February 19, 2006

MIT Student Eyes Framingham Downtown Revitalization Plans

"For MIT graduate student Jonathan Leit, Framingham is a fascinating case study for downtown revitalization," the MetroWest Daily News reports today about the Department of Urban Studies and Planning student's examination of Framingham for his thesis.

Leit finds Framingham an intriguing choice in part because suburban revitalization plans typically receive less academic attention than those of major urban areas or smaller cities, according to the Daily News. "Leit’s interest in Framingham grew out of a study he co-wrote with two other students in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning on the impact of the Arcade project on the immigrant businesses housed in the Concord Street building," the article notes. "The study’s other authors were Sara Nafici and Brian Cheigh at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."

Their study of the Arcade redevelopment project is available online.

While the issue of where current business owners fit into the Arcade project is certainly an important one, and the point of that first study, I hope Leit is going to look at some other important issues understandably not mentioned in this particular study's conclusions, such as:

* Is downtown Framingham going to be designed to draw people from all across Framingham and beyond, or primarily residents of nearby precincts? This is an important question, because it affects the kind of businesses you want to attract and streetscape you want to create. I'm not sure Leit grasps that Framingham is physically half the size (in square miles) of Boston. He talks about business districts downtown and on Rte. 9, but completely ignores Saxonville and Nobscot. Downtown, which is not centrally located, is simply too physically far away from some areas of town to be a primary neighborhood commercial center for every area of Framingham. However, it could be more of a "regional" magnet - if it's designed that way. If it's designed primarily for locals, though, some more municipal attention needs to be paid to business districts north of Rte. 9.

* Who is envisioned to live in the new residential units? What kind of people are these new units trying to attract, and what sorts of businesses and streetscape need to be in downtown Framingham in order to appeal to them? Urban professionals, who typically like a lot of shopping, eating and entertainment within walking distance in a pedestrian-friendly streetscape but are being priced out of Boston and Cambridge, could be an attractive target, but they won't want to move downtown without certain additions. The Amazing Things Art Center's plans to move to the Hollis St. firehouse, if the town approves their bid, could be one important factor in appealing to that demographic. Personally, I think those who like a walkable neighborhood with a lot of commercial amenities nearby are a more likely audience for new residences downtown than suburban dwellers who are being priced out of single-family homes in towns close to Boston but still want single-family homes somewhere. Those people are more likely to move out to more affordable exurbs, or condos in less densely populated neighborhoods.

I also fervently hope Leit looks at creating a pedestrian-friendly streetscape in the downtown business district, including a 100%-pedestrian-appealing walking environment between the T station and downtown businesses, and between all the new residential units and downtown businesses.

1 comment:

  1. As a life-long Framingham resident, I have seen a need for change in the downtown area for many years. The potential is there if done properly, which from indications by both the builder and the town's willingless to work with the builder, this area could build a nice tax base and eliminate an eye sore. A killer two-for-one deal. I think there are other factors to take into this area as there are still many other 'eye sores' that surround this location. It would seem that drug clinics and the Salvation Army that reside in the downtown area would need to be moved for this project to work in harmony.

    The first goal is to create a walking enviroment for the new residents, who will be paying a hefty price for rent, which may be difficult to attain with the current surrounding situation. If the town/builder believes they can get an ideal commercial/residential location with increased rates across the board and still have such agencies surrounding the arcade, I think there could be a lot more difficulty...Its almost like Framingham will have to go above and beyond what other cities would offer to make sure the downtown area and arcade is friendly and I am unsure if the Salvation Army and drug clinics remain, this can happen...