Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Work/Live/Play - Maynard

Struck as I was by the recent find of an aerial photo of the mill from the 1930s with no parking lots, I wondered if Maynard is again becoming a town for people who want to work, live and play in the same place. Of course, the reason back then was the dearth of car ownership. The reason now is the realization that every minute taken by commuting is a minute stolen from quality of life. Realtors tell us location, location, location. And now, websites such as Zillow, Trulia and City-Data help potential buyers parse exactly what location means.

Business in the mill
Work: Without a broad mix of employment opportunities, cities and towns have no reason to continue to exist. This is especially obvious in the decay of one-company towns. Examples can be as small as New England’s once-upon-a-time mill towns, but also as large as what has caused the median house sale price in the city of Detroit to be under $50,000. Old rules dictated that cities developed around seaports and navigable rivers, sites rich in natural resources, or in places where falling water could power mills. In time, infrastructure that contributed to creating or supporting cities grew to include canals, railroads, roads and airports. And as the nature of work became more cerebral, cities with good universities attract companies that required hyper-educated employees. Think Boston or San Francisco.    

Apartment building construction, fall 2014, next to McDonald's
restaurant. A dentists' clinic occupies the first floor.
Live: The options are few: don’t work, live where you work, or live in a “bedroom suburb,” i.e., sleep here, work there.  Critical for rebirth after a company has departed from a one-company town is a mix of old and new housing, owned or rented, at affordable prices, near enough to the new places where people will be working. Right now, Maynard is the low-cost hole in the middle of a high cost donut. It attracts renters and first home buyers. Because the homes are small and on small lots it also attracts empty nest downsizers who do not want to leave the area.

Safety is a critical issue for any “live here?” consideration. Schools matter even if there are no children in the family, as quality of schools helps drive home values. Commuting distances to where the jobs are matter. Having a vibrant arts, music and food culture is icing on the cake. One big advantage for Maynard is walkability. Once downtown, which for many is just a short walk, everything is a short walk. I was recently in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, where the median house price is over one million dollars and nothing was walkable.

John A. Crowe Park. Named after Reverend Crowe, Pastor at 
St. Bridget's Parish from 1894-1905. He was instrumental in 
securing the land for the park,and served as its first superintendent. 
He was present at the dedication of the park in 1915.
Play: From bar crawl to nature walk, communities that offer a variety of recreational options are more attractive than those that do not. A partial list: playgrounds, playing fields, woodland trails, a rail trail (!), theater, music, art, dance, restaurants and bars. There should also be opportunities to gather at public places, where one might run into friends and meet new people: a farmers’ market, concerts in the park… Having a variety of what-to-do options when living in a town that has a retail center are not new to this century. Maynard used to have a bandstand, more than one movie theater, billiard parlors, bowling lanes, a roller skating rink, ice skating on a man-made pond next to Glenwood Cemetery, Vose Pond for swimming…

Maynard is months away from the official opening of the Assabet River Rail Trail (there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony), which adds a walking and biking (and skateboarding) means of connecting the edges of the town to the center. It is an interesting observation that the Hudson portion of ARRT was completed ten years ago, and coincidently or not, downtown Hudson has had a significant increase in vitality. Looking forward, the same may happen here.

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