Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I'll have a small decaf with that

I confess that a little cloud of depression descends over me every time I drive this block of Washington Street. I mean, this is the gateway to our town. This is what people see before they see the river, the Main Street, the university. Can't we do better?

Looks like we just did.

These fabulous trees were just planted on Washington Street outside the new Dunkin Donuts building, between Walgreens and the Marvelous Car Wash. These aren't the meek little trees that are typically planted in town -- the ones that look like they were chosen because they'll never grow big enough to challenge the phone wires. These trees look like they plan to stay awhile.

This part of town is traditionally called "Gasoline Alley", but can you imagine if every landowner on this strip followed this example and planted signficant trees in the tree lawn?

Why, it would look England!

Even the building is a cut above the usual strip-mall box. I asked Director of Planning Bill Warner how this much-improved design came about. He gave all the credit to the Design Review and Preservation Board, which, although it is only advisory to the Planning and Zoning Commission, looks at the design for every commercial building in these areas, and goes back and forth with the developers about their plans. I have long wished that this Board had more authority, and stricter guidelines about what kind of materials they require from the developers (and political support when they push for better design!) I can't count how many times I've heard someone in town say "How come the fast food restaurants in Freeport, Maine look so nice, and ours don't?" Well, the answer has to do with how much teeth the local design review has. And of course, how much extra a developer is willing to do before they just move on to the next town.

If you accept that we are going to have car-oriented development in town (a debate for another time), this is a better solution than naked concrete cubes at the back of a sea of asphalt. Many thanks to the developer and design review for thinking outside the Box. To my Eye, this is a step in the right direction.


Anonymous said...

I hope those trees flourish! They add so much to a car and pavement heavy landscape. There is nothing wrong with looking good!

joseph getter said...

Such plantings and other aspects of good town planning are so important to creating a great atmosphere for Middletown residents to live, work, and play. I hope we can encourage and/or mandate more such things in future development projects here.

As it happens, I read this Eye post while out one day, then that evening I drove right past the trees. Along with me was a friend who had just flown in from the far side of the planet where she lives.

Having read here about the trees, I commented on them and we had a brief but interesting conversation about how ugly this stretch of Washington is -- yes, it is just about the first thing a visitor to Middletown will see -- and how the trees help a lot to improve things.

Without my quoting the Eye, my friend noted that the Washington St. gas stations could be anywhere, but the trees make it feel like New England.

Preservation said...

Our blog is right up your alley. We are trying to get street trees planted in Wethersfield, CT. We want to replace the ones that have come down due to storm damage, pests, construction, etc.

Come visit!