Malden is one of the most diverse small cities in Massachusetts. In the Indian restaurant where I ate home-cooked dal and rice, one of the patrons there told me that students at the local high school hail from over thirty different countries and speak over twenty different languages. Twenty percent of the population is Asian, primarily from China and Vietnam. I passed by at least ten Asian restaurants and juice bars on my walk. An Indian grocer directed me to that Indian restaurant around the corner. I saw women walking down the streets in hijab. I saw other women in saris.
But Somerville had all the basic bare bones to emerge someday as one of the most livable cities – 1) It is one of the most densely populated cities in the country with almost 79,000 people jammed tight into about 4 square miles. (Compare that to our sprawling Worcester with 182,000 people spread out in about 39 square miles) 2) Its extensive public transportation network of subways, trains and buses, allow easy access to Boston, Cambridge and surrounding suburbs. 3) It’s incredibly walk-able with short blocks. The housing stock of predominantly closely packed multiple family dwellings are within easy walking distance to commercial squares where one can find everything from restaurants to service businesses.
It's a hot, sunny August morning and I've dragged my children out of the house early to take the heart-to-hub 8 am train to Boston. Less than a ten minute walk away from South Station, we arrive at the offices of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance. We're here to have an in-depth discussion with the Executive Director, Andre Leroux about the recent changes in Massachusetts zoning laws, new economic development legislation, the importance of mixed income neighborhoods and ways we can create vibrant urban spaces. As a Worcester native who spent his formative years in our city, Andre especially has some keen insights for us.
In the last blog post, we outlined two urban planning models "duking it out" in cities across the country in the age of automobiles and suburbs after World War II. What should our cities look like? What are the ingredients to building a thriving urban ecosystem? Sometimes it's easier to understand the differences between the two models if we take a step away from Worcester and go somewhere else. Today, let's head to two very distinct neighborhoods in Boston. Please observe the two photos down below carefully. Here is question #1: One photo is an example of the Robert Moses Urban Renewal model of development. The other photo highlights the Jane Jacobs Neighborhood Rejuvenation ideal. Can you guess which is which? Question #2: Choose your preference. Where would you rather live or visit?
Yesterday, my son and I went an another urban adventure, visiting the Providence Children's Museum, heading to College Hill for a lunch of Korean bibimbap and then descending to downtown to hunt for the life sized puppets at the Big Nazo Lab on Eddy Street. Some people like to attribute a big revival of Providence's downtown to the Providence Place Mall and Waterfire. I've not been to Waterfire yet but I can say this about the mall. I have absolutely no interest in it. Please explain what is special and revivifying about a mall where all the action is inside and you have to drive and park to get there? You can see all the signs from the highway advertising the national chain tenants, making the mall into an Anytown, USA. However, in trying to find the Nazo Lab, we stumbled upon Providence's cozy art district and I felt I had gone to urban heaven. The whole area screamed out at us, "Get out of your car! Come and explore!"
In order to celebrate the history, architecture, art, and community organizing initiatives that preserve livable urban neighborhoods, volunteer- led neighborhood walks have sprouted in cities across the globe during the first weekend of May, Jane Jacob’s birthday week. Since 2016 is a special celebratory year for Jane Jacob’s 100th birthday, these “Jane’s walks” have proliferated. Over 200 walks in all five boroughs in New York City were held during this past weekend, May 6 – 8. The weather was horrible, rainy, cold, dark, but how could I let this stop me? This was a pilgrimage trip, a way to get inspiration for a year of blogging for “Jane Jacobs in the Woo”.