February 26, 2006

One Framingham Or Two?

There's been a discussion thread on the frambors Framingham e-mail list recently about "secession" brought up by one poster, who said that perhaps, if there really are two different Framinghams (north and south), it might make sense for them to actually split. Each "half" would still be larger than many neighboring towns. As you might imagine, there was a lot of opposition to that idea.

My response (not yet posted to the list): Framingham would be best off if we all acknowledged that our community is a collection of neighborhoods as well as a single town, and agree on a Newton/Boston-type model of multiple neighborhood business districts along with a primary, central downtown. Many people don't understand this -- especially some South Side hardliners who equate any improvements north of Rte. 9 as a direct threat, class warfare and/or diabolical attack on downtown. I asked:

Can we all acknowledge a few basic facts?

1. Framingham is a large as well as diverse community.

2. Framingham is physically FULLY HALF THE SIZE OF BOSTON and LARGER IN SIZE THAN NEWTON. Here are the stats.

Framingham: 26 square miles
Newton: 18 square miles
Boston: 48 square miles

3. While well-located in terms of being at a high population-density area, downtown Framingham is not physically located in the center of town. This is not a criticism, but simply a fact. There had to be a choice as to whether to locate downtown where the highest concentration of people is (one good decision) or physically where it's most convenient to the most areas of town (another potentially good decision). But the fact is, downtown Framingham is not equally convenient to all outer areas of the community. Instead, it is located on one side of town.

4. Traffic in town has increased over the past few decades, making it less convenient and more time consuming to get from one side of town to another. (Note: I don't have numbers on this right now, but simply my own experience. But I do believe traffic numbers would back this up.)

OK then.

Now, for those Framingham residents who would like to join an exercise here, try VERY hard for JUST 10 MINUTES to put aside the emotional attachments you have to the town as a whole as well as your particular part of town, and think about what these facts mean, and what gives the best quality of life to everyone in all areas of our community.

What I come up with is the Boston/Newton model of multiple strong neighborhood/village centers in conjunction with a thriving downtown that's more of a regional draw.

It is extraordinarily disheartening to see hear some people still talking about the desire for a new branch library in Saxonville as some kind of plot against the downtown, or hatred of downtown, or class warfare. I don't know how to get people to understand that Framingham is simply too physically large and full of traffic to have one neighborhood center all the way on one side of town be the full-service local neighborhood center for everyone's needs. Obviously, the town needs more than one grocery store, more than one pharmacy, more than one dry cleaner .... at which point one should be able to conclude that the town needs more than one neighborhood business district.

It's certainly open for discussion how best to balance the primary downtown district with the neighborhood districts. But I believe the way to draw people from all over town to downtown is by turning it into something along the lines of what Waltham did -- not necessarily copying their specific model of restaurants and a movie theater, but making it a park-once, walk-to-many-different-destinations kind of regional center while still keeping many of the same neighborhood businesses (and types of businesses) that also serve the locals (and there are still some of the same businesses in downton Waltham that were there back when I lived off Moody Street in the early '80s). That's the "carrot" approach - entice people downtown because it's a good experience to be there. I think it would work, while still making people all over Framingham happy to be part of a single, large community.

I do NOT believe the best way to draw people to downtown Framingham is by making sure there's nothing (non-residential) appealing built in any other neighborhood in town. That's the "stick" approach, and trust me, it's going to create resentment and anger among people who are not conveniently located to downtown. Some people who live near downtown may truly believe this is good for the entire town, since to them, downtown is synonymous with their neighborhood business district while also representing all of Framingham. But look again at the facts listed above. Based on simple geography, people in other areas of town naturally have their own neighborhood outlook as well as belonging to the town as a whole. You can't change that unless you change the map. Framingham residents need to work with that, instead of being angry that it exists.

1 comment:

  1. The biggest problem in Framingham, is the traffic, and there's no solution in sight. Anyone who's traveled Newton, or Brookline, can see the differences. In additon, Framingham shares with Natick, some of the ugliest streetscapes this side of Rte 1 in Dedham. Ever notice the telephone wires strung all over town like a spiderweb? Check the view on rte 9 looking west if you're in front of the MEMA Headquarters. Or the view looking across the tracks at the Dennison crossing. If you're interested in traffic snarls, and agree that in front of Shoppers World, everything moves as smoothly as can be, then take a look to where it all gets stuck, either Prospect St. lights or further up. The malls have done their share of keeping things moving in front of the stores, now it's up to the rest of the town to figure out how to keep it moving everywhere else.