In theory, I like the concept of urban-style living in the suburbs. It's what developers of Cronin's Landing pulled off in downtown Waltham, where residents can walk out their doors to enjoy a stroll along the Charles river or down Moody Street and its abundant offerings of restaurants or movies. And it's what I hope can be achieved in downtown Framingham someday, if the streetscape is ever improved enough so that people living in the planned new residences can and will want to walk out their doors and have dining, shopping and entertainment options within a 5- or 10-minute walk.
But the vision of "Nouvelle at Natick," the condos being built at the expanded Natick Mall, is something quite different, despite marketing literature promising "all the amenities and conveniences of urban living in the more pastoral settings of Boston's MetroWest suburbs." This is not urban living in the traditional American sense - where one of the key attractions is fabulous shared public space, integrated into the larger community. The appeal of living on Beacon Hill or Back Bay in Boston or in Manhattan includes not only stores and restaurants, but also cultural attractions like symphony, opera, ballet and museums, as well as the architecture, parks and public streetscapes. It's being able to walk out the door and experience all the excitement that a city has to offer.
"Nouvelle," however, offers only the most materialistic of these components -- stores and restaurants -- in what could be considered "public" space, the privately owned enclosed mall where non-residents are allowed to enter. But other aspects are decidedly private, such as the residents-only rooftop garden. Now, there's nothing wrong with private amenities in an urban setting; the issue I have here is that except for the high-capitalism ones, all the other amenities appear to be private. And the kind of cultural offerings that truly make great urban living remain unmentioned. When the only nearby entertainment is a multiplex cinema showing mainstream Hollywood movies - a theater that's less than a mile away but you have to drive to it because there's no way to walk from here to there - that's not my idea of city living.
"Nouvelle at Natick" may be a lifestyle that many will find appealing because of the luxury touches and proximity to high-end retail. But unless there are changes to the designs that I've seen to make it less physically isolated from the community surrounding it and offer more than numerous ways to spend your money shopping and eating, it's still very much a suburban design.