Small Town Seeks Character

"The old Shurfine Market building will be demolished as the first step in Tyngsborough’s plans to redevelop its town center. (Photos By Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)" www.boston.com

"The old Shurfine Market building will be demolished as the first step in Tyngsborough’s plans to redevelop its town center. (Photos By Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)" http://www.boston.com

Towns all across America have started to realize they have very little character or sense of place. Suburbanization has left many different areas different feeling places- most notably, a few acre sized lots of suburban sprawling homes may collectively have enough land to create a neighborhood or cultural center, but instead take up lots of relatively unused land. Although towns and houses with a great expanse of land may adequately allow for some people to efficiently live on their property (i.e. farmers), it may ultimately hurt them in the long run by not having a nearby main street. Tourism does not exist to places that do not have cultural hubs, so any town without a main stopping point or center is missing out on tourism opportunities. Going for milk becomes a 20 minute drive instead of a 5 minute walk. Without a main street or economic area, many people will also be forced to drive between their several destinations of needs, and instead of having an option of several reasonable methods of transport (most importantly equitable and ecologically responsible methods like walking, cycling, and public transit).

Thankfully, towns like Tyngsborough, Massachusetts are realizing the disadvantages of having little of a town center.

Right now, points of interest in the center of town include the Littlefield Library, Winslow School, and Old Town Hall – all of which are vacant. Municipal business is conducted at the new town hall/library, located in a remote wooded area away from the center. In Tyngsborough, as some observers put it, there’s simply no “there’’ there.

“There is no ‘there’ ” is a great way to describe the decentralization of cities, boroughs, and small towns. In all likeliness, small towns like Tyngsborough were settled because of a specific reason, such as a stopping point for travelers in the days before cars, or because a train station was a drop point for supplies. Places like these have fallen into near ghost towns and have no cultural center as a result of the continuous disinvestment from the train infrastructure and the advancement of technology- namely cars, which virtually destroyed many of these stop over towns overnight.

The obstacle for urban planners is to retain the old historical features and characters of these towns while injecting new locally accepted life in and around. “‘We want to make sure we develop a town center that recognizes the history of the town, along with grasping the culture and the wants of the residents,’ Lemoine said[…] ‘We’ve never had a town center, an identity for a town.'” Community visioning is a tool that could be used to help translate the physical descriptions from the general public and place all those ideas into a master plan.

“It would be nice to have a place of social gathering, a coffee shop, a breakfast place, an eatery where people can congregate and support their local businesses,’’ said selectman Richard Lemoine. “A center of town, whether it’s just a few shops, a green space, a bandstand, something that recognizes the significance of a community, every community strives for one. That’s what we’re striving for.’’

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, VERTICES LLC

Material drawn from Boston.com: http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2009/07/16/municipalities_seek_identity_in_town_centers/?page=1

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