January 7, 2007

Hingham Seeks to Beautify Downtown Streetscape

As the Greenbush commuter rail line is slated to come to the South Shore, Hingham officials are seeking to "restore the historic appearance of downtown," including "better lighting and sidewalk improvements to make it more user-friendly in the 21st century," Development and Industrial Commission Chairman Bruce Rabuffo told the Hingham Journal.

"The improvements are a cooperative effort involving the HDIC, Selectmen, the Hingham Downtown Association, and others to beautify the downtown area, improve parking, and to make Hingham Square and the surrounding area safer and more appealing for pedestrians," the Journal notes.

The town started back in 2003 with a working group "to find ways to improve the physical and business environment of the Square and surrounding area. The focus was on creating a more pedestrian-friendly environment."

It is, of course, a focus that downtown Framingham needs as well, if it hopes that transit-oriented development and new residential units will bring more economic vitality to the area. Pedestrian-appealing streetscapes have been all but ignored in most town development plans - a single walkway on the side of Lowe's is the lone exception that springs to mind, even as the front of the building remains as pedestrian-hostile as the rest of the Golden Triangle. We're still waiting to see if the Saxonville Walgreen's expansion plan will ruin one of the few walkable neighborhoods that exist in town, as current plans include a drive-through window (major mistake in a densely developed historic business district), three-lane-wide curb cut and complete screening between sidewalk and stores except for the vehicle driveways - i.e. no pedestrian path from sidewalk to stores, discouraging local foot traffic. Fortunately, Planning Board members seemed to acknowledge that pedestrian issues are an issue there.

Other communities in general seem to understand that current trends call for more than strip malls and big-box retailers; and things like filling in "holes" in your downtown streetscape and creating enticing walking environments are critical in order to make people want to spend time in an area. We ignore these trends at our peril.

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