Modern-era suburbs typically aren't praised for architecture, ambiance or excitement. But, says freelancer writer Lawrence Cheek in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, they often are attractive places to live despite often-dull surroundings. But isn't it possible, he asks, "to create suburbs that are good places to live at the same time that they're interesting places to explore?"
Yes, he concludes, if you: Discourage repetition, encourage eccentricity, "rethink the whole idea of community" and learn from walkable cities like Seattle.
I've mentioned the public vs. private space debate before. Almost all but the super-wealthy who choose to live in Manhattan do so at a great sacrifice of private space - few can afford spacious living quarters. In return, though, people get some of the world's most amazing public spaces just steps from their doorways.
"American suburbs were founded on the exaltation of private property over communal resources. This was understandable in 1900, when most big cities were indisputably crowded, smelly, unpleasant places," Cheek notes. "But in the movement to reform and enhance those same urban environments, cities developed far better parks and communal gathering places than the suburbs, where the energy was concentrated on private homes."
Urban historian Joel Kotkin told Cheek that many "downshifting" Baby Boomers would like to stay in the suburbs, craving neighborhoods that are "funky, but safe."
"What this sounds like is that suburbanites want semi-urban places that offer the diversity and energy of city life without the real or imagined negatives," he concludes. In other words, someplace between the densely populated frenetic pace of a major urban center and the bland car-oriented lifestyle of a typical exurb. That's exactly the kind of environment that downtown Waltham created, and downtown Framingham could create - with the proper vision and leadership.