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Natick, Massachusetts: “Strong Town”

2011 July 8
by dan bertolet

< Natick Center >

Vacation travels recently brought me through Natick, MA, a town of 33,000 located 15 miles east of Boston. The Boston suburbs are littered with similar small New England towns, but to me, Natick’s downtown stands out as one of the area’s best. Natick is the kind of place that advocates for “Strong Towns” drool over. Today, Natick is a highly auto-dependent town, but the solid downtown bones will help it adapt more successfully than most suburbs to the challenges of the coming decades.

 

< The First Congregational Church of Natick provides a dramatic visual anchor for the downtown >

< Natick Town Common provides a useable central open space that is well programmed with events >

< All the right stuff for a great downtown streetscape: buildings that front the sidewalk, small independent retail, ample sidewalks, varied paving, street trees, diagonal parking >

< Clark's Block, like much of the center, was built in 1874 after the "great fire," creating a unified, highly imageable downtown with a strong sense of place >

< Classic 4-story mixed-use >

< Small independent businesses adapt the spaces in wide variety of buildings >

< Historic baseball factory converted to condos in 1989 >

< Just outside the core, new condos adjacent to the historic Casey's Diner >

< Commuter rail connects Natick to Boston, 15 miles to the east >

< Street parking costs just 25 cents per hour - Natick's downtown retail has to compete with the Natick Mall and other nearby big box stores with acres of "free" parking >

5 Responses leave one →
  1. James permalink
    July 8, 2011

    I like Natick, too. I think it’s worth mentioning, though, that the town is a little more than its center, which is what you profiled nicely, Dan. Also within the town’s borders are the Natick Mall (or whatever it’s called these days), which is a more upscale Northgate, and South Natick, which is a more Jeffersonian…I dunno, Snoqualmie. Those “villages” in addition to the dissecting Rt.9 (the Aurora Ave meets Bel-Red of greater Boston) creates tension in my mind in Natick Center. Or maybe provincialism rules and those incongruent uses are ignored.

    I think it’s difficult for most Seattlites to understand the built-environmental transitions that can occur when every square mile is incorporated. It’s difficult for me to understand… I suppose, Dan, that you likely know Natick via Rt. 27, while I know it better via Rt. 16 and Speen St. I’ll check it out more closely when I’m there next month, thanks.

    • July 9, 2011

      That kind of incongruence is the norm for most Northeast (and Midwest) metropolitan areas, due to postwar suburbia having been built over an existing suburban skeleton (in some places, such as Philadelphia’s Main Line, dating at least as far back as the Victorian era) or the suburban organism merging previously-discrete metropolitan areas (see, e.g., Providence’s relationship to Boston).

      In fact, to Northeasterners, the extreme congruence, and hence monotony, of Sunbelt and most Western metropolitan areas is just as disorienting as the incongruence you describe in your sense of the Northeast!

      • Jim permalink
        July 13, 2011

        Agreed! I was born and raised in Wisconsin, but have lived in and around Natick for the last 15 years. It was quite an adjustment for me, and my wife finds the midwest VERY odd. :)

  2. August 18, 2011

    Just had this sent to me. Drooling.

    Great work and thanks for the reference.

  3. Jim Lundell permalink
    August 26, 2014

    AAA Southern New England will be mentioning Natick in the My Town column of November Horizons, our member publication. There’s also an online version and now a Facebook page. The column is submitted by members describing the best features of their town. You have a fine photo of the Natick town common, which is mentioned. I’d like your permission to send the photo to my editor for possible use.
    Thanks.

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