August 29, 2006

"College Towns" Boost College Appeal - Thoughts on Framingham

The University of Connecticut is the latest institution of higher learning to realize the importance of "town/gown" physical integration. UConn is launching "a sweeping project at its main campus in this hamlet in the still-rural town of Mansfield. Working with local officials, it plans to demolish the meager downtown, which looks more like a makeshift set for a Hollywood western than a New England college center, and build a town from scratch," the New York Times reported earlier this month (thanks to Cool Town Studios for the link).

"Colleges have traditionally tempted top students with ivy-covered campuses, towering Gothic buildings and up-to-date student centers. But nowadays, there is a sense that a beautiful campus is not enough. An alluring college town is seen as necessary as well," the Times notes. Ohio State and the University of Pennsylvania are other colleges investing in the community around them.

Framingham, of course, already has a town - both a neighborhood business district right near campus (Framingham Centre) and a downtown just a mile or two away. But as I've complained before, there is no appealing streetscape at all between Framingham State and local retailers. The Rte. 9/Union Ave./Edgell Road intersection where the campus sits is a pedestrian abomination, despite the footbridge across Route 9. There is no aesthetic attraction for anyone to walk off the campus, because the sidewalks are totally unlandscaped, with no screening between walkers and the multiple lanes of traffic whizzing by within inches. It feels unsafe and unpleasant to walk in that area. And thus are multiple opportunities lost: creaton of a more vibrant commercial area, more revenue from the college community and a more appealing and integrated business area.

The presence of "traffic needs" and major roadways are not an excuse for creating a pedestrian wasteland. Bridges can be made attractive. Major intersections can be made pedestrian-appealing (ever been to Harvard Square?) And it wouldn't be that tough to make Union Avenue directly adjacent to the campus a more attractive streetscape to entice the college community to walk around and patronize local businesses. But you don't do it with strip-mall zoning and unlandscaped sidewalks.

1 comment:

  1. Wellesley is another beautiful example where the college presence vitalizes downtown.
    In Natick, the Bakery on the Common closed down in the evening after about the first year,
    but the Wellesley Starbucks is a bustling center of activity, with town residents joining
    the college crowd. Of course, the walk from Wellesley center to Wellesley College is a
    pleasant one, and the gate to the college welcomes any pedestrians in the area.

    Framingham State, on the other hand, is virtually invisible from the neighboring commercial
    area along route 9. The hill doesn't help, but the poor planning makes it a whole lot worse. It's
    a shame that Framingham's most historic downtown (still known, I belive, as Framingham
    Centre) is such a disaster area of poor planning. There is a beautiful common, church, and
    historic buildings, but they are hidden behind a hideous strip mall that is impossible
    to navigate. A state highway, Route 30, comes into the parking lot from the west, then
    disappears. The whole complex is cut off by route 9 from the rest of Framingham. A little
    planning might go a long way here.