February 5, 2006

Business Week: New Urbanism is ‘Changing the Landscape and American Lifestyle”

Even in Atlanta, one of the most sprawl-infested cities along the Eastern Seaboard, pedestrian-friendly development is taking hold, reports this week's issue of Business Week.

"Atlantic Station [in the middle of Atlanta] is the latest example of 'new urbanism,' a trendy antidote to the suburban and exurban sprawl that has defined the American way of life for the past five decades," the article notes. "It's a shiny new town, complete with city blocks, sidewalks, street parking, a train station, parks, schools, offices, town houses, and even loft residences right above the retail stores."

"I don't have a car, and I walk for groceries -- I love it," one resident told the magazine.

[M]ini-towns like Atlanta Station and Main Streets are sprouting up all over America. Sometimes even located in the middle of a suburban sprawl, these developments give residents an identity -- and a place to go for entertainment, shopping, and people watching -- whether it's at Santana Row in San Jose, Calif.; Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio; Centerpoint on Mill in Tempe, Ariz.; or the revival of Crossroads in downtown Kansas City, Mo. ...

Such town centers are truly picking up steam and will soon change the landscape of America. Nowhere is the trend more visible than with mall developers: Out of 147 new retail developments that started construction last year, only two were the big-box, enclosed malls of yesterday.

Meanwhile, here in Framingham and along Rtes. 9 & 30 in Natick, it's still the auto-centric developments of yesteryear. The article includes mention of the Natick Mall expansion's condominiums; but based on the designs I've seen, that project bears no resemblance to true pedestrian-friendly new urbanism. Yes, residents will be able to walk to the traditional enclosed mall, but that's it. There's nowhere else to walk to (unless the spur of the Cochituate Rail Trail finally happens, and that won't be a community streetscape), no pleasant outdoor shared space, no integration with the surrounding community and not much sense of place.

1 comment:

  1. That article's a little breezy. Atlantic Station, built on the site of an old steelyards, is turning out to be a disappointment.

    They had a chance to build something that was truly knit into the street grid to the south and really had a village feel -- what they ended up building feels like an outdoor shopping mall (because it is) next to a freeway (because it is) on top of a massive parking garage (because it is), with mostly large-volume traffic connectors to the rest of the city. And within the project, most of the housing, office, and retail uses are separated. I don't know what "schools" or "train station" the author is talking about -- there's a minibus that shuttles people from a subway station about eight blocks away, on the other side of a 12-lane freeway.

    It is nice to have a mall within easy reach of the intown neighborhoods. (I use it myself.) But is that enough?

    But it certainly could be worse. To a certain extent, anything built in that space would help knit the city together. The stepchild neighborhoods to the west are finally starting to fill in and develop, and this project fills in a missing piece of the city.

    However, Atlantic Station aside, Atlanta really is starting to heat up and densify, in the very best sense of the word. Infill projects in advance of the Beltline (http://beltline.org) are already being approved, and the quality of life for those of us who live in the city is going up every month. So there's plenty to learn from, but Atlantic Station isn't really the best exemplar.