October 31, 2006

Halloween Neighborhood Walkability Test

This is one of the best days to easily see whether a neighborhood is walker-friendly.

Can kids easily spend an hour or more walking from home to home, or do parents have to drive them from place to place?

Can they easily cross the streets, or does it feel dangerous?

Does it feel pleasant and safe to be walking around?

Does it feel like there are "windows on the street," with people inside homes well knit into the fabric of the streetscape? Or are kids mostly see blank walls or big garage doors as they walk in the neighborhood?

If you run out of candy while it's still light out, could you send a middle-schooler out on foot to buy some more?

Could kids walk home from school in costume and trick or treat on the way?

If local stores were giving out candy, could kids easily walk from store to store?

October 29, 2006

Major Study Outlines How Toronto Can Be More Pedestrian and Bike Friendly

“Toronto is just starting to exchange its ‘car is king’ model for a more mixed mobility culture that includes pedestrianism,” the University of Toronto's Paul Hess, a geography professor, tells the school's news service. However, “So far, pedestrian issues have been left largely unaddressed by existing planning mechanisms.”

Hess co-authored a recently released study, Toronto Streets Report, investigating why road engineering "has such a powerful effect on how Toronto manages its streets while pedestrianism has so little." The conclusion, which I'm sure applies to many other communities as well:
"Toronto is talking about a new vision for its streets but the tools to achieve it are missing. The new vision wants more people out of their cars, on public transit, on foot and bikes. But almost all the institutional mechanisms for making and changing streets in light of those ideals are geared to an older vision, one primarily oriented toward moving cars, not to the new ones. There is little money to work with so creative solutions are needed."

Among the study's recommendations: The city needs a process to "work on the trade-off problem [between goals of moving as much vehicular traffic as possible and making streets more appealing for walkers, cyclists and public transit users] right away" and investigate how to work toward "equity" in designing and maintaining streets.

The study is worth a browse by any planning official who wants to work toward more bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets Until core design and maintenance processes change and planners take a hard look at competing goals, true pedestrian-appealing streetscapes will remain elusive.

October 25, 2006

Natick Visions of the Future Weekend

This Friday, October 27, 2006, Anthony Flint will speak at the Wilson Middle School in Natick, to kick off Natick's "Visions for the Future Weekend." Mr. Flint is author of "This Land: The Battle over Sprawl and the Future of America." Refreshments begin at 6:30 p.m., and Mr. Flint speaks at 7:30.

Those who live in Natick are invited to sign up for a workshop on Saturday or Sunday to provide their input on the future of Natick. The workshops are part of the process known as "Natick 360," which will develop a Long Range Strategic Plan for the Town of Natick. Get more information at: http://natick360.org/

October 23, 2006

Building Around a Transit Station: Lesson For Framingham in NorthPoint?

Yesterday's Globe story about the massive NorthPoint development in east Cambridge featured a gorgeous drawing of a new "glass-and-steel NorthPoint at Lechmere Green Line stop, the focal point of a transit-oriented development in East Cambridge." Alas, the drawing isn't posted online along with the story, but it's worth taking a look if you get the paper.

The point here is that developers are shelling out big bucks for "a sleek new $70 million MBTA station on NorthPoint property." The drawing shows an attractive, glass-enclosed station offering a great view while shielding commuters from the elements. From the picture, it certainly appears like a place that you wouldn't mind spending (too much) time in.

Truly successful "transit-oriented development" means more than building apartments or condos within a mile of a grungy train station, with unimproved, pedestrian-hostile streetscapes in between. If you want to attract people to this kind of living, it requires serious investments in an aesthetically pleasing, walker-enticing environment.

Along with new residential and commercial space and a 10-acre park, NorthPoint plans also call for "construction of a street grid for the area ... and a pedestrian-friendly reconfiguring of the adjacent O'Brien Highway," the Globe explains. "The new road network includes an extension of First Street from East Cambridge across O'Brien Highway and north through NorthPoint, passing by the location of the new T station. It will be NorthPoint's Main Street."

Too Busy to Sit Down For Lunch

One of the more depressing "American lifestyle" stories I read this week was the Globe's piece about workers who no longer stop to eat lunch during the day.

"One-third of employees skip lunch weekly, mostly to work, and when we do eat out, it's -- no surprise -- fast food, according to Mintel, a Chicago market research firm," writes Maggie Jackson in yesterday's BostonWorks section. "We also multitask like crazy at lunchtime: 46 percent of workers run errands, 43 percent work, and 47 percent read or watch TV while eating. ...[S]topping and pausing are not part of most people's noontime vocabulary."

Does anyone take things like this into account when we try to measure "standard of living," and talk about quality of life?

A well-prepared, well presented meal eaten with tranquility and full attention is one way to savor a civilized life.

I've become a firm believer that how we eat almost as important as what we eat, in terms of both health and weight control.

October 22, 2006

Rodeo Pedestrian Walkway, Beverly Hills?

A Beverly Hills official wants to consider banning cars from a portion of the famous upscale shopping street Rodeo Drive. "In addition to contemplating a pedestrian-only block, [Vice Mayor Jimmy] Delshad would like to see stylish food and beverage kiosks up and down Rodeo, where people could stop to enjoy cappuccino, gelato or finger sandwiches," the Los Angeles Times reports.

"Hmm, sounds a lot like the Grove, next to the Farmers Market at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue," the article continues. "In fact, the Grove, Century City and other high-tone retailing destinations have been siphoning customers from Beverly Hills, city officials have said. Seeking to spiff up their most opulent street, the city and merchants recently invested in a nearly $18-million, two-year makeover that included new and wider sidewalks."

Yes, even in that capital of car-oriented living, southern California, officials are starting to realize that people like pedestrian-appealing streetscapes.

Not surprisingly, not everyone likes the idea of banning vehicles altogether. In fact, some argue that high-priced cars are part of the appeal of the ultra-upscale street. However, even opponents of the pedestrian-only promenade note that without banning vehicles, other improvements to give the street "charm and warmth" would be worthwhile.

"The street has to be more fun to walk," Fred Hayman, who promotes Rodeo Drive, told the Times. "It must be more of a destination."

Framingham Democratic Caucus Endorses Pam Richardson in 6th Middlesex District

This blog normally doesn't cover politics, but because of the great interest in who will represent us after Deborah Blumer's death, I decided to post this here. I attended the caucus as an observer, since I am registered as an independent and not a Democrat, although am a registered voter in the district.

Pam Richardson has won the endorsement of the Framingham Democratic Town Committee's caucus today in the contest to replace Rep. Deborah Blumer in the 6th Middlesex District.

Richardson defeated four other candidates seeking the party's official nod: Audrey Hall, Katie Murphy, Wes Ritchie and Tom Hanson.

"I have a campaign ready to go," she said after winning the nod on the caucus's third ballot. She plans a mailing next Friday, she has fundraisers in the works and newspaper ads ready to go.

The endorsement came after five candidates made their pitch to the 182 registered Democrats who attended the hastily put together Sunday caucus at the Cameron Middle School. The caucus was called after Blumer's unexpected death last week.

Despite the endorsement, only Rep. Blumer's name will appear on the ballot since she had been running unopposed, and Secretary of State William Galvin ruled that there wasn't enough time to print up new ballots. The Democratic Town Committee pledged to back the winner of today's caucus in a write-in effort, including paying for a district-wide mailing. A vote for Rep. Blumer on Nov. 7 will not be counted. (more below the fold...)

Planning for Pedestrian & Auto Co-Existence: The Three-Sided Strip Mall

The landscaping in this particular example could stand much improvement, but I like the basic idea in this Key Food strip mall. Instead of simply having one single strip of stores parallel to - but far back from - the road, the mall has three sides -- sort of like a square cut in half. This offers the convenient in-front-of-store parking lot that many suburban retailers want (although people will in fact drive behind stores to park, as long as the parking lot and walking ambiance from car to store is pleasant). But it also gives a continuous walking environment from the sidewalk to the stores, because when a pedestrian comes to the place where the mall starts, they don't have to cross an acre of parking lot to get to the stores; the sidewalk makes a right-hand turn and continues in front of the first strip of stores that's perpendicular to the road. Maybe the photo below will help show what I'm trying to explain:

October 19, 2006

Mass. Smart Growth Conference Dec. 1 in Worcester

The official conference announcement:

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Planning Association will co-host the 2006 Massachusetts Smart Growth Conference on December 1st at the DCU Center in Worcester. Directions to DCU Center.

The public is invited to attend this event which is unique because of its size, direct focus on growth and development issues, and appeal to both developers and local officials. The Massachusetts Smart Growth Toolkit was released at last year's conference that attracted 715 people from the private, public, and non-profit sectors. The goal of the conference, presented in partnership with the Urban Land Institute-Boston and MassDevelopment, is to provide those concerned about growth and development with practical information they can utilize to implement smart growth measures in their communities. Land and natural resource protection, housing, energy, transportation, and many other sustainable development issues will be covered in 18 breakout sessions.

This year's conference will feature Ed McMahon as the keynote speaker. Mr. McMahon, a fellow at the Urban Land Institute (a non-profit education and research institute dedicated to providing responsible leadership in land use), is responsible for research and educational efforts related to green and sustainable development practices. He has also been the director of land use programs at the Conservation Fund and was the co-founder and president of Scenic America. There will also be an opening address from Julie Campoli and Alex MacLean, a landscape architect and aerial photographer respectively, whose book Above and Beyond: Visualizing Change in Small Towns and Rural Areas, utilizes aerial pictures to illustrate how growth and development takes place.

The recipients of the 2006 Massachusetts Smart Growth Awards will also be recognized at the Conference. Click here for the 2006 Smart Growth Award application.

October 15, 2006

Union Square, Somerville Makeover Plans

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone "envisions a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with 12-story condo buildings with city skyline views, boutique hotels, and great cafes and restaurants. And he's got the development community interested," the Boston Globe real estate section writes about the Union Square. The plan "involves allowing much denser development in the square and rerouting traffic."

Redevelopment would include mixed-use residential with ground-floor retail, and rezoning to allow densities "about the same as Harvard Square."

And, the city is mulling "district improvement financing" that would use part of increased tax revenues from higher property values for "maintaining the streetscape in union Square," the Globe reports. Union Square's effort to, as the Globe put it, "break into the big time of hip, urban centers," will require a pedestrian-appealing streetscape, as well as a critical mass of residents and retail without large, uninteresting gaps (such as the strip malls, garages, car lots and sidewalk-fronting parking lots downtown Framingham contends with, making an unenticing walking environment).

October 14, 2006

In Memoriam: Deborah Blumer

Deborah Blumer Physical space, which I write about often here, isn't the only ingredient needed for appealing, livable communities. People matter greatly. Leaders especially matter, not only for the concrete things they can accomplish but for the tone they set for political and civil discourse. That's why the death of state Rep. Debby Blumer is such a great loss for all of us in her Framingham district.

Warm, caring, passionate about progressive ideals and accessible to all, Rep. Blumer was held in high regard - respected for her intelligence and for doing her homework as well as liked for who she was. I remember her from back when she chaired the Framingham Finance Committee. Her well-prepared presentations were immensely useful to those of us serving in Town Meeting at a time of tough fiscal choices. It was her district's good fortune that she went on to represent us on Beacon Hill, and it was always comforting to know that Debby Blumer was working hard for our entire community, not only narrow special interests. At a time of increased bitterness and divisiveness at all levels of politics, Deborah Blumer managed to work for her ideals without being negative and tearing down others.

My deepest condolences to her family and friends at this most difficult time. She will be sorely missed.

October 13, 2006

Belmont’s Planner: The Overemphasis on Parking

From this week's Belmont Citizen-Herald:
Promoting the concept of smart downtown parking, Kent Robertson, professor of Community Development at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, notes that planners and businesspeople put too much emphasis on parking, by elevating its importance over the functions that actually attract people in the first place. Nobody goes to town centers or squares just because there are ample places to park. They come to work, to shop, to socialize, and to partake of all the other activities that constitute a center. Smart parking complements and reinforces those elements that create a sense of place: compactness, walk-ability, interesting and diverse shops.

So Jay Szklut, planning and economic development manager in Belmont's Office of Community Development, wisely notes. Planning for the automobile instead of the person doesn't do much for a downtown business district.

"Utilizing minimum off-street parking requirements based on suburban parking generation rates reduces commercial density levels, spreads out destination points discouraging walking and, where parking is on-site, discourages sidewalk use, thereby making the area less pedestrian-friendly," he points out.

He concludes by calling for a parking garage as part of the revitalization of Belmont's Cushing Square. I don't know enough about the particular site to comment on that solution one way or the other. But I agree completely that, particularly for a town business district which can't compete with malls for massive amounts of parking but can compete for sense of place, "too much parking in the wrong places discourages people from walking, while adequate parking in a strategic location promotes a pedestrian atmosphere.

"One other smart parking principle is the use of on-street parking. On-street parking provides a buffer between moving traffic and the sidewalk, which makes people feel safer. Safety translates to pedestrian friendliness." So does an aesthetically appealing streetscape - without one, people won't want to walk around no matter what else you do.

October 12, 2006

Missing Neighborhood Groceries

One of the more unfortunate trends of the current retail era is the "big box" "super" grocery store. While I don't have anything against large grocers per se, I don't really need 93 choices of cereal or 89 types of deoderant ... and the overwhelming amount of merchandise, typically combined with bright lights and poor acoustics, can be stress-inducing instead of a relaxing shopping experience. (Which is one reason I believe the mellower Whole Foods chain is doing so well, earning more profits per square foot by far than a typical grocer.)

But what I really miss is our smaller neighborhood grocery stores, most of which have been forced out of business by the larger super stores. Many of them were chain stores, too, but they were integrated into the local neighborhoods: the Purity Supreme I could walk to in Saxonville, the Nobscot Star that was within long-walking distance on a really nice day when I wanted to spend a morning outside but was otherwise within a couple of minutes of easy-in, easy-out driving. Although Super Stop & Shop is much larger and still less than a 10-minute drive away, it doesn't have the feel of belonging to the neighborhood; it has the feel of a regional retail center (which it is, clustered together with Target, BJ's and soon Lowe's). And with the lengthy driveway into the parking lot, it has anything but a "quick in and quick out" feel.
That makes a different shopping experience from walking to the local, smaller grocery store to pick up ingredients for the evening's meal. The healthy "slow foods," fresh-ingredients traditional eating that's becoming trendy again in some circles, is a lot harder to do when you do your food shopping in an airplane-hanger-sized glorified warehouse. A massive superstore doesn't say "stop in each evening and pick out a few freshest, choicest ingredients for tonight's dinner." It says "load up here once a week, including lots of prepared foods."

October 11, 2006

Now That’s a Livable Community

It's just one-third of a square mile, home to maybe ten or twelve thousand people and countless small restaurants, cafes and shops catering to the neighborhood. I'm just back from a three-hour walking tour that just scratched the surface of this small yet appealing community. If you're a long-time resident, chances are you know your shopkeepers and they know you, as well as knowing the people you pass on the street or see in the cafes - the locals, that is, if you can spot them amidst all the tourists.

I'm talking about Boston's North End, after having enjoyed the fun and informative, although somewhat pricey ($48), North End Market Tour. Even though I've been to the North End dozens of times, wandered into a number of the shops and eaten at many restaurants, I still learned things about this most European of neighborhoods. I've shopped at Salumeria Italiana numerous times before, but Polcari's Coffee was a find (lots of herbs and spices, reasonably priced), as was Maria's Pastry Shop a bit off the beaten Hanover Street tourist track. The tour included a fair amount of samples, from high-quality balsamico to the All Souls' Day ossi dei morti seasonal specialty.

Our guide clearly knew not only all the shopkeepers, which you'd expect, but lots of locals we passed in the street as well. The streetscape was charming enough to be worth a schlepp in by public transit, but not so yuppified/tourist-afied to have become a Disneyland caricature of itself (as so many hot urban neighborhoods end up). If you want to know what "sense of place" is all about, there are few communities that offer a better example.

Learning the "secrets" of local food stores and special products made me think how great it would be if someone put together a similar market, grocer and restaurant walking tour of ethnic downtown Framingham. It's not quite as charming, it might not last 3 hours and certainly it wouldn't attract enough people to run six times/week, but an occasional tour in conjunction with other activities could do wonders in revealing the "mysteries" of ethnic stores for the rest of us. Patriots Day weekend, anyone?

October 9, 2006

Some Favorite Local Walks

When the sky is a brilliant blue, the air is crystal clear and the foliage is starting to turn, there are, happily, many great local places to enjoy autumn in New England (even if we have few suburban choices for great streetscapes in the built environment).

Some of my favorite places to enjoy the season outdoors:

Garden in the Woods, Framingham - although best known for the botanical garden, the Garden site also has acres of natural forest and well-marked trails through them.

Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, Natick - nice grounds and lots of trails. Although right on Route 16, it doesn't take much walking before you lose the sound of passing traffic.

Old North Bridge, Concord - not a ton of walking trails, but an absolutely lovely spot by the Concord River to enjoy nature and contemplate history.

Heard Pond, Pelham Island Road, Sudbury/Wayland - not exactly a nature walk, since lots of cars are driving by, but it's still a pleasant stroll or bicycle ride by the pond. The trail at this entrance to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is pretty short and unremarkable, but it can add a few minutes and some relaxation to your walk away from vehicular traffic.

Wayside Inn, Sudbury and the nearby grist mill - not exactly for hiking, but a lovely regional seasonal setting and great spot for taking photos.

And, of course, what New England autumn would be complete without an afternoon of apple picking. Two of my favorite spots: Bolton Spring Farm in Bolton and Tougas Farm in Northborough (the latter good if you've got kids, although it is kind of annoying they limit the number of people allowed on the grounds per bag of apples to be picked).

Spots like these definitely enhance local quality of life!

Lowe’s Framingham - First Impressions

I'm going to go back soon to take a more in-depth look at the new Lowe's on Rte. 30 in Framingham. But after a quick glance from nearby Target, it looks a bit better from a pedestrian standpoint than I'd feared although not as good as I'd hoped.

Pluses: There appears to be an actual pedestrian walkway from the Rte. 30 sidewalk to the store - making it the only one of the four major retailers clustered there (Target, Stop & Shop and BJ's being the others) that bothered to design a way for walkers to get to the building. It also looks like there's  a landscaped, albeit narrow, walking path from Lowe's to Stop & Shop behind it. I haven't tried walking the sidewalk in front of the building yet to see whether the landscaping makes an effective screen for walkers or if it looks like all the other pedestrian-offputing big box stores in the area. Disclaimer: I'm still not exactly sure where all the parking is.

Minuses: There seems to be no way to walk to Lowe's from the Target right next door without feeling frightened at the rivers of traffic you'd need to dash across. I also see no improvement in the Rte. 30 sidewalk where it crosses the wide intersection that dumps traffic out of the Target/BJ's/Stop & Shop parking lots and cut-through. Something should have been designed there to allow the sidewalk to function without the extreme discomfort walkers have there now just continuing down the street, even if they're not trying to cross Rte. 30 (a truly alarming prospect with the current design). I'm also not convinced that there's enough parking for the store. It would have made much more sense if planners had thought ahead to have all the buildings there sited close to the street with well -landscaped and -protected walkways between them, and clustered parking that would have made it easier and more logical for someone to park in one spot and patronize all the other stores easily on foot.

October 7, 2006

Streetscape Report: Downtown D.C.

I'm just finishing up a few days in our nation's capital at a conference, and managed to sneak a couple of hours to walk around and check out the streetscape.

The silver lining in our new post-9/11 environment -- some of the street closings near the White House indeed made for a safer environment ... for those of us crossing on foot without worrying about speeding vehicles. If the wide stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue is going to remain vehicle free, though, I wish it would be designed as a pedestrian plaza, instead of remaining a wide expanse of blacktop that's obviously meant for multiple vehicles and now just serves to remind us that the designed use is no more.

I didn't get to Georgetown this visit, which I recall fondly as a walker-enticing neighborhood. Alas, downtown Washington, D.C. on an autumn Saturday is quite a bit less so. Besides hotels and bus tours, there seemed to be little residential street life. Stores were mostly closed; streets felt cavernous and mostly empty just a block or two away from the main tourist sites.

It's clear this is an area designed for the business workday, and there was little evidence of local residents. This didn't look like a mixed-use district, and could ha ve used some off-hours life.

Buildings like the White House, Treasury, Patent Office and numerous other grand structures were built to impress and not engage. The message here is to show the majesty of the republic, which is rarely compatible with a warm, human-scale neighborhood (although sections of Rome manage to pull that off, mostly with stunningly designed piazzas). Filled with people on a beautiful sunny day,  downtown D.C. works as an impressive environment to take in. Relatively empty on a cloudy, cool weekend afternoon, it's somewhat forbidding and a tad depressing.

A park near our hotel was overrun with men clearly down on their luck. Many before me have commented on the sad irony of this wealthy nation's capital being home to so much poverty; but I have to add that one of the saddest sights I saw today was a beggar within feet of a stretch limo that seemed as long as half a football field.

Street theater in the immediate vicinity of the White House was fairly entertaining, including not only the expected assortment of political protesters, but dozens of red-clad runners -- including many men sporting red dresses or skirts -- in what appeared to be some sort of run for charity. There's something to be said for this superpower capital  as political theater, no matter how forbiddingly near-empty the nearby avenues. 

October 3, 2006

Details Matter: Lessons from Paris

If you've ever been to Paris, you know what a magical place it can be -- especially at night. And that's no accident.

"Nighttime Paris operates on different levels. There is a constant interplay between the permanence and grandeur of monumental Paris and the serendipity and surprise of intimate Paris," writes Elaine Sciolino in a New York Times travel essay.  "The real secret to Paris’s beauty at night can be described in one word: light.

"In some cities, lampposts are designed to light only the sidewalks and streets, so that surrounding buildings recede into darkness. In much of Paris, however, streetlights are attached to the sides of buildings, highlighting the curves and angles of the structures themselves. "

None of this happens by itself. It doesn't happen by starting off with the assumption that public space should be created on the cheap. And it doesn't happen by thinking of aesthetics as a we-can't-afford-it frill.

Lighting the monuments, churches, bridges and public buildings of Paris is not left to chance. The project to adorn the Eiffel Tower with 20,000 flashing lights (they dazzle for 10 minutes every hour on the hour until after 1 a.m.) cost $5 million and involved 40 mountaineers, architects and engineers who had to endure high winds, raging storms, pigeons and bats.

An entire lighting division in City Hall is responsible for choosing the design, style, color, intensity and timing of the lighting for nearly 300 structures.

"Wasted" money? If you asked most Parisians, I believe they'd answer non. Considering the quality of life it offers residents as well as the appeal to tourists worldwide, it looks to be money well spent.

October 1, 2006

California Bay Area Streetscape Grants

A San Francisco area commission recently gave out $17 million to regional communities "to promote streetscapes that are more amenable to getting around on foot, bicycle and transit," the San Mateo County Times reports.

"The Transportation for Livable Communities program seeks to help communities make bus stops more pleasant places to wait at, to ease access for bicycles and encourage 'smart growth' principles of clustering housing with convenient transit access."

Worthy goals indeed, although I'd add creating pleasant and appealing streetscapes for pedestrians.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission said it received $113 million in requests for the available $17 million. "We get enormous amounts of demand for this," Randy Rentschler told the Times.

New blog functionality here: Rating Comments

I'm trying out a WordPress add-on that allows users to rate other people's comments. I'm not sure if I'll keep it, I'll see how it goes. If you're interested in trying it, just click on anyone's comment and you should see a +/- option at the bottom. Hit plus to recommend the comment and minus if you don't like it. The votes are tallied per comment.

A civil society, our uncivil discourse and the appeal of Deval Patrick: Why Words Matter

Many other things besides our physical environment affect "livable communities." And while I rarely venture into (non-planning-related) politics here, it's time to take a stand on ... rhetoric.

Yup, words.

Sure, they can't break your bones like those childhood sticks 'n stones. But the constant name-calling, mud-slinging partisan politics that have sadly come to define the current era harms our society.

It's hard to come to a workable consensus on an issue when you've got one side pouring through any and all statements by the other to portray them as weak, ineffectual and "flip-flopping." Once such Karl Rovian attacks began working, we no longer had two political parties trying to implement their vision of improving society. Instead, we've got too many politicians competing how to best boil down the most complex issues to six-word sound bites and tear down opponents with invective that would make Mean Girls proud.


And I'm not alone.

For all the "pundits" and "analysts" out there who can't figure out why Deval Patrick is polling so well, despite supposed unpopular stands on "important issues," here's a clue: Voters like what he's saying and how he says it. They like how he carries himself. He comes across as caring and principled -- courageous enough to say what he thinks while flexible enough to believe that it's worth listening to others because he might learn something. He appears to understand the difference between being true to your core values and being so stubborn that you'd never change your mind despite mounting evidence that you were wrong; and between listening to others to try to learn something, and changing your tune whichever way the latest polls blow.

People like that.

Deval Patrick speaks to many when he talks about people wanting to change the cynicism of the era, and yearning to "check back in" and work toward hope - and a better future - for all. Add to that a resume that combines a rags-to-riches personal story with solid experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors, and it's no wonder he appears to be appealing to a majority of voters (at least according to the latest polls) despite endless harping on what opponents hope are "hot-button issues."

You know what? I'm mature enough to understand that I might not agree with my candidate on every issue. I don't agree with ANY candidate on every issue. And Deval Patrick is right when he talks about the importance of the governor's office being more than just arriving with a laundry list of issues, but also the power of the "bully pulpit." A lot of people appear to like the idea of him holding it.

I'm well aware that politics is a contact sport. But there's a wide spectrum of possibilities between everyone holding hands singing "kumbaya" and the kind of non-stop vitriol we hear coming out of Washington, Beacon Hill and even our so-called respectable media these days. It's not just cable TV talking heads, radio shock jocks and tabloid desperate-to-grab-attention-by-saying-the-most-outrageous-things-they-can-dream-up columnists. Even the Boston Globe has succumbed.