It's always great to visit a town center that works, and Newburyport's definitely does. What makes it a pedestrian-friendly, appealing regional destination?
History and some beautiful architecture help.
So does being near the water, especially since there's a small park with a walkway along the water right next to the main business district shopping area. But there are a lot of other towns along the coast where people don't want to drive 30+ miles to walk around and spend an afternoon.
What else makes Newburyport's downtown work so well? So many things:
* Great mix of retail in the main shopping area. In the key blocks set aside as the main retail center, you don't see medical offices, insurance offices or other businesses not interesting to shoppers -- everything you walk by is either a restaurant/cafe or a store for shoppers. This is absolutely critical for creating an appealing downtown to compete with area malls. You also see few chain stores in Newburyport's downtown; instead, there are mainly locally owned businesses that you can't find anywhere else. This attracts people looking for an "experience," not simply those running errands.
* The streetscape is attractive - interesting buildings, appealing windows, variety of shapes of windows and walls (so there's not one long, flat wall for an entire block, which is less interesting to walkers), ample and well-maintained sidewalks, buffer between sidewalk and street.
* Although there's a lot of traffic in the area, it's not 4 lanes of cars whizzing by; the traffic is "calmed" and goes slowly through the downtown. There's free off-street parking nearby, just on the edge of the main shopping area -- close enough to be convenient, but not actually in the heart of the main shopping streets (which would degrade the pedestrian experience, if people were walking by big parking lots while window-shopping).
Framingham may not be by the sea, and downtown may not have quite the federalist architecture that Newburyport does, but there are still very useful lessons here on how to create a successful downtown retail center - if the town decides someday it wants to try to create a regional destination in part of downtown, the way Waltham has, instead of a local business district.
Note on above photos: Left - Newburyport at night, from the Chamber of Commerce; right, historic pubic library, my photo, which doesn't do any justice to the converted mansion where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de LaFayette, among others, were entertained.