September 21, 2006

Provincetown: Sense of Place

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past couple of weeks! It's been an especially busy time. ... except for a long weekend down on the Cape, which was a delightfully restful time ... and where I noticed that downtown Provincetown was filled with pedestrians despite extremely narrow sidewalks, sometimes no sidewalks at all; and it was bustling even though it was one of the most difficult environments for driving you can find. Why is that?

One thing for sure is a special sense of place. Say what you will about P-town, it's definitely a different environment that a cookie-cutter suburban mall! Seriously, the stores are mostly locally owned, and they're interesting. I wandered into a number of galleries, but even the tacky T-shirt stores seemed to have character. And the few chain stores sprinkled in weren't so overwhelming that you felt like you could be Anywhere, USA.

Stores - and farther down Commercial Street, inns and homes - right up to the sidewalk create a feeling of safety for walkers, when you've got loads of windows nearby, what planners call "eyes on the street." It is instinctively comfortable when you feel that there's a neighborhood of people in their homes and shops who can be looking out -- much more so than when you're walking by a parking lot, a driveway, a big garage door or a blank wall.

The overall narrowness of the street creates the feeling of an "outdoor room," another thing pedestrians instinctively crave. While I would have preferred the sidewalks to be a tad wider in spots - in many areas it was tough walking even two abreast - in fact those narrow walkways and roads, creating very slow-moving one-way traffic generated a lot of foot traffic. Driving through the narrow streets and trying to find parking became less appealing than the interesting walks back and forth. While people sadly often drive from, say, Target to BJs only a quarter-mile apart, because the walking environment is so unappealing, I regularly walked the 25 minutes each way from the inn I stayed at to the business district while we were in Provincetown.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that Provincetown is a remarkably appealing and walkable town. I always thought motor vehicles should be banned from Commercial Street during certain hours in the summer months. You must be aware of the book "A Pattern Language." I adore that book. I think the narrowness and irregularity of the streets in P-town and the low height of all the buildings makes it such an enveloping and inviting streetscape.