December 31, 2007

If we are indeed what we eat…

...typical American priorities for our food reflect a society that largely values convenience, quantity and value. The more recent rise of chains like Starbucks adds brand panache to the mix, but it's a minority of the country that can battle time and financial pressures to value quality over quantity and a relaxed, pleasant experience at mealtime.

Americans spend a smaller percent of our income on food than most Europeans do, opting for, say, packaged factory-produced bread from a grocery superstore that will last a week or more over fresh-baked bread that gets hard the next day. Mass-produced foods filled with preservatives and corn syrup are cheaper, and thus more appealing to many, than locally grown/created, less chemical filled alternatives. It's also more convenient to shop less often.

But if you're curious what you're missing out on and you're local, I heartily recommend heading over to B&R Artisan Bread on Rte. 30 in Framingham (Bella Costa shopping center). The bread there has made me understand why my friends from Europe simply cannot eat any of the factory-produced, pre-packaged foodstuff that usually passes for bread around here. Artisan bread created by a true craftsman (as owner Michael Rhoads certainly is) bears about as much resemblence to Wonder Bread as a Renoir does to a velvet paint-by-number. Have a few fresh baguettes, and then see how you feel about going back to the stuff in the plastic package. It's tough.

The issue isn't only what we eat, though, but also how. Friends in Europe were horrified to hear that I typically eat lunch (and breakfast) at my desk during the week, but that's the only way I seem to be able to squeeze in both enough sleep and a lunchtime walk. The days of daily hour-long lunch breaks appear to be over, at least in my business. But we lose more than free time this way.

Savoring a good meal is an oft-repeatable pleasures of life that many Americans are missing. I'm starting to believe the American obesity epidemic is due in part to the way we eat -- hurried, multi-tasking, not paying attention and not savoring our food. It takes a larger quantity to be satisfied than if you're eating smaller amounts of high-quality food more slowly and with full attention. So here's one resolution for 2008: Eat at least one weekday breakfast, lunch and dinner of traditional foods in a traditional fashion -- no multi-tasking, no TV blaring, not working at my desk.

December 27, 2007

The joys of ‘complete streets’

Sacremento recently transformed two midtown streets "from hostile, car-dominated thoroughfares to 'complete streets' that accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists," writes Lea Brooks in a Sacramento Bee op-ed piece. "It was a small but significant step toward making Sacramento a more livable community."

The two roadways went from three one-way lanes, all for motorized vehicles, to two one-way lanes for motorists and bike lanes on both sides. "Overnight, these streets switched from being intimidating to safe, convenient and pleasant routes for bicyclists of all abilities," said Brooks, president of the Sacremento Area Bicycle Advocates. More people are now cycling to work safely, helping to reduce both traffic congestion and pollution.

Truly complete streets create an environment equally hospitable to walkers, cyclists and motorists. They sport aesthetics so people WANT to walk, and allow for a feeling of safety for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as SUVs.

(Thanks to CenterLines, the e-newsletter of the National Center for Bicycling & Walking, for the link.)

Locally, I was in Coolidge Corner in Brookline this week. That's a neighborhood of complete streets swarming with pedestrians as well as cars. There's enough interesting retail to make walking from block to block inviting; the streetscape isn't broken up very often by parking lots or buildings set way back; there's a buffer between pedestrians and traffic (on-street parking as well as some landscaping); and it feels safe crossing even busy intersections with multiple lanes of traffic, thanks to well-marked crosswalks, the trolley line breaking up the wide expanse of Beacon Street, and drivers who have learned to expect people on foot.

It's a marked contrast Route 30, when several colleagues and I recently dashed across on foot to get to REI. It felt hostile, intimidating and unsafe. At Leggat-McCall Drive and Rte. 30, there are no sidewalks on the eastbound side by the Fidelity/Bank of America building, no marked crosswalks and no pedestrian signals ... although there are hundreds of office workers within walking distance of that area retail. Bad planning! Planners should always consider the needs of multiple transportation modes, not just cars. Let's stop creating communities where there's no alternative but driving, even for trips of half a mile or less.

December 26, 2007

Public hearing on pedestrian access to transit in downtown Framingham

The Department of Community and Economic Development is holding two public meetings about pedestrian access to transit in Downtown Framingham on Thursday, January 3. There will be two sessions:

4-6 pm in the Memorial Building, Blumer Community Room

and 7 to 9 pm at TD Banknorth, 74 Concord Street, Framingham

This meeting was rescheduled from December because of snow.

For more information, call 508- 532-5455.

December 24, 2007

Winter walking perils

Once again, most suburban communities are treating walking as some kind of seasonal hobby, instead of as critically important transportation method as the automobile. While roadways are cleared on the taxpayers' dime as soon as possible after a snowstorm, many sidewalks are left impassible for weeks. WHY IS THAT? Why is clearing routes for motor vehicles considered the government's business, but clearing routes for pedestrians nobody's business?

Here in Framingham, the town does clear some sidewalks on routes where kids are likely to walk to school. As for the rest of us, tough luck. The town does not clear all sidewalks, and the town has no ordinance requiring anyone else to. Therefore, they can simply stay snow-covered all winter. Need to walk to work? Too bad, get a car. Need to walk to get someplace else? Too bad, get a car. Can't or don't drive? Tough luck.

Need to walk your dog? Too bad, let your pets go on your front lawn. Need to walk from your office to get lunch, or to another building? Too bad, drive instead. It's gotten so bad that my company's official policy is to advise us to drive to a building that's a 2-minute walk away.

December 12, 2007

Shops, cafes, parks, plazas and walkability sprout in Atlanta

"The buzzword for Atlanta developers in the aughts is walkable," the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. "From the recent announcement of an $8 million grant from the Woodruff Foundation for a new 35-acre park in the Old Fourth Ward to spanking new streetscapes in Buckhead, development around the region is forming a whole new ethic aimed at putting Atlantans on their feet."

"You have to think about extending [residents'] life beyond their living rooms," one developer told the paper.

Indeed you do. Or you should. There is increasing demand for walkable communities that some developers and local officials understand, while others don't.

Thanks to the National Center for Bicycling & Walking's CenterLines newsletter for the link.

December 11, 2007

Dining al fresco. In December. When it’s 36 degrees.

I was in Brookline on Sunday, enjoying a walk down Harvard Street, along with lots of other people taking advantage of a walkable retail center with some interesting, non-national-chain stores ... when I passed Panera's, and saw people eating outside. Not just at a couple of tables, either, but there had to be at least half a dozen tables with people eating or having coffee/tea outdoors. It was not an Indian summer kind of day, either, but 36 degrees or so.

You know you've got a great streetscape when people enjoy sitting at an outdoor cafe when it's 36 degrees.

December 6, 2007

Your opinion sought: What do pedestrians need?

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council has kicked off work on its Regional Pedestrian Plan. Make your voice heard! You can take a survey on important issues facing walkers, at

"The Plan will identify and recommend policies and practices to facilitate and encourage walking as a convenient, safe, and practical form of transportation throughout the 101 cities and towns of the MAPC region," according to the MAPC Web site.

Ah, so much to choose from! Inability to walk from my office to shopping a quarter-mile away because of lack of sidewalks and safe crosswalks. Inability to walk to a nearby building for meetings because sidewalks aren't cleared. Treating walking as some kind of optional hobby instead of an important mode of transit. Always designing for the needs of automobiles instead of balancing design for walkers, cyclists and motorists. time to click over and give them my point of view....

December 5, 2007

Walkability is catching on, even in the suburbs: Brookings Institution

After decades of post-World War II car-oriented development, there's been a "gradual shift" toward change, as more Americans seek to live and work in places where you can get somewhere without a car. That's "demonstrated by the success of the many downtown revitalizations, new urbanism, and transit-oriented development," says Christopher B. Leinberger, visiting fellow at The Brookings Institution.

In a survey of "walkable urban places" among the nation's 30 largest metro areas, Leinberger looked at where such walkable areas were most prevalent per-capita, along with availability of rail transit.

Interestingly, "there are an equal number of walkable urban places in the center cities and the suburbs," the study notes. "While there has been much attention on the revival of American downtowns over the past 10 years, the revival of suburban downtowns, the redevelopment of failed regional malls and strip centers, and the recent emergence of lifestyle centers appears to be an equally dynamic trend."

As the Boston Globe reported today, the study called Washington, D.C. the nation's most walkable, with "the most regional-serving walkable urban places per capita in the country." Boston was second. But the study's rankings are foolish,  penalizing places with high population densities. New York -- the only city in America where more than half the population takes public transit to work -- only ranks 10th. That's because while it has the highest number of walkable neighborhoods, the survey divides that over the metro area's huge population, 19 million, coming up with "only" one per 896,000. The fact that "one" place might be serving many more people in New York than it does in D.C. isn't taken into consideration. Yet high population density can be a key attribute of walkable neighborhoods.

In my opinion, pretty much all of Manhattan and many Boston neighborhoods (Back Bay, Beacon Hill, North End) would be a walkable urban place.

I do agree with the methodology showing that Northeast and West Coast have higher than average walkable urban places compard with the Southeast, Midwest and Southwest.

December 1, 2007

"What do you want to do tonight?"

I've long wished for a local resource where I could go and find stuff to do in Framingham -- sortable by date, or type (music, photography, outdoors, etc.), or more specific tag (astronomy, book-discussions, whatever). While there are several resources to find listings, none did what I need.

So, I decided to code one myself :-) as part of an exercise to learn the Web development framework Ruby on Rails. is still under development and very much a beta, but it's live!

You can search by date, type, tag, venue, sponsor, and appropriate age (some are tagged specifically for kids, seniors, adults, etc.)

For example

This weekend's events:

Upcoming jazz events:

Holiday events:

You can see lots more ways to find events on the site.

I've entered listings for a couple of weeks already, and more are on the way. I'd be interested to hear your comments.

My original goal had even more features, and I still may add some functionality. But if I wait to add all the possible cool features, it'd be 2010 or so before launch.

For now, even without things like personalization or multi-criteria searching, I think it's a neat local listing site offering searching unavailable elsewhere. Yes, MetroWest Daily News has a nice comprehensive arts listing, but it's flat text -- you can't search or sort it. Steve Orr's community e-mail list has some listings, but it's only what memebers post, and it's not in any format to use to answer questions like "What's going on in town this weekend?" or "What local jazz events are coming up?" has that kind of functionality, but Framingham events are pretty limited. certainly isn't trying to replace long-time entry as a community bulletin board listing site, but since the events portion of that site is only sortable by date, I decided to post an events database with some more functionality and see if there's a demand.

If you do visit, please let me know what you think!

It actually takes quite a lot of time to input all the events, so I'm not sure I'll be keeping it updated for 2008 unless there's a fair amount of demand and others would be interested in entering events.

November 23, 2007

Crossing Route 9. The Friday after Thanksgiving. On foot.

Every year I find myself drawn to check out some stores on "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, just to see what's going on and soak up the scene. I rarely buy much, if anything, although usually pick up a couple of good deals. Today after picking up free-after-rebate software at Office Depot in Shoppers World, I poked my head into Best Buy (crowded), and decided I wanted to see what was doing at Circuit City. No way I was going to drive my car across Route 9 and back, not to mention attempt to park in their lot today. So, I figured I'd see if it's possible to .... walk across Route 9 on the Friday after Thanksgiving!

Rte. 9 Crosswalk   Turns out there's actually a halfway decent pedestrian crossing on Rte. 9 at the Framingham-Natick line. What's crazy is that you'd never know it when you're in Shoppers World. There's nothing that leads you from the parking lot to the sidewalk to the crosswalk. There's no visual cue when you're in the parking lot, that you can do anything else on foot except get back in your car and drive. Likewise, once you reach the sidewalk, it's clear you're not actually meant to walk on foot from the sidewalk into Shoppers World. The mall and the sidewalk are side by side, but totally disconnected. Everything about the streetscape says these are two separate worlds, and you're not meant to get from one to the other if you're a pedestrian (see photo below). It's insane. Then, you're walking along the sidewalk and there are several restaurants RIGHT THERE, TGI Friday's and Olive Garden, but no path to get from the sidewalk to the restaurant. It's the absolute worst of suburban planning: Even if you install a sidewalk, make it impossible to get from that sidewalk to any destinations abutting the sidewalk.

The Rte. 9 crossing itself wasn't bad, although it takes awhile. There's a usable separation in the middle of the road, so you don't have to dash across zillions of lanes of traffic at once. And, there are pedestrian crossing signals. There's a fairly long wait before you get the crossing light, which is understandable considering all the vehicular traffic passing through. My one nit is that there's a separate crossing signal for each side, and you've got to do the wait each time. Yet there's little reason why you'd only be crossing one half of Route 9 and then camping out indefinitely in the median.

Here's what I mean about the Route 9 sidewalk. The streetscape isn't as ghastly as much of Route 9 here - on one side is a nice line of trees (although there's no barrier between sidewalk and multiple lanes of traffic, which isn't good). However, it's clear you're not actually meant to be strolling the area to enjoy various commercial and retail sites within view, since there's no path to the restaurants and stores except walking across the grass.


November 15, 2007

Downtown options

"The steering committee of the Downtown Rail Crossing Task Force crafted three approaches to the future of downtown they say will help them decide which solution is best to fix the traffic tie-ups in the area of routes 126 and 135. The options focus on making downtown a more desirable place to live, a more desirable place to eat and shop, or a more desirable place to enjoy cultural activities," the MetroWest Daily News reports. Ny vote?  a "cool mixed-use destination," as I saw it in the committee's Nov. 5 strategy session review.

What does that mean? The buzz words they used were "alive, funky, diverse, flavor," with a focus on retail and residential, along with growing cultural uses, and some sponsored festivals and events.

Downtown's attraction could be as a small, human-scale urban center offering a unique sense of place, walkable streetscape and things you can't find in a typical suburban neighborhood. There's no sense trying to compete as a pure residential-only center, with so many others in the area; or conventional retail, with Rte. 9 nearby. Instead, we need to look at something along the lines of downtown Waltham, a walkable urban neighborhood with compelling, non-suburban-cookie-cutter attractions.

"Among the possibilities bandied about in this month's meeting were building a movie theater that shows underground or art-house films and trying to better incorporate Framingham State College and MetroWest Medical Center into the life of downtown," the article said. The movie theater idea is a good one, although it would probably have to be some kind of non-profit. But the movie theater really helped revitalize Waltham, and creating an alternative to Rte. 9 Hollywood productions closer than Newton or Waltham could attract movie-lovers around MetroWest.

Add a few excellent restaurants, the Amazing Things Art Center and a walkable streetscape that encourages people to stroll between destinations, and you've definitely got potential -- enough that new residences would be more attractive.

Create such a downtown and I think it would naturally draw Framingham State students. More attention to the immediate streetscape around the college is a separate but important step in taking better advantage of the presence of Framingham State, which right now feels more like it's behind fortress walls than integrated into the surrounding community. What a pity walkable college-oriented retail was never allowed to thrive in the blocks adjacent to the campus.

Framingham forums on Open Space & Recreation Plan

From William Hanson, chair of the Framingham Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee:

Four public forums are coming up to encourage public participation in the preparation of the next edition of the
Framingham Open Space and Recreation Plan. The future of rail trail development in Framingham is one aspect of this plan. Those with an interest in trails or other types of outdoor recreation should attend one or more of these sessions.

Monday, November 26 - 7:30pm - Memorial Building - Blumer Community Room

Monday, December 3 - 7:30pm - High School in the Cafeteria

Thursday, December 6 - 9:30am - Senior Center (535 Union Avenue)

Wednesday, December 12 - 7:30pm - Brophy School in the Library

November 11, 2007

See home through a tourist’s eyes

While vacationing at home last week, I took a Photo Walk tour of Beacon Hill. It was a fun way to see a local place from a traveler's perspective, finding out new things about oft-visited places and looking at familiar scenes with a new eye. (Last fall, I took a a guided walking tour of the North End and got a kick out of that as well). Not every neighborhood can be packed with architecture deserving of the National Register of Historic Places, of course. But in my book, you should be able to give a visitor a walking tour of your neighborhood -- if it's a livable (i.e. walkable) community.

Stops on most of our tours won't be homes of Revolutionary War heroes, graceful $12 million Victorian-era townhouses or stops on the Underground Railroad. Perhaps we won't have a cluster of world-class restaurants or cool, Old World markets. But we should be able to walk around and point out things of local interest -- even if those things are only of hyperlocal interest, and not likely to draw tourists who'd ever pay for your guided tour.

Here's our neighbor who always has a gorgeous garden out front. There's a local family-owned market that used to be a turkey farm, and has great ice cream in the summer. Kids love skating on that pond in the winter.

Could you take a visitor on a 60 minute stroll around your neighborhood, pointing out interesting sites? That's one way to see whether you're living in a walkable neighborhood with a sense of place.

By the way, if you want to see the results of my Beacon Hill Photo Walk, check out my photo gallery on SmugMug.

November 5, 2007

Speen Street’s crosswalk to nowhere: too bad we need to walk a hundred feet

My company has a cluster of buildings near the intersection of Speen Street and Old Connecticut Path, and people need to do a fair amount of walking between those buildings -- for meetings, and for lunch (not all the buildings have cafeterias). Unfortunately, there's not a sidewalk for the full stretch.

It's annoying and feels a bit unsafe most of the year; but when it's winter, that attempted walk becomes downright dangerous. With no sidewalks to shovel and plowed snow piled up, people need to walk in the narrow street amidst a steady stream of traffic, including a lot of turning cars. It's so bad that we may end up having to throw up our hands and tell people to take their cars the less than 100 feet between buildings. How insane is that? Why can't our town officials understand that walking isn't just for recreation; it's just as vital a form of transportation as driving! Nobody would put up with it if roads became impassable for cars for weeks at a time. Why do we allow that for walking?

Happily it's not snowing yet. Meanwhile, I took a short (less than 3 minutes) video of the issue. You can see the video on YouTube.

Some people at my company are valiantly trying to get some kind of help for this situation, we'll see if we get any relief.

November 4, 2007

Framingham Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee Meets Tuesday 11/13

From Chair William Hanson:

Framingham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee
Conference Room 1
Memorial Building
150 Concord Street
Tuesday November 13, 2007 at 7:30 PM

7:30 PM

-> Vote on meeting minutes
-> Review recent correspondence and media articles
-> Public comment

7:50 PM

-> Update on recent meetings: Downtown Rail Crossing, Open
Space and Recreation Plan, Cochituate Rail Trail,
Bruce Freeman Trail

8:15 PM

-> Review of the Moving Together 2007 bicycle and pedestrian
conference. Prepare any followup activities.

8:45 PM

-> Review the draft of the Massachusetts Bicycle Plan and any
comments submitted by FBPAC or other local bicyclists

November 3, 2007

Mayors highlight benefits of walkable cities

"Cities that are 'walkable,' workable and livable add up to the 's' word: sustainable. Cities that are centered on people and public transit, not cars, and built to higher standards of energy efficiency will save money, hum with new development and create jobs to suit a greener way of life."

--New York Times coverage of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Climate Protection Summit

Walkability isn't just good for quality of life and the local economy; it also clearly makes environmental sense. However, some mayors say going green isn't the way to sell smarter development paterns. “You just can’t say we need to reduce global warming because there will be floods and polar bears will be gone,” said Mayor Douglas H. Palmer of Trenton, the Times reports. “They’ll run me out of town.”

Instead, he talks about pollution being bad for children's health, and energy waste driving up monthly heating bills.

Yet streetscapes with pedestrian appeal are clearly good for local economies. Notes the Times:

"The mayor of Fayetteville, Ark., gushed through a slide show about how his city was in the midst of great change. Bleak roads and bland shopping strips were being redrawn to a more human scale. Downtown condominiums were going for a million dollars. Streets once silent at night now bustled."

Good for the local economy, good for the environment, good for quality of life. It kind of makes you wonder why more American communities aren't insisting on pedestrian-friendly development, doesn't it?

October 31, 2007

Art’s role in community renewal

The Globe's got an interesting piece today about the role of creative arts in rejuvenating not only urban centers, but small towns like Hardwick, Vermont.

Clearly, bringing in artists can't by itself resuscitate places struggling with crime, loss of jobs and other woes. But currently, it's tough to attract residents who contribute to the 21st century knowledge economy without "cultural amenities such as art galleries, bookstores, theater spaces, eclectic restaurants, and live music stages," notes the article. "So the towns have set their sights on artists who can create these sorts of amenities. Some have provided financial incentives to the artists; others have fixed up sidewalks and parks to make their downtowns attractive to new galleries, theaters, and museums."

Note the streetscape improvement strategy. It's very tough to get a synergy of creative people breathing life into a declining business district, if that district isn't a physically appealing place to walk around.  And that's an important point as Framingham looks to the new Amazing Things Art Center to help revitalize downtown. 

Even if the center is successful in drawing people to the area, they're not going to do anything else nearby without an environment that encourages them to do something more than go back to their cars. They won't walk from one destination to another unless it's aesthetically appealing to do so. Gaps in the facade, with buildings set back and parking lots in front; boring building fronts; blank walls; ugly sidewalks; chain link fences; car-centric street design  ... all of these make pedestrians less likely to want to go from one destination to another on foot.

October 28, 2007

75% of Americans favor improved public transit and smarter growth to deal with traffic woes

A solid majority of Americans backs improving public transportation and wiser development as ways to deal with increasing traffic woes, while only one and five believe building new roads is the answer. That's according to a new survey sponsored by the National Association of Realtors and Smart growth America.

"Eight in 10 respondents prefer redeveloping older urban and suburban areas rather than build new housing and commercial development on the edge of existing suburbs," according to a summary of results. And, "nearly 90% believe new communities should be designed so we can walk more and drive less." (The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points.)

Are our community planning officials listening?

October 21, 2007

Toronto’s streetscape ‘gaps’

I'm just back from a business trip to Toronto, which is a nice and reasonably walkable city (although I was unpleasantly surprised at the homeless problem there. Somehow I expected Canadian cities would have a better handle on that.) However, I found a significant difference between a reasonably pleasant pedestrian experience in Toronto and an outstanding one in Montreal. Why? In large part, gaps in the streetscape. Toronto has some nice destinations to walk to and ways to get there, but there were too many breaks in and between areas with aesthetically appealing walking areas.

For instance, Toronto has a lovely street, Elm Street, filled with restaurants and trees sparkling with lights in the evening. But it's only a few blocks. It feeds into Yonge Street, with a fair amount of pedestrian nightlife ... but around that, there were lots of breaks in interesting things to see on foot. In the few blocks between that area and our hotel, it was pretty dead, with business buildings interspersed everywhere (killing off the night streetscape) and parking lots or garages deadening the aesthetics. Likewise, when we took a walk down to the Hockey Hall of Fame, there was a similar problem -- too many uninteresting areas sprinkled in, making the walking experience possible but not compelling.

Contrast that with Montreal, where you can walk for a long time seeing reasonably appealing streetscapes, without major breaks for huge parking lots or blank walls of parking garages. It's a good lesson in the need to plan the overall impact of an entire district, not just building by building or even block by block, to create an outstanding pedestrian experience.

Despite this, though, I do have to say it's entirely possible to walk around Toronto -- I was especially impressed at the thought given to sidewalks in underpasses, which were much more appealing than the typically creepy walkways you find in many places around the U.S.

October 11, 2007

Toll hike public hearing - Friday evening at 6 pm

Why not just make it Saturday at 5 a.m. and be done with it? Are they serious - dinnertime on a Friday night when the Red Sox start a playoff series? Anyway, that's when the Turnpike Authority travels out to Framingham (perhaps getting to experience some westbound Friday evening Pike rush-hour traffic) to hear what we have to say about getting soaked for a wildly disproportionate share of the transportation financial burden.

Update: They've scheduled a second hearing for Monday, October 22, from 6-8 PM at Nevins Hall in the Memorial Building at 150 Concord Street in Framingham. Well, that's more reasonable.

I hope to be able to get down to Town Hall to give them a piece of my mind. I'm not a regular Pike commuter and haven't been since 1997, but I still find it outrageous that people commuting between, say, Framingham and Newton (which I did for 8 years) pay tolls to fund the Big Dig in Boston when many commuters on the actual Big Day roadways don't even pay tolls to use it.

Once the original Pike bonds were paid off, there was no good reason to keep collecting tolls except that some people just couldn't bear to part with a revenue stream. It used to be, you could argue drivers got their money's worth from the tolls because the road was in better shape than most other highways, especially in winter. But from what I've heard, that's no longer the case. And the congestion is as bad as on other highways in eastern Mass. What are toll-payers getting for that money exactly that commuters on Rte. 495, Rte. 128 and every other highway aren't?

For those who favor "user fees" like a Pike toll, I say it's time for all vehicle users pay their fair share, instead of assessing an extra burden on the users of one highway only. Pike drivers also pay gas and income tax to maintain all the other roads that funds, PLUS a fee assessed just on them. Yet no other drivers contribute to Pike maintenance. How is that a rational policy?

Let's have all drivers start shouldering the true cost of roadway infrastructure. The state needs the money? Then increase in the gas tax, with some sort of offsetting reduction or tax credits for low-income people who would be particularly hurt by this.

MAPC Policy Summit: Equitable Development

From the MAPC:

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council and MetroFuture present a policy summit on some of the region's most critical development issues, viewed through the lenses of equitable development, sustainability, and smart growth.  Following an opening plenary, issue-specific breakout sessions will cover impact fees, housing choice, our aging population, and making our plans into reality. The event takes place on Tuesday morning, Oct. 23 in Boston.

October 4, 2007

Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and the inability to walk between them

Trader Joe's and Whole Foods both appeal to a similar demographic -- consumers who care about the quality of their food, and are seeking something besides unhealthy agribusiness offerings. In Framingham, both have set up shop -- one block after another, in fact. It creates a synergy to be a regional draw, and a perfect opportunity for a park-once, walk-to-multiple-destinations retail center... except it's all but impossible to walk between the two because of the way they were designed. Why???

I recently walked between Whole Foods and Walgreen's just across the street, and that was scary enough. Distance is short, but you have to cross multiple lanes of traffic that was criss-crossing lanes everywhere, and no driver expectation of foot traffic.

Even though both stores are set back from the road, there's no crossing area between the buildings (and you'd have to be insane to try that yourself); instead, walkers have to double the distance by going to the edge of the parking lots to get back to the street. But at Rte. 9, the lanes of traffic you need to cross increases because of Prospect Street turning lanes added, with no median area breaking them out. It's not something most people would even try. Instead, I'm sure that most take there cars the less-than-quarter-mile between the two.

It doesn't have to be that way, and it shouldn't be that way.

Why weren't both shopping areas designed so people could easily walk up to them and between them from the sidewalk? Why couldn't the parking be at the side or rear? The Trader Joe's in Brookline is designed like that, making it easy to walk there from other retail spots in the area. But here, the design only reflects considerations for traffic flow. There appears to be zero concern given to people who might want to walk there.

September 27, 2007

How to make Framingham more pedestrian-friendly? Walkable Communities Workshop report

How can downtown Framingham become a safer, more appealing environment for people on foot?

That was the key issue of this morning's Walkable Communities Workshop, designed to give planners, town officials and residents (not to mention bloggers :-) ) more information about ways to improve walkability -- both theory and implementation details.


Crosswalk done right * Better intersection designs -- including curb extensions and "islands" breaking up multiple lanes of traffic -- can help create a safer, more attractive pedestrian environment, attendees at today's Walkable Community Workshop in downtown Framingham were told. This downtown crosswalk in the photo at the left works, with a well-marked crosswalk and landscaped island breaking up the many lanes of traffic that pedestrians need to traverse.

* Crosswalks need to be wide and well marked, with cues for cars to stop well before the actual crossing area. Things like signs, cones and flashing lights can help.

* It's also important to slow down traffic in areas where pedestrians cross, because "speed kills walkers," Cathy Buckley Lewis at the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization said. When vehicles traveling 20 mph strike walkers, the fatality rate is less than 5%. At 30 mph, it's under 50%. But once speeds hit 40 mph, about 90% of pedestrians struck are killed. Streetscape needs landscaping

* Sidewalks need to be wide enough, flat enough and screened in some way from heavy traffic. Streetscapes need to be attractive enough so people want to be on foot. The sidewalk at right is technically usable, but the environment is not appealing for people to actually want to be out of their vehicles.

Specifically, several groups walked around some downtown streets after the initial presentation, and then came back with recommendations on how to improve the pedestrian environment:

Pedestrian-friendly ‘Portwalk’ planned for Portsmouth

" 'Portwalk,' a pedestrian-friendly, integrated mixed-use development will soon replace the Parade Mall in the city's North End," the Foster's Daily Democrat reports.

"Cathartes Private Investments, the Boston-based real estate investment and development company revitalizing the Hanover Street property, recently announced the name and unveiled its visual brand image to be used on all signage and marketing materials. Portwalk will feature boutique shops, cafes and restaurants, residences, office space, and an extended-stay hotel. . . .

"Jeff Johnston, principal of Cathartes Private Investments, said the heart of the project will be the main Broadwalk, which will have wide brick sidewalks with trees, flowers, outdoor cafe seating and storefront access to each shop and restaurant."

Yet another case where planners are realizing that appealing streetscapes and walker-friendly developments are key to revitalizing urban neighborhoods.

Aside: I hope to post a report on today's Walkable Communities Workshop sometime tonight.

September 26, 2007

Walkable Community Workshop Tomorrow

Sorry for the lack of posts the past week or two, I've been moving all my Web sites - including this one - to a new Web host, After multiple, multi-day interruptions of e-mail service at my old host, I decided it was time to move on. Suffice it to say it took way more time than I'd hoped to move all the sites and get them working again on a slightly different server. If you see anything odd here, please do leave a comment.

Anyway, the Framingham Walkable Community Workshop is tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 27, starting at 8:30 at the Memorial Building. I hope to post a report from it sometime tomorrow. It's free to attend, and not too late to decide to go!

September 12, 2007

Downtown Framingham pedestrian improvements in the works

Several projects are planned or underway to help boost downtown Framingham's pedestrian appeal, a town planner reported last night. And, other efforts will encourage more use of mass transit and accommodate bicyclists.

Thanks to federal and state grant money, the area's regional transit authority will be receiving 10 new minibuses, each equipped with wheelchair lifts and bicycle racks, over four years.

There's also money to install new bus shelters downtown, bicycle lockers at the train station, and bicycle racks around town, said Bryan Taberner, assistant director of the Division of Community and Economic Development. The bus shelters will include solar-powered lighting, and information about bus routes and schedules.

Taberner gave his report to the Framingham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

A detailed engineering plan to improve streetscape features such as lighting and sidewalks will be funded from money the town received as part of an economic stimulus package.

September 11, 2007

‘We consider walking and biking forms of transportation’

"We consider walking and biking forms of transportation in Kirkland," Kirkland, Wash. Deputy Mayor Joan McBride tells the AARP Bulletin. "We've been doing this for years."

What a refreshing comment from a local official.

Kirkland's "public thoroughfares accommodate all members of the public—not just those who drive," according to the AARP Bulletin. They do so with "wide sidewalks, flowered medians and flashing lights embedded in crosswalks at busy intersections. Bike lanes and bus stops line even some of the town's busiest streets. At many corners, pedestrians can pick up a red flag to catch drivers' attention, cross and return the flag to a holder."

Quite a contrast from the design around, say, Shoppers World and the new Natick Collection, where walking is generally treated as some kind of optional frill, but not a serious transportation alternative to get from one place to another (unless you're walking to your car).

Here, sidewalks come to an end between Speen Street offices and the shopping area across Route 30. Apparently, local planners at the time didn't think walking as a form of transportation was important. In fact, sidewalks disappear between two office buildings my company occupies on different streets less than a hundred feet apart -- a real danger in the winter when there's no safe way to walk between them. It's either walk in busy streets narrowed by snow piles, or drive 50 feet to get to a meeting.

On the other hand, Kirkland is among "52 cities and towns, six counties and 10 regional governments that now have policies requiring their transportation agencies to ensure that roads are routinely designed or redesigned for all modes of travel."
"In 1992, the town was granted $3 million in state and federal funds toward the cost of adding three lanes to a busy two-lane street—and it turned down the money. Instead, says Daryl Grigsby, director of public works, Kirkland spent $400,000 to expand the street's intersections—a move that helped the traffic flow—and was able to maintain and even add to the sidewalks along the street.

"The road is still two lanes, and traffic is fine today," Grigsby says. "Cars move, people walk and the sense of community is preserved."

Hopefully, the Walkable Communities workshop scheduled for Sept. 27 in Framingham is one sign that today, we're designing more for all modes of transport, not just the car.

Thanks to William Hanson, chair of the Framingham Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee, for the citation.

Cochituate Rail Trail Fall Work Day Sept. 29

From the Framingham Cochituate Rail Trail Committee:

Trail Fall Clean-up Day, Saturday, Sept. 29
9:00am - 3:00pm
Rain date is Sunday, September 30th

Park at 500 Old Connecticut Path, Framingham. Cross the street and check in at our table near the entrance to Cochituate Brook Reservation.

Join us for a day of trail work and clean-up on the Cochituate Rail Trail! Arrive in the morning or afternoon. Work for as long as you can. Lunch, snacks, and water will be provided.

Please bring any of these tools that you have: rakes, shovels, hand saws, and loppers. Pick-up trucks are extremely helpful. Work gloves, long sleeves, and long pants are recommended.

See the Fall colors on the CRT. Bring your friends and help create this unique multi-use trail! This work day is sponsored by REI and Whole Foods Market.

For more information:
Contact the Framingham CRT Committee at:
Visit our Web site at:

September 3, 2007

We CAN make walker friendly strip malls (without the strip part)

A downtown commercial center's streetscape needs are fairly clear -- make sure there's an attractive, unbroken vista for pedestrians, without gaps and buildings or big setbacks for parking lots that create unappealing walking environments. But what about a suburban district where strip malls are the norm, and individual property owners are unlikely to knit their building facades together?

Manchester, Vt. Manchester, Vermont came up with a pretty interesting development pattern for its collection of retail outlets, not too far from the town's historic center. Although some buildings are set back a bit from the sidewalk, and there are small gaps between some of the buildings, the shopping district manages to combine blocks of traditional downtown stores all at the streetscape with newer stand-alone buildings, all reasonably walkable if not perfect.

It's a welcome change from the typical strip mall approach, like we've got on Rte. 30 (used in Kittery, Maine), or stand-alone mega-mall separated from the surrounding community by asphalt ocean (Wrentham or Lee, Mass.; Shoppers World, Framingham). There's some on-street parking with an emphasis on off-street, "park once and walk to multiple destination" lots. While some buildings have parking in front, it's limited enough so that walking from the sidewalk to the buildings doesn't seem too off-putting; and most parking is at the side or rear. There's a good balance between the needs for cars to go in and out, and the need for pedestrians to have a walking corridor that feels safe and not offputting.

September 1, 2007

Walkable Community Workshop Coming to Framingham Sept. 27!

I'm extremely happy to report that the town of Framingham is sponsoring a Walkable Community Workshop on Thursday, Sept. 27 from 8:30 to 11 am, starting at the Memorial Building (town hall, 150 Concord St.)

The workshop, run by the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, will consist of a presentation, community "walking audit" and follow-up session for brainstorming potential improvements.

The pulic is invited, and there's no charge to attend. For more info or to pre-register, contact Bryan Taberner at 508-532-5455 or

You can see the 1-page workshop flyer here.

August 26, 2007

‘Unlocking Downtown’s Potential’

That was the headline on a MetroWest Daily News article Friday, which I'll have to read in the library this week (I keep forgetting the McAuliffe branch isn't open Saturdays during the summer. I can't find the article online and I didn't by that day's paper.) But the brief bit I saw noted that revitalization is "more than talk," according to consultants working on the project. And one goal is to bring more eateries downtown.

I do hope things will finally start happening downtown, as I've been hearing about revitalization since I moved to Framingham (note: that was during the Reagan administration). Since then, other communities' downtowns have taken advantage of trends favoring attractive streetscape and sense of place, such as Waltham and Somerville, while Framingham's has lagged.

Framingham's downtown has a lot of potential, but someone needs a vision to dramatically improve the streetscape and mix of businesses, add residential so that residents WANT to walk from home to businesses. Planners must make sure there aren't huge gaps in the retail area streetscape, either physically (with unsightly setbacks and parking lots at the sidewalk) or commercially (with businesses that don't add to the necessary critical mass. If you want to draw people to an area to stroll, shop and eat, you don't want a lot of things like first-floor insurance companies and medical offices. There's nothing wrong with insurance companies and medical offices, but they don't add to the ambiance when people are out strolling. Upstairs or side streets work better in the heart of your retail area.) And you don't want it a ghost town after 6 pm.

August 19, 2007

The rebirth of Union Square, thanks to some specialization

Twenty or 30 years ago, "you took your life in your hands" going to the park in Manhattan's Union Square, city historian and author Joyce Mendelsohn told the New York Times. It was a magnet for drug use and prostitution; "Any middle-class people who lived in the neighborhood didn't feel comfortable using the park."

And today? "Union Square is becoming a one-stop destination for those who consider themselves health-conscious, eco-friendly and deserving of the kind of spiritual and bodily nurturing that in the past was mainly the province of spa vacations," says the Times in an intriguing neighborhood report, A Harmonic Convergence in Union Square.

This is yet another example of how an urban neighborhood rejuvenated by specializing in something. The area takes advantage of its density and offers a sense of place that attracts outsiders, because it has a critical mass of something that appeals to residents and visitors alike.

"With its high concentration of popular organic food suppliers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, plus gyms (a half-dozen major ones in a 10-block radius), yoga and Pilates studios, alternative health practitioners, spas and other peddlers of vitality, Union Square may be the city’s greenest neighborhood. . . . Over the last six years, there has been a proliferation of spas and other personal care businesses in the area."

People come from neighborhoods across New York to enjoy free yoga in the park, the farmer's market, healthy meals, and fitness classes. The main worry now is that the neighborhood, like so many others in the city, is getting too expensive. "This is a new face of new New York: an upscale, health-conscious district," Rutgers professor Robert Snyder told the Times.

"If the meatpacking district is where you go to party, Union Square is where you detoxify," the Times article notes. "We call it the wheatpacking district," said Lisa Blau, co-founder of the VitalJuiceDaily e-mail newsletter.

Whether it's restaurant row on Waltham's Moody Street or the Leather District in Boston, it's clear that a critical mass of certain types of business carries a much greater revitalizing whallop than a random, unfocused collection of residences and businesses.

In Union Square, it all started with the Greenmarket, the city's largest farmer's market, followed by a restaurant that offered a market-inspired menu. "The Greenmarket was able to fill a vacuum to give Union Square a citywide identity," Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University, told the Times.

August 18, 2007

Bridges should be beautiful as well as safe

One of the things I missed when I moved to the Boston area was bridges that add drama to the urban vista.

Bridges into, out of and through New York City may be choked with horrible traffic jams, but many of them are beautiful as well as functional. Not only the well-known like the Brooklyn and Verrazano are postcard-worthy; others, such as the Throgs Neck and George Washington, are striking in their own right. As a high schooler, I even recall one of the bridges at sunset moving me to write poetry. But for the most part, the best I could say about bridges in the Boston area were that they were functional (until the Zakim bridge brought some style to local span structures). How many bridges around here are worthy of landmark status -- or even a snapshot? Besides the Zakim and Mass Ave., not many come to mind.

Safety must come first, of course, but there's no reason that "safe" and "cost-effective" must be synonymous with "ugly" and "boring," I was happy to see Princeton structural engineering professor David P. Billington writes in the New York Times today.

"Public bridges are all too often designed by anonymous teams, and the results can be seen on our highways," he says

"The goal of good bridge design is to integrate efficiency, economy and elegance in a single design. Few bridges built over the last century have achieved this. Most are efficient but strictly functional; a few that aspire to elegance have done so at the expense of efficiency and economy, like the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which is estimated to cost more than four times its original budget."

Yet it doesn't have to be that way, he argues persuasively:

"[T]here are often opportunities to improve design even in the case of very ordinary bridges.

"For example, a few years ago, in a discussion with bridge engineers from a Midwestern state, I suggested an alternative to a conventional overpass they had built, only to be told it would have cost too much. Challenged, I redesigned the overpass myself, and sent the plan to a steel fabricator the state worked with. The fabricator did a cost analysis and, to everyone’s surprise, found that my version would have cost slightly less than the standard design. The revision was also, in my view, better looking.

"American bridge engineering largely overlooks that efficiency, economy and elegance can be mutually reinforcing ideals."

That's not the case elsewhere, he notes. But in order to get to a place where American engineers can "educate the public in the possibilities of turning our nation’s bridges into safe, economical and beautiful landmarks worth maintaining," we need to get our collective heads around the fact that aesthetics are important. Without visual and visceral appeal, streetscapes can wither and die, along with local business districts. Functional yet hideously Stalinesque public housing projects can turn into colossal failures. If we truly care about our communities, we need to value our public space, not only our own, privately owned space. And part of valuing a space is understanding that how it looks does matter.

August 12, 2007

What’s right about Boston’s Esplanade

My husband & I went to the free Beach Boys outdoor concert last night at the Hatch Shell along the Charles River. Since the weekend train schedules are so pathetic ( we wanted to go in for dinner and the concert. Saturday commuter rail either arrives in town at 4:22, a bit early for dinner, or 7:27, too late. Does it not occur to anyone that people might want to go into town for dinner??? Going home, we would have had to wait an hour and twenty minutes for a train back), we drove in. The garage under the Commons was filled, so we ended up parking on the street, well over a mile away, and then walking along the river to the Hatch Shell.

Ah, what a lovely walk! Unfortunately, Storrow Drive splits the Back Bay residential area from the river front. Given that unhappy bit of planning, though, the city does make the most of it. There are a number of footbridges over the parkway that are appealing enough for people to actually walk on. Many do, so the three-mile-long Esplanade park along the river is heavily used -- thanks in part to the walking/bicycle path. In some spots the path is pretty close to Storrow Drive traffic, but pedestrians generally feel "protected" enough from the whizzing cars nearby.

Instead of being one long, unbroken green space, the Esplanade park is a series of what planners call "outdoor rooms" -- semi-contained spaces that aren't completely "walled off" from the larger area but nevertheless feel smaller and more intimate, instead of one huge unbroken expanse of public space (such as the hideous City Hall Plaza). Smaller "outdoor rooms" in the context of a larger public space are a hallmark of many successful public parks, such as Boston Common and New York's Central Park (both designed by Frederick Law Olmsted). Even in the area around the Hatch Shell, along with the main audience area in front of the stage, there are smaller side areas. Man concert-goers ended up in those side areas last night, even though we couldn't see much, we could hear, and watched the boats along the river and sunset over Cambridge instead. All in all, a lovely night.

Friday night we had dinner in Waltham with friends, and strolled along the (much shorter) riverfront walk in Waltham, where there are now restaurants, apartments/condos, and even boat rides.

It all made me wonder why Framingham doesn't try to do more with its available "waterfronts," both river and lake/pond, to integrate them with the surrounding commercial and residential areas and improve the entire area's streetscape.

Every time I'm in Waltham, I'm struck by how that community has been able to revitalize its business district, which is filled with pedestrians on a nice summer evening, and contrast it with the current state of Framingham's downtown.

August 3, 2007

‘Children of the suburbs … want walkable communities’

Young professionals want "walkable, dense communities with brick buildings, trendy restaurants and no big-box stores, said Gene Krebs, state director of Greater Ohio, a Columbus-based organization dedicated to better land use in the state," Scripps Howard News Service reports.
"The children of the suburbs have rejected the suburbs," Krebs said. "They find the suburbs repellent and instead want walkable communities that have nice restaurants and soccer fields that are close by." . . . The only way suburbs are going to age well is if developers switch business models and ask young professionals what they want in a community.

August 2, 2007

How can America allow more than 1 in 10 bridges to be "structurally deficient"??

"Thirteen percent of bridges in the United States share the same 'structurally deficient' rating as the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis," ABC News reports, and more than 1 and 4 are "in need of repair or do not meet the highest safety standards." We boast of being the world's most powerful nation, the world's wealthiest  ... how did we let this happen?

Was it because we didn't want to pay attention? Were we too busy obsessing about terrorists and Muslim fundamentalists to focus on more mundane yet critical safety issues like bridges and highways?

Is it because too many of us bought into the claim that "government spending is bad" and "taxes are bad," instead of understanding that it's WASTEFUL government spending that's the problem, not responsible spending for the public good? What did we think was going to happen when we spent hundreds of billions of dollars for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while cutting taxes? How many of us were willing to admit that, um, perhaps some vital public needs would be underfunded?

"Government" is us, and we need to take responsibility as citizens for making tough decisions instead of being swayed by demagogues promising we can have everything we want without ever having to pay a price.

We still don't know why the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River. It may have nothing to do with lack of money or poor government oversight. Completely separate from the cause of the tragedy in Minneapolis, though, I find it appalling that my country has allowed so many of our bridges to be "struturally deficient" and still carry traffic.  Our public, common infrastructure has deteriorated because we didn't feel like paying for upkeep.

Here in Massachusetts, "Proposition 2 1/2" arbitrarily limits how much revenues communities can raise, regardless of the rate of inflation -- and has for decades. There's only so much "fat" you can cut when gas prices are soaring, health care costs are exploding, and revenues don't keep up with basic cost of living increases. Town Meetings grapple with increasingly difficult and painful choices. Capital improvements and routine maintenance get put off, and are in danger of being stretched too thin.

"Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., Have Worst Bridges," says a headline on That doesn't necessarily mean a tragedy is imminent, but it does mean that we've neglected our public infrastructure here for far too long.

"Community" involves the public good and common needs. We need leaders who understand that and build support for it. It's one of the reasons I backed Deval Patrick in the primary as well as the general election -- he was willing to speak out and say what needed to be said.

We should rely less on the property tax, which can unfairly penalize people like senior citizens living in neighborhoods where property values have soared, and rely more on fairer ways to raise revenue for common needs. Some people turned to Proposition 2 1/2 because they feared being taxed out of their homes. We shouldn't be taxing people out of their homes. But instead of cutting off money for crucial public needs, we need to be finding better, fairer ways of raising revenue that don't hurt people who can't afford it. Major tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are definitely not the answer.

"Only twice before over the last century has 5 percent of the national income gone to families in the upper one-one-hundredth of a percent of the income distribution -- currently, the almost 15,000 families with incomes of $9.5 million or more a year," the New York Times noted last month, citing an analysis of tax returns by two economists. In the 1970s, wealthy investors paid 39% on capital gains from their investments. Today? That's down to 15%.

"No new taxes" may be an appealing goal, but it's a dangerous pledge when you don't know what the future will bring. I'd prefer something along the lines of "no waste while funding what we need." Reasonable people can disagree on what a community "needs," but certain items would be acknowledged by the vast majority of us. Keeping our bridges from collapsing would be high on most people's list. It's certainly high on mine. We should do it in a cost-effective manner, and not bloated, mismanaged projects like the Big Dig. We need to do it well. But do it we must. 

July 30, 2007

Find your neighborhood’s “walk score”

Enter an address at, and the site calculates a "walk score" between 1 and 100 based on information from Google Maps. Try it, it's pretty cool! calculates how many different types of destinations are theoretically within walking distance, and then generates the score. You can see it tallying up results as it lists some of those destinations.

The site freely admits "a number of factors that contribute to walkability are not part of our algorithm," including street design/width, public transit options, safety (both crime and accident levels) and streetscape aesthetics ("Are there walking paths? Are buildings close to the sidewalk with parking in back? If buildings have large parking lots in front, they are less inviting to pedestrians.").

Considering how many important factors aren't in the algorithm, it does a pretty good job!

My neighborhood gets a mid-range score, which seems reasonable. My parents' neighborhood, which has many more destinations in easy walking distance, gets a higher score. My sister's neighborhood, which I consider walker-hostile beyond the immediate few blocks, does poorly, as does my in-laws' area, which I find frustrating when trying to walk anywhere. My aunt's compact New York neighborhood, which always felt walkable when I visited as a kid, scores highly. The New York area where my husband's grandparents used to live, which is exceptionally walkable, racks up 92 out of 100.

Try an address or two and see for yourself.

July 29, 2007

Casinos and Livable Communities: Middleborough’s choice

I'm a firm believer that improved streetscapes, walkability and other such amenities don't hinder economic development but actually improve local economies. After all, retail space is a lot more pricey along Newbury Street than suburban Route 9, and housing per square foot is way more expensive in Boston's North End than most Rte. 495 exurbs. However, I'm realistic enough to acknowledge that sometimes the economic bottom line and livable community issues collide.

Such is the case in Middleborough, where the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe wants to build a billion-dollar casino resort complex. The resort would undoubtedly bring lots of money and jobs to the community, but would also change the character of the town. There will be a lot more tax revenue, but also a lot more traffic; there will be more "entertainment" available, but also more problems that inevitably come with drinking, gambling, and huge increases in short-term visitors.

"Since casinos opened in two small, rural Connecticut towns in the 1990s, there has been a sharp increase in local traffic, police calls, and drunken driving arrests, according to a Globe analysis, and the changes have spilled over into neighboring towns as well," the Boston Globe reported recently. In fact, it tends to be those neighboring towns that really get the shaft -- lots more traffic, higher concentrations of people passing through which naturally leads to more traffic-related problems like congestion, accidents and drunk driving arrests, yet no extra tax revenue. It's one of the legacies of a region that clings to local government to finance so many important things that these days have effects far beyond local borders. (In many cases, town officials actually have incentive to site huge projects at their borders, so the negative effects spread to other communities while the town gets to keep all of the money. )

Have you ever been to Foxwoods? I was there once for a business event, and found it kind of depressing if you don't happen to enjoy gambling. I sometimes find Las Vegas depressing also (I've been there several times for tech conferences), but at least you have the option of walking around there (assuming it's not 110 degrees, that is). At Foxwoods, I felt trapped if I wanted to, um, actually take a walk. Yet because of the nature of a casino's main activity, many communities don't want to integrate casinos with traditional downtown environments. So you end up with a separate, parallel city-within-a-city arising, one that has little connection to its host community, and thus no interest in the fate of things like surrounding residential and commercial areas. And in the long run, I don't see it as a good thing when a community's principle revenue-producer is divorced from the rest of the community.

Middleborough residents voted for the casino, some because they felt the complex is inevitable anyway and they want their town to at least get some money in exchange. It's up to them to decide if the financial windfall is worth the change in their community. Unfortunately, residents of neighboring towns had no say in the vote, and many will be as affected as those in Middleborough while getting fewer if any financial benefits. Those who oppose the plan now have to turn their attention to the state and federal approval processes.

July 23, 2007

Mixed-use project aimed at nearby office workers, college in Atlanta suburb

"About 30,000 people work along the Clifton Road corridor in central DeKalb County, but you wouldn't know it from looking at property across from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's sprawling headquarters, just north of Emory University," the Atlanta Jounral-Constitution reports.

"An empty gravel lot sits next to a few aging, low-slung apartment buildings. A motel is surrounded by a sea of asphalt. No shops or restaurants are anywhere in sight. Street life is virtually nonexistent.

"But look for things to change as Emory teams up with Atlanta-based Cousins Properties to build a mixed-use complex on Clifton Road with shops, restaurants and 872 condominiums and apartments, all targeted at those who work or study in the area."

The project realizes that employees are a great market if you offer them a vibrant streetscape and appealing destinations they can walk to.

"We pretty much drive in in the morning and stay here until we leave," Angela O'Connor, a public health analyst at the CDC, told the Journal-Constitution. "I think if we had somewhere to walk to, a lot of us would."

Does this sound familiar? Why is it that poor streetscape design means there's almost nowhere for office workers on Speen Street or Route 9 in Framingham to walk to? Why is it that it's so unappealing for the thousands of students and employees at Framingham State to walk to restaurants and shopping?

It's a problem in many communities, but one that planners around the nation are finally, tentatively, trying to address.
If retail along it had been designed and sited differently, Route 30 in Framingham could have been an incredible pedestrian boulevard, complete with sidewalk cafes, appealing shop windows and an attractive divider that encouraged crossing on foot. Instead, people drive from one strip mall less than half a mile to another, because the walking environment is so uninviting. And few office workers on nearby Speen Street can walk to most of the stores within half a mile, because crossing the streets (and now huge driveways spewing out cars from Target and Lowe's) make it feel unsafe.

July 20, 2007

Framingham Cochituate Rail Trail meets on July 23

The Framingham Cochituate Rail Trail Committee meets on Monday, July 23, 2007 at 7:30 pm in the Ward Room, Memorial Building, 150 Concord St., Framingham, MA

New on the blog: local meetings and events as posts

I've been posting announcements meetings and events on my blog home page as a listing on the right column, but I think a lot of people miss them there, especially if they read the blog via RSS feed. So, I'm going to start publishing them as regular blog posts as well, and hope people find that useful. Apologies to the non-local readers here!

July 18, 2007

College lesson

The University of Massachusetts Amherst campus serves around 25,000 students plus faculty and other staff, roughly the population of Sudbury and Wayland combined. Yet unlike those towns, the campus is designed with the expectation that many of its residents need to walk from place to place -- from dorm to class to dining area to shop to entertainment center.

I'm just back from a three-day photography convention at UMass Amherst, and it was an interesting lesson in walkable environments. While my friend and I stayed on campus, we left the car parked in an upper parking lot and typically walked 15 minutes or more each way to classes and meals. There were plenty of roads for cars, city buses and campus shuttle buses, but the environment was set up for walkers, cyclists and vehicles to share. How?

* Most roadways cutting through areas with large concentrations of dorms and destinations were relatively narrow, one lane each, with well-marked crosswalks, making them feel easily crossable on foot.

* Walking paths were everywhere, often offering some separation (even just a small strip of landscaping) between pedestrian and cars, with interesting streetscapes of buildings facing the street. The setting of the buildings were clearly designed to be walked into from elsewhere, not driven up to like a strip mall.

* Parking was largely to the side or rear of destinations, not in front like the ocean of asphalt that's typically between walkers and retail destinations around suburban malls and strip malls.

* While dorms were often clustered together and not sprinkled amidst classroom buildings, they were still close enough to destinations like the campus center, library and classrooms to make it reasonable walking distance. When design emphasizes walkability as opposed to drive-up, when the weather's good it feels more logical (and enjoyable) to take a 15-minute walk than to go get the car.

You can see a campus map here.

There's no reason suburban centers couldn't be laid out a bit more like this (minus the multi-story towers). Mass transit might not be available to whisk people from elsewhere to the retail centers; but once people arrive and park, they ought to be in an environment that encourages walking from place to place, instead of having to drive from strip mall to neighboring strip mall -- trips that are close enough to walk, but impossible to do so because of street designs.

July 10, 2007

Shut off your TV. And your cell phone. And, yes, your computer. Just for a little while….

"In a techno world, traditional camps flourish," says a Boston Globe story last Sunday about the new allure of old-style summer camps.

"A number of rustic wilderness camps in New England are seeing a surge in their popularity, at a time when parents and educators are increasingly concerned that children do not spend enough time in the natural world," the story notes, pointing to Pine Island Camp in Maine where there are "no TVs, video games, or computers, and counselors keep the only cellphone on the island hidden away for emergencies." 

A quaint thought for modern-era kids, many of whom seem surgically attached to various electronic devices? Well, "for the first time in recent memory, Pine Island sold out for the season six months before it opened."

But what about us adults who can't take a month off to head to a nature camp? Actually, there are a couple of things we all can do.

* Take a vacation, regardless of the length. A week or more is best, of course, but even a three-day weekend can refresh and rejuvenate -- if you get out of your regular routine. A getaway is often the best strategy, but you can also vacation at home. This means a vacation, not telecommuting. It also means ditch the chores (unless you love things like gardening). Get outside. Shut off your TV. Turn off the cell phone. Leave the iPod behind. And yes, do try to stay away from the computer. The idea is to slip into a slower rhythm, which is kind of hard when you're immersed in the instant feedback of a computer.

* Take a "rejuventation day" once a week this summer. As above, it means staying away from all those electric-powered devices. Spend as much time as possible out of your car. Not, not as punishment. This will help you reconnect with your community. You experience things differently when you slow down. You see things you don't notice when you're whizzing by in an auto, or have your headphones on. You hear new things. You tend to look people in the eye more.

Also, you're not bombarded by the constant stream of materialism around us, especially advertising, all designed to make us want what we don't have or looking forward to some thing in the future instead of enjoying the moment we're in.

Ads are especially pernicious in aiming to ruin our contentment. After all, if you're happy with things just the way they are, you're less likely to buy whatever it is they're selling, aren't you? They can't even let you enjoy the sporting event you're watching in peace; they've always got to be promoting the NEXT event, which the announcers imply is even better than the thing you're watching now. The overall effect is the exact opposite of enjoying the moment -- it's designed to make you always long for the future, whether that future is life with a new item or watching some new program/movie. Just leave that all behind for a day -- or even part of a day. Pay attention to Now. Enjoy Now.

Some people do this as a sabbath observence; but if that's not part of your beliefs, consider it a mental health day.

July 3, 2007

What we can learn from Block Island, R.I.

No, most communities can't turn themselves into summer oceanside resorts! ... and for many, it's way too late to save a third of their land as preserved open space (or to prevent Anyplace, U.S.A. homogenization of chain stores and strip malls). However, we can still learn some valuable lessons about streetscape and planning from Block Island, one of the relatively few non-urban U.S. communities that assume many visitors don't have cars.


Block Island cyclistMost in-season ferries to the island don't carry cars -- in fact, only one service, from Point Judith, carries vehicles, and even from there there's also a passenger-only option. A lot of visitors walk, bicycle, or rent mopeds as well as take taxis or rent cars. Streets around much of the island assume multiple use, and it's common to see walkers and cyclers outnumber autos. Planning and design reflect that.


In the main commercial district of Old Harbor, the streetscape is particular appealing for pedestrians. There are plenty of "eyes on the street" -- not only shop and hotel windows looking out at the street, but also Victorian-era verandas where people sit outside and watch the harbor and main street activities. The main street itself is narrow in most places, only one lane in each direction, making it non-intimidating to cross on foot, and creating a comfortable feeling of enclosure. It's a marked contrast to an environment like Route 9 in Framingham, where the multiple lanes of traffic and set-back strip malls are just two of many factors making for an unpleasant and uncomfortable walking environment.


But another thing worth paying attention to is the architecture of the buildings themselves, offering a form of "surprise and delight" by varying building facade geometry. In other words, the street isn't all one flat, boring row of windows and doors. Some windows jut out. Some doorways are set back. Some buildings are at street level while others are not, instead giving a Newbury Street type of split entryways either a few steps up or a few steps down.


I posted several more streetscape photos from Block Island on SmugMug. Note that I took most of them early in the morning, before most of the stores and restaurants were open, because that was the only way I could get good shots of the buildings, sidewalks and streets without a ton of walkers and cyclists getting in the way! Throughout most of the business day and evening, the streets were filled with people walking and biking.


I'm trying to find a copy of zoning regulations for Block Island. I'm curious how they've managed to keep out pretty much all chain stores -- one local place boasts they brew Starbuck's coffee and another sells Ben & Jerry's ice cream, but that's pretty much it.


Anyway, I'd invite you to look at the rest of the streetscape photos -- it's just one page of thumbnails (click any small image to see a larger version, and click that larger version on the right to see an even bigger one), or you can click the slideshow button at the top right. (And if you're interested in what the rest of the island looks like, I have another collection of 6 pages of thumbnails with pictures around the island).

June 27, 2007

The importance of surprise and delight

Every time I go back to Moody Street in Waltham, I'm so impressed with how the neighborhood has been revitalized. Filled with interesting restaurants and shops, it's also filled with people walking from place to place, along a streetscape that's appealing in part because it offers little surprises and delights.

Between Moody Street and the cinema, a friend and I encountered a surprising little window display that didn't seem to have any purpose except to entertain. Around the corner, there was Boston University's Center for Digital Imaging Arts had an exhibit of graduating students' projects -- you could just walk in, close to 9 pm, like a gallery, and look at some of the works.

A true "park once, walk to many destinations" environment, my friend and I met with no plans except to walk around and find someplace we wanted to have dinner. There are so many choices, all enticingly accessible on foot. It was a nice summer evening, and several places had windows partially or completely removed, so the inside was almost an extension of the streetscape. The only thing missing was outdoor seating -- there's just not enough room. After dinner, we could walk and see a number of independent retailers that still give the street a sense of place (not a collection of chain stores you could see anywhere, U.S.A.), including an independent bookseller.

There were no parking lots breaking up the streetscape; parking was behind the cinema or other stores, or along the street. There were no businesses set back from the street, or gaps in the streetscape to discourage pedestrians. There weren't large medical offices or insurance companies or other such destinations that wouldn't interest someone interested in an evening of dining and entertainment.

And I couldn't help wondering: Why can't downtown Framingham be like that? Do we have the will to try to reimagine an area of our downtown to include an enticing streetscape with positive surprises and delight?

June 24, 2007

Visit Art Gone Wild

I finally had a chance to see the "Art Gone Wild" exhibit at Garden in the Woods, and I definitely recommend it. It's a fun collection of a cross between natural landscaping touches and outdoor art, and it's especially nice to see some new mini-exhibits along the main Curtis trail that many of us have walked numerous times.

I didn't take photos this weekend, since I was visiting in mid-day when the light wasn't at its best, but I hope to be back again to take some pictures of a few of the installations.

Framingham is very fortunate to have a place like Garden in the Woods in our community. Although we also have a number of public parks -- town as well as state run, pretty much all woefully underfunded -- Garden in the Woods is another "third place" essentially public space although run by a private non-profit. Join as a member, and you can visit as many times as you want for no additional charge. It's beautifully maintained and a lovely, peaceful space that draws visitors from far beyond MetroWest.

June 19, 2007

‘Keeping Boston Walkable’

"If at any given time you look and see that pedestrians along our streets are not diverse, it may be a signal to us that we are not making our community as accessible as we should," write Michael F. Flaherty (Boston city councilor) and Wendy Landman (executive director of Walk Boston) in a Globe op-ed piece yesterday. And, I'd add, if you look around and see there aren't any pedestrians at all, we've made a poor physical environment for walkers.

With the weather finally nice and the days long, people are naturally out walking in areas where it's conducive to do so. In my neighborhood, people are out on foot before, during and after business hours. Around my office, you see lots of people out at lunchtime on certain streets, and few if any out on others -- a clear sign that some areas were successfully designed to encourage foot traffic, while others are pedestrian-hostile.

The presence of sidewalks, as I've said before, doesn't make for walkability. The unpleasant streetscape along many portions of roads like Speen Street, Rte. 30 and Rte. 9 limit walking, although there are many destinations to walk to if the environment were better. Here are some images from Walkable Communities Inc. at where you can see comparisons of good and bad walking environments.

June 17, 2007

Calling it ‘Smart Growth’ Doesn’t Mean It Is: Hartford Courant

There's a nice opinion piece in today's Hartford Courant, noting that developers are starting to label a lot of projects "smart growth" that are somewhat of a stretch.

Smart growth is more than mixing different types of housing units and tossing in a convenience store or two you can walk to. It's about more traditional patterns of development that give at least equal weight to public transit and walking as a way of getting to places, as it does to driving. If you can walk to a general store and post office but have to drive everyplace else, it's not smart growth.

"Smart growth can't be built everywhere and this isn't a feasible location for it," writes Tom Condon of an over-55 project that a PR firm is pitching as smart growth. "Residents won't be able to walk to much of anything outside the development - the RV campground down the street? - so will have to drive everywhere. There are no transit options. There are as yet no utilities. There will be one main road in and out, so there isn't much connectivity and traffic may be an issue." It may be a plus that plans call for cluster development and preserving some open space, but that's not the typical definition of "smart growth."

Condon likens the smart growth phrase to what once happened to "natural food," he says:
"This initially referred to vittles that contained no artificial ingredients and were minimally processed. But soon the corporate food industry co-opted the term and started calling everything "natural," whether or not it was laden with preservatives, fillers, taste-enhancing chemicals and God knows what else.

"Thus the term 'natural food' lost much of its meaning. . . .

"So, maybe the smart growth people - and the New Urbanism folks as well - need to do what the foodies did. They changed the term to 'organic' and created certification standards"


It is a good sign, though, that developers now want the "smart growth" label!

June 12, 2007

Concord Center merchants battle Citibank

It's hard to argue that a Citibank would generate too much traffic, bring in "undesirables," or hurt property values. Yet many merchants in Concord Center are nevertheless opposed to plans for a Citibank branch in the heart of the town's historic retail district. And they're right.

Concord Center might be a great place to locate from the perspective of a nationwide bank: lots of foot traffic, and lots of tourists who are likely to want to pop in and get some money to spend. But a historic district with local retailers that thrive on foot traffic is the wrong place for a big branch of a national bank.

* What makes Concord Center special is its sense of place. Start adding too many national chains to the mix, and the area will start looking like every other part of America, not something special.

* A major national bank branch is a bad choice for a street that otherwise has a lot of unique local merchants. It breaks up the interest in the streetscape for shoppers on foot.

From what I hear, Citibank is slated to come in and displace two loal businesses, incluidng the Artful Image. However, it sounds like a special permit would be required, to change the use from retail.

Citibank would be a better corporate citizen if it found another spot outside the historic district for a fully staffed branch, and set up an ATM only within the center.

June 2, 2007

Proposal would encourage more students to walk to school

The Safe Routes to Schools bill proposed for Massachusetts "is designed to help communities establish safety education programs; install new crosswalks, bike lanes, and signs; construct and replace sidewalks and traffic-calming bumps; and build multi use trails connecting to schools," the Boston Globe reports.

It's a great idea, although of course you've got to have schools that could conceivably be walked to -- many exurban communities don't. In addition, it would be tough in a community like Framingham where the idea of neighborhood schools was replaced by "school choice" in order to better racially/socio-economically balance the town's schools; and thus many elementary school students don't live near their schools. And with only one high school in town, and a community half the size of Boston, most high schoolers don't live within walking distance either.

Still, many students could benefit from such a program -- including in Framingham, where there still are students within a mile or so of their schools. I see some parents walking their kids to the Stapleton School, even if many more take the bus or drive.

Newton resident Joanne Hooker told the Globe that she started walking her children to school after warning her often-oversleeping daughter Rebecca that she'd have to walk to school if she missed the bus. "Rebecca continued to sleep in, and the family took to the streets. It turned out that the children loved it -- Rebecca most of all." Walking turned out not to be a punishment, it was fun!

"Many of us remember a time when walking and bicycling to school was a part of everyday life," notes the Federal Highway Administration Web site. "In 1969, about half of all students walked or bicycled to school. Today, however, the story is very different. Fewer than 15 percent of all school trips are made by walking or bicycling, one-quarter are made on a school bus, and over half of all children arrive at school in private automobiles.

"This decline in walking and bicycling has had an adverse effect on traffic congestion and air quality around schools, as well as pedestrian and bicycle safety. In addition, a growing body of evidence has shown that children who lead sedentary lifestyles are at risk for a variety of health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

"Safety issues are a big concern for parents, who consistently cite traffic danger as a reason why their children are unable to bicycle or walk to school. The purpose of the Federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program is to address these issues." The state bill would help do so at a local level.

May 31, 2007

‘Flower Power’: How gardens can transform neighborhoods

Like many suburbanites, we spent part of the holiday weekend planting and tending to new flowers around our house. Afterwards, our house looked so much cheerier and welcoming with the front windowbox bursting with impatiens and pots of colorful flowers in front and back. In the aggregate, it's simply amazing what flowers and other landscaping can do for a neighborhood -- and not just suburbs.

In Geneva, colorful flowers in window boxes are so important to the public streetscape that residents on some streets are required to have them, a friend told me! I doubt we'd ever go for that here in the States; but if you want to improve a neighborhood, even a run-down urban neighborhood, it actually makes great a great deal sense to give gardening incentives.

Can it work? The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Philadelphia Green program targeted one north Philly neighborhood that "had plummeted into a stunning cycle of failure, a cycle twirled by violent crack pushers and brazen whores, intermittent gunfights and wholesale urban flight," according to the PBS series Edens Lost & Found. "Tentatively, then firmly, [resident Iris] Brown was caught up in their ideas. She could learn to plant and tend trees. She could help make gardens bloom from trash piles. And: She could organize. . . .

"The people of West Kensington have reclaimed nature in half their derelict spaces. . . . Fifteen years ago, people called [Norris Square] Needle Park for obvious reasons and residents would not cross through, even to go to church on an early Sunday morning. Drug pushers and junkies owned the park, and a falling-down shack on its grounds was great for the sex trades. Trees were old and untended, and Brown remembers seeing large branches scattered after storms.

"Brown helped the horticultural society round up enough volunteers to learn tree planting and maintenance - 'the majority of people were afraid' to even consider the idea of wresting control over their large park and their treeless curbsides, she recalls."

"Soon neighbors were fixing up their houses, planting flowers in containers and window boxes, and cleaning up graffiti," according to a report by the National Gardening Association. "People started taking pride in their neighborhood. Gardening classes for kids replaced drug deals. New street trees replaced abandoned cars, and community festivals replaced street fights. 'This community went from being one of the most drug- and crime-plagued locations in the city where people were afraid to even leave their homes, to a beautiful, safe neighborhood filled with trees, gardens, playgrounds, cultural events, and pride,' says Eileen Gallagher, project manager for Philadelphia Green."

Streetscape and physical environment matter. Things that some people consider "frills," like trees and flowers, are actually critical to making an appealing community. When looking to revitalize lower income, more urban business districts and surrounding residential areas, it pays to remember that.

May 27, 2007

How downtown San Jose bounced back - despite a new mall

My favorite quote from last week:
"When I travel to another city, I'm not interested in seeing what their Gap looks like."
-- Brian Eder, who owns an art gallery in San Jose, Calif., in a New York Times in a story about that city's re-emergence from the dot-com bust.

One of San Jose's grittier urban districts is experiencing a renaissance, despite the presence of grand new mall just a few miles away. Hmmmm, anything here sound familiar?

Reports the Times:
"On a recent balmy evening, in the South First Street Area, throngs of moviegoers gathered at the California Theater, a renovated Art Deco building. Left for dead for decades, then brought back to life a few years ago with a computer mogul's millions, the theater is now the home of the local symphony and the opera. . . . A block away, salsa lessons kicked off at a corner dance club. Diners filled the booths of a retro-chic restaurant, where bow-tied waiters toted plates of veal piccata and eggplant Parmesan. . . .

"In a city that nurtures its art institutions, an underground art scene has also taken shape. Vacant buildings, which still blemish many downtown blocks, have been transformed into temporary exhibit space for local painters and sculptors, attractive place-holders until permanent tenants arrive. . . .

"Several years before the California Theater reopened and SoFA started showing a vital nighttime pulse, developers cut the ribbon on their own downtown, five minutes west of city hall by freeway. Santana Row, a large mall with high-end retail and residential space, was decried by critics as a kind of Stepford showpiece, a triumph of commerce over culture. Mr. Eder, co-owner of Anno Domini gallery, refers to it today as Satan's Row."

I'm not going to start bashing the "Natick Collection" mall revamp before I've even seen it -- although I'll be exceedingly disappointed if the walking environment between it and the rest of the community isn't any better than the original mall's. The point here is that plenty of people enjoy a more urban, unique experience than a mall can ever offer.

How? An anchor destination that draws people there evenings and weekends is crucial -- note the movie theater in San Jose's SoFA, and the cinema showing foreign and arts films as well as U.S. commercial offerings in downtown Waltham. You also need other destinations that people can walk to, which requires an appealing streetscape.

The Amazing Things Arts Center's plans for a downtown location is a start. Improving downtown Framingham's pedestrian ambiance is also vital if downtown revitalization is going to take hold.

May 25, 2007

Residents ‘inundating Acton officials with requests for more sidewalks’

"When town officials studied the commuter-rail station and its parking problems last year, [Selectwoman Lauren] Rosenzweig said, many residents expressed a desire to make the entire area more pedestrian-friendly for commuters, parents with strollers, teenagers unable to drive, and disabled residents," the Globe reports.

The Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization is holding a walkable communities workshop in Acton June 5. Framingham has also applied to have such a workshop held in town this year.

"Glenn Berger, owner of Exchange Hall in South Acton, said he would be thrilled if Acton improved pedestrian access. Exchange Hall is a historic building formerly used as a meeting hall and department store. Now it houses a variety of businesses, and Berger hopes to renovate it and turn it into a restaurant and function hall.

"Already he has plans to move the sidewalks near his property farther from the street so there is more of a buffer. Better sidewalks throughout the village would go a long way toward attracting more walkers, he said. 'Right now the feeling is this is more of a place to drive through and not a destination, which is the goal,' Berger said."

Being a walk-to destination requires an appealing streetscape, not just the presence of sidewalks (as I've said many times, there are sidewalks on Rte. 9, but few people use them because that whole environment is aesthetically hostile to pedestrians even if technically possible [as long as you don't try to cross the street].) A sense of place also helps.

Walkability makes a local retail district more appealing to visitors, residents, potential homebuyers and businesses.

Ann Sussman, an architect and member of the town's Design Review Board, said amenities such as sidewalks draws residents to a community. Real estate listings for communities such as Concord and Lexington tout the ability to "walk to town center," she noted.

"It never says, 'Walk to strip mall or walk to Kmart.' There is a ripple effect when you have a walkable community."