A Planner Lives Without A Car!

Gasp!  How on earth can a planner understand his or her city if they don’t have a car?  We’ll, one at least is trying.

How much different would Lexington be if our leaders and planners tried to get around by bike and foot?  This is why our city is so oppressive to everyone but drivers.  Perhaps it’s time to demand that out city planners have a bike to work day, at least.

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It takes an urban village

Planning firm seeks to recast Lowell as a place where you can live without a car

By Alex Beam, Globe Columnist  |  April 16, 2010

As goes the Redneck Riviera, so goes Lowell.

The Lowell Plan, a nonprofit corporation responsible for charting the city’s future, has hired a leading New Urbanist planning firm, Jeff Speck and Associates, to revamp its downtown. Belmont native Speck, his wife, and their 21-month-old son have temporarily relocated to the Mill City, where they are living in a refurbished mill loft on the Merrimack River, without a car. “There is no substitute for living in a place and experiencing the daily life to see where its strengths and weaknesses are,’’ Speck says. “Living downtown without a car is what the ideal future Lowell resident should be able to do.’’

New Urbanism is an anti-suburban architectural and planning ideology that seeks to promote “livable density’’ — my buzzword, not theirs — by remaking cities in an urban village model, where people can walk to work, to shop, and to recreation. Controversial New Urbanist showcases include the Disney Co.’s planned community, Celebration, and Seaside, Fla., a huge resort on the aforementioned “Riviera.’’ (The movie “The Truman Show’’ was filmed at Seaside) The revamped Providence downtown — walkable, livable, enjoyable — epitomizes New Urbanist ideals.

Speck grew up in a house designed by a Walter Gropius apprentice named Edward Diehl, and attended Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. He worked for 10 years for Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, the high priest and priestess of New Urbanism, and co-wrote the influential “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream’’ with them. “The city and the National Park Service have done great work here in Lowell,’’ Speck says. “But there are still key parts of downtown that can be better connected. For instance, they haven’t fully taken advantage of the experience of the canals. This is America’s Venice but they don’t really know it.’’

Lowell Plan director Jim Cook, who hired Speck, says the downtown is already adding housing units and attracting new retailers. “It is becoming a real solid neighborhood, and that is forcing a change in everything from streets to sidewalks,’’ Cook says. “It’s got a 24/7 life that it didn’t have five or six years ago. Hopefully [Speck’s work] will put some definition to that. It’s important to have a fresh set of eyes here.’’

“I think of Lowell as a city-state,’’ Speck said. “I don’t think of it as a suburb of Boston, or even related to Boston. It wasn’t created because of Boston, and it has the potential to be more self-reliant than a lot of other Boston suburbs. I think a lot of the future residents will be laptoppers who could commute to Boston, but don’t have to do it every day. They can have a better life here for a lot less money.’’

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