February 10, 2008

Reversing sprawl in Hudson

The Boston Globe last week gave an approving nod to Hudson's Adaptive Reuse Overlay District zoning, which makes it easier for the owners of old mills downtown to revamp the buildings for mixed commercial/residential use.

The zoning change will not qualify for subsidies under the state's 40R Smart Growth program. That program requires rather high density levels for developments near mass transit. Many communities are leery of those high density requirements, and with good reason. "The smaller size project was more appropriate to our needs," Hudson Executive Assistant Paul Blazar told the Globe.

That's the right approach. No statewide program with a single density level can be a good fit for every community, and 40R probably make more sense for more urban neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the Globe points out,  "the town has taken other steps to make its downtown more appealing. The 5-mile long Assabet River Rail Trail connects the downtown with Marlborough, and has become a popular recreation site for walkers, bicyclists, and skaters."

Although I've never lived in Hudson, I was a reporter there for several years and am familiar with its compact downtown. Like Framingham's, Hudson's downtown was theoretically walkable but the streetscape and street crossings discouraged park-once, walk-to-many strolling. Plus, there wasn't much pedestrian street life, which more downtown residences could help fix.  Without an appealing streetscape, new residences won't do much for pedestrian activity, which is why in Hudson now, "a walkway along the canal is lined with period light posts, which have also been installed along the town's Main Street," the Globe notes. "The town has secured facade-improvement grants for several of its downtown buildings. Businesses themselves have also chipped in, helping to landscape the rotary in the town's center and installing flower boxes along an alley connecting Main Street and South Street."

Without improvements like this, no one wants to walk around. These are things Framingham must consider along with zoning for things like condos at the old Dennison plant. The way the downtown streetscape appears now, few people would want to walk from Dennison to restaurants and shops just a few blocks away.

1 comment:

  1. Another nice feature of downtown Hudson is that the Assabet River Rail Trail passes right through it. I lived in Marlborough for a few months last summer and riding my bike from downtown Marlborough to downtown Hudson, and then poking around the streets there was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. There's a great place for lunch, dinner, or a drink (The Horseshoe Pub) close by, and a nice coffee shop as well.

    Hudson is very much a downtown in transition, like Framingham, and they're making some good progress, perhaps because they don't have the malls so close by as competition. Hopefully the funds that Framingham is getting for some downtown improvements will yield some dividends for the streetscape and general ambiance and usability.