February 12, 2006

Globe Magazine Discovers Smart Growth

Today's Globe Magazine has a fairly flattering story on smart growth, discovering that a lot of people actually want to live in neighborhoods where you don't need a car for every single task in life. In fact, plenty of people find it appealing to live in a suburb but still be able to walk to pick up food, dry cleaning or public transit.

Well, duh. Anyone who looks at the price per square foot in desirable, walkable urban neighborhoods like Boston's Back Bay, Beacon Hill or the North End could figure out that the market has priced residences in those places substantially higher than most "pricey" new exurban McMansions. It's always been a myth that "American consumers" want to live in suburban sprawl. In fact, many do; but many others do not. The problem is that until recently, the vast majority of non-urban zoning has prohibited pedestrian-friendly development.

As Douglas Foy, secretary of Commonwealth Development, told the Globe: "The irony is that Concord, this paradigmatic town, is illegal under a lot of current zoning laws. You couldn’t build a new Concord."

Smart-growth advocates have argued that for years; in fact, I recently highlighted an entire book on this issue called Zoned Out (see Dec. '05 post). It's not market demand that's causing developers to build sprawling subdivisions where it's impossible to walk anywhere. Many are doing so because it's the only thing that suburban zoning allows.

I'm happy to see the Globe shining a bit of light on this subject. The article notes that developer John Marini needed special permits for almost everything he wanted to do to create Franklin Center Commons near the town's T station, a project that will replace an unsightly warehouse with offices, residences and retail.

"Marini went to 14 hearings to explain what he wanted to do. He spent $3.85 million for the land and $480,000 to plan, design, and engineer the project," according to the Globe.

"Most towns want 40,000-square-foot single-family lots," Marini told the Globe.

Does anyone want to live in a condo upstairs from retail or office space within walking distance of commuter rail? At a similar project in Canton, Marini said, "I can’t sell these units fast enough."


  1. this is inaccurate. marini's project replaced a historic and prospering cinema. not an unsightly warehouse.

  2. Well if true, that's a bummer. I remember the demolition of neighborhood businesses in Newton Corner to make way for the development there, which I suppose was economically successful while also somewhat ugly and pedestrian-scary to try to cross the street (and car-scary to drive through exit 17 off the Mass Pike).