March 23, 2007

Framingham “Visioning Workshop” in the Works for April 17

The Planning Board will host a "Visioning Workshop" on April 17 where citizens can add comments to work on the town's master plan, focusing on long-range issues such as congestion and development, according to the MetroWest Daily News. There are no details yet about time or place.

While I like the concept, I'm hoping it's more useful than the last one of these I went to, where people were assigned to groups on one issue only, that lasted quite awhile, and then we had to hear everyone else's reports and vote with "dots" on the issues we thought most important.

I don't need to sit in a workshop for three hours to offer my input on what I think is important:

* Improved streetscape, designed for enjoyment by humans on foot and not merely for vehicles. For downtown, it's especially crucial to change the streetscape immediately around the train station and create a compelling corridor for people to go on foot from the train to nearby businesses; ditto for new housing being built.

* Walkability, so people can park once and then walk from place to place, instead of having to take their cars a quarter of a mile from one destination to another because it's too dangerous or off-putting to go on foot.

* Some vision of what downtown should be like. If we there to be a retail district, do something to attract specific types of retail/entertainment to certain blocks, creating a critical mass of a place you'd like to walk around, instead of being so happy that any business (insurance, medical, bank) would take space.

* Some care about neighborhoods besides downtown. Framingham is a physically large community -- half the square miles of Boston -- and downtown isn't even centrally located. Framingham needs a model like Newton's, with some care and feeding of its neighborhood centers as well as downtown. For example, we shouldn't give up on plans to rebuild the Saxonville branch library, since it had unanimous Board of Selectmen support and 60% approval from Town Meeting.

I'm quite sure a flood of others will be talking about things like crime, concentration of social services, and integrating the immigrant communities into our social fabric (on the latter, I still think it would be cool to create a walking tour map with explainers of ethnic Framingham). But without streetscape improvements, which few people seem to talk about, you really do reduce community livability.

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