March 19, 2006

Myrtle Beach Planners Seek Smarter Growth

"Many people have the misconception that smart growth means no growth and is anti-suburban, North Myrtle Beach planner Greg Lipscomb told a group of engineers and architects last week. But smart growth is really about well-planned growth that creates walkable neighborhoods, offers housing choices for everyone and preserves open space, he said," begins an article in the Sun News (S.C.), Planners Crave Smart Growth.

"Negative government attitudes toward density and regulations such as parking and firetruck sizes restrict builders trying to build traditional neighborhood developments, said Sam Burns, president of Dock Street Communities, which builds only traditional neighborhoods on the Grand Strand. 'Codes and regulations make it far easier to build shelter than to build neighborhoods,' he said."

Creating walkable neighborhoods (where it's actually appealing to walk to a destination besides your neighbor's house) often requires special permits, while sprawl is not only allowed by right but encouraged in local zoning codes. So, homebuyers looking for pedestrian-friendly environments are severely underserved by new construction outside of core urban ares.

Likewise, commercial development ends up as a pedestrian-hostile series of stand-alone strip malls set back from the road and surrounded by a sea of asphalt, where sidewalks may exist but no one wants to use them; and trying to cross the road feels uncomfortably like a death-defying dash (think Rte. 9 anywhere in Framingham).

Interestingly, Myrtle Beach planners "are starting to study how Kings Highway could be redeveloped to be more pedestrian friendly, with wider sidewalks, street trees and on-street parking, [planning director Jack] Walker said." I haven't seen Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach, but imagine it looks something like the commercial areas of Rte. 30 or Rte. 9 in Framingham. Ah, if only local planners had the same vision for Rte. 30 in Framingham, how much better the area around Target and Kohl's could have been.

I still can't stop imagining what it could have looked like to have the Target mall up at the sidewalk, with great landscaping between pedestrians and moving traffic, allowing the outdoor seating at Panera to create a boulevard feel. Similarly moving Shoppers World up on the other side would have given us the outdoor seating at John Harvard's, and created a place where hundreds of nearby office workers could have wanted to stroll around during lunchtime. Sigh. What an opportunity lost.

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