May 20, 2008

The ‘Vacation Test’

I wrote awhile ago about the "postcard test" -- if you'd buy a postcard of a streetscape, it's a good measure that it's likely to be a livable, pedestrian-friendly place.

Now, upon returning from a two-week holiday, I'd like to offer up a corollary: the "vacation test": Is your community a place where someone would want to spend some free time?

Of course, not every town can be an ocean-front retreat or idyllic mountain resort. And not every community can be a place where out-of-towners want to spend a week.

But if your town isn't a place where someone would want to spend even half a day, finding something to enjoy and hold their interest, well, what does that say about it as an appealing place to live beyond your own private space? True quality of life requires quality shared public space along with one's own private home.

After spending some time overseas earlier this month, in towns that are so pretty, compact and walkable, it's clear that this is a much lower priority in much of America than, say, many countries in Europe.

In Framingham, along with our largely pedestrian-hostile but regionally appealing shopping (Rte. 9) and eateries, movies and arts center, we're fortunate to have the botanical jewel Garden in the Woods. I was there over the weekend, and it was definitely attracting a crowd from well beyond the town's borders. With so many things in full bloom and beautiful walking paths, it definitely passed the vacation test as someplace you'd want to enjoy on a day off. Callahan State Park is another.

However, our neighborhoods could use even more public space where it would be so pleasant to while away an afternoon, outsiders would be drawn there as well as locals.


  1. Natick probably scores better than Framingham on the vacation test, with the South Natick waterfalls, the Broadmoor Audubon area, and the increasingly interesting downtown.

    And Sudbury too, with the Wayside Inn area, the Historic/shopping District on Rt. 20, including the nice little library, and the various wildlife areas near the river.

    A great resource is, which lets you find how walkable your community is.

  2. I'm with you on Europe, Sharon, so many walkable cities and towns they make it look easy!

    Most of my vacations are planned in places that are walkable. When I went to San Francisco several years ago for the first time, I was in heaven, despite the hills!

    A pleasant surprise on my honeymoon two years ago was Springdale, Utah, a completely walkable town just outside of Zion National Park. We could walk from our hotel to the park entrance, and hop a shuttle bus to all of the different hiking trails. At the end of the day we could walk out of the park and into restaurants, pubs, and stores. The only time we used the car in three days there was to arrive and depart. :-)

    BTW, another local destination that gets many out of towners is the Nobscot Boy Scout Reservation. The main entrance is just over the Framingham line in Sudbury, but I can easily walk to the trails there from my home in Nobscot. On the south side of Framingham I know a lot of people are enjoying Cushing/Tercentennial Park - dog walkers, runners, roller bladers, cyclists, etc.

  3. You're right, Nobscot reservation is another place that paces the vacation test. And I agree that there are other communities around that do better on the vacation test (especially Concord, which is an international draw).

    More than half our time in Europe, we didn't use a car at all, we took trains (or ferries) from one city to another, and easily walked from the train station to our hotels, and then from our hotels all over the place. It's the difference between expecting that people will rely on public transit as their primary means of transportation, vs. supplying it grudgingly but still expecting that most people use private vehicles. IMHO New York City is the only real exception in the U.S. in terms of useful public transportation, since it's the only city in America where more than half of the residents don't take their cars to work.