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?

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