Mass. Smart Growth Agenda

Massachusetts lawmakers should provide greater incentives for communities that develop compact housing in downtowns, restore investment in conserving open space and implement a transportation plan that assures a balance between roads and public transit, according to Shared Destinies: A Smart Growth Agenda for Massachusetts, a report issued last month by the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance.

"[S]tories about the facts of our lives in Massachusetts today—increasingly long commutes to work, soaring housing prices, vanishing rural character and natural areas, strains on water supply and quality—are all connected," the report notes. "They illustrate how our current policies and decisions do not support managing development and redevelopment of land in ways that preserve what is best about the places we love, and that make life better as we grow."

Did someone say sprawl? The loss of "sense of place?"

In fact, sprawl isn't the result of unfettered market forces, but "is actually the product of more than half a century of federal, state and local policies. Because we created the framework that made sprawl possible, we can also change regulations, incentives and disincentives to promote different growth and development patterns."

One of my favorite recommendations: "Invest in a sense of place through good design." The report rightly notes that "A sense of place comes from the design of the public realm—the parks, public squares, streets, sidewalks and landscapes that belong to the whole community."

No one appears to have given that any thought in the commercial heart of Framingham, the Rte. 9/30 "Golden Triangle." It's all about setback, adequate parking and "screening"; but no one seems to care at all about creating an appealing streetscape. Is anyone really proud of the ugly strip-mall-after-strip-mall result?

Page 10 of the 19-page report has a nice roundup of what they envision "smart growth" in Massachusetts would look like:

  • Lively and walkable town centers

  • Distinction between town and country, with fewer isolated subdivisions and strip malls

  • Rejuvenated urban centers

  • More transit choices (i.e. everyone wouldn't have to drive everywhere)

  • More housing choices

  • More sustainable rural economies

"Good design and planning make the difference in public acceptance of smart growth," the report concludes.

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