April 6, 2009

Life in downtown Framingham this weekend

It was what I called "artists' weekend" in Framingham last weekend, with open studios at Fountain Street downtown and in Saxonville, as well as a free family afternoon at the Danforth Museum. Plus the usual cultural activities at the Amazing Things arts center. And while it's a cliche that artists taking advantage of cheap loft space can help bring vibrancy to a downtown center, well, cliches often become cliches because they speak (some) truth.

I went with a friend Saturday first to Panza Shoes downtown, which was surprisingly bustling; and then to the Fountain Street open house. There's a sizable free parking area at the Fountain Street studio building, and still tough to find a spot there; turnout was strong, and the event larger -- and more enjoyable -- than I expected. We got there around 3 and didn't get to see everything before things closed up at 5.

What was missing, though, was an appealing pedestrian streetscape between destinations like Panza and Fountain Street. There was a ton of auto traffic, but few pedestrians. And foot traffic is key in order to take advantage of multiple attractions and create a critical mass.

Downtown Framingham does have some compelling destinations: Amazing Things, Panza, the Danforth. What it does not yet have is synergy between them, because there are too many unattractive gaps between them. It's not yet a "park once, walk to many" environment. But there's potential. However, people must realize that creating a compelling ambiance for walkers is not a frill; it's essential for the next step of downtown revitalization.