I don't mean finding a park or a trail to go hiking, cycling or running. My question is: As the weather (finally) gets nice out, where can you go to enjoy it by strolling around and/or sitting outdoors in a manmade environment? That question goes to the heart of whether a streetscape is truly pedestrian-appealing.
In Boston, Back Bay is an outstanding option -- extremely attractive streetscapes, sidewalks and buildings designed for maximum appeal when on foot, and plenty of outdoor cafes where you can stop and spend some time outside eating, drinking and people-watching. Parts of the waterfront near the North End are also nice for outdoor strolling amidst the buildings, with lots of benches where people actually do want to stop and sit.
Quincy Market is another place thronging with people when the weather gets nice, as is Harvard Square in Cambridge.
In MetroWest, though, options are somewhat limited for spending an afternoon outdoors in a manmade environment. Concord center is a top choice, with a truly appealing streetscape, and outdoor dining at the Concord Inn in nice weather. But even some of the other nice, revitalized downtowns aren't designed for enjoying a beautiful spring afternoon walking around, if you include "some sort of attractive place where you'd truly want to stop, sit and enjoy a nice day" as part of the equation.
That's a key issue I hope Framingham officials consider when someday there's serious work to revitalize downtown. Simply sticking more residences and stores down there won't itself create that kind of magnet environment to draw people. You need great storefront design, thoughtful placement of stop-in-the-nice-weather destinations, infills of businesses that were built far back from the sidewalk (few things kill your streetscape as effectively as too many parking lots fronting the sidewalk), landscaping between sidewalk and traffic, and so on. You also want your storefronts and sidewalks designed to encourage outdoor seating in nice weather, a great way to bring life to your streetscape.
In yesterday's Globe Calendar, there was a review of an outdoor cafe in Belmont: "Syrian-born Vivian Abkarian has had a hair salon in Belmont’s Cushing Square for almost seven years. Her Salon de Paris took up too much real estate, she decided one day, so she divided the place in half. One part still houses her salon, and the other has become Cafe D’Or, or 'golden cafe,' " the review starts off.
"Abkarian gave the place a French name because she pictured people eating at sidewalk tables in mild weather the way Parisians do at their neighborhood cafes. Since the cafe opened, she says, 'when I see people sitting outside on a sunny day, I feel like I’m sitting in Europe.' " We shouldn't have to cross the Atlantic in order to experience the joys of sitting at an outdoor cafe on a nice spring day.