I’m in Massachusetts for a couple of weeks visiting some old haunts from my misspent youth. I lived on Cape Cod back in the 1980’s and I haven’t been back for years. The place hasn’t changed much. It’s as beautiful as always.
I thought it would be instructive to dissect a traditional town by examining how it measures up to modern land use patterns. What if we attempted to “fix” what’s “wrong” with an old New England town by apply modern Department of Transportation standards, building codes, and zoning regulations?
First, the streets are all far too narrow for fire trucks to rush to the scene of a conflagration. These streets are a menace to public safety and put life and property in peril. Some of these streets are actually paved (if you can call it that) with crushed sea shells and pebbles! It’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Just look at the fire station. What kind of toy fire truck could possibly fit in such a tiny structure? I’m told this is one of the oldest continuously operated stations in the Northeast. Translation: woefully outdated and inadequate. How small is the fire marshal’s dick if this is the best he could arm wrestle from the municipal council? (Given the “progressive” nature of the local culture the fire marshal is probably a lady.) It’s as if the town looked at its substandard street grid and decided to find equally substandard fire equipment to fit it. I don’t understand how a single building still stands after centuries with this archaic emergency response infrastructure.
Not only do the narrow streets make timely modern emergency response impossible, but ordinary vehicular traffic is forced to thread its way through throngs of pedestrians. Cars crawl along at a snail’s pace. There are so many obstructions that commerce must be negatively impacted. How else could customers find their way to retail establishments? And there is zero parking! In order to boost the economic prospects of this town the streets must be made much wider to permit rapid movement and efficient automobile flow. Ample free parking must also be provided. Otherwise no one will want to shop or dine in this location.
The existing shops are all nonconforming and physically too small. None of the desirable job-creating and sales-tax-base-enhancing national corporate chain retailers want anything to do with these kinds of buildings. They lack the minimum square footage of interior space and are devoid of required surface parking. These older towns are relegating themselves to local pissant “mom and pop” shops when they could be attracting serious name brand players and real money.
Tucked away in nearly every back yard are ridiculously small rental units. The town is infested with them. These kinds of tiny rental accommodations are well documented to attract an undesirable, high crime, low income element to any community. It’s crucial that these be outlawed in order to stabilize the neighborhood.
On the one hand it’s entirely reasonable to shrug and walk away from such a place. Honestly, normal people don’t even live here. It’s mostly seasonal residents, short term vacationers, retirees, and various fringe elements of society. But on the other hand there are signs of hope. In a few pockets, mostly out on the edge of town, are newer more up-to-date buildings that do manage to sufficiently accommodate the needs of modern commerce and conform to contemporary transportation and safety standards. The real challenge is to find creative ways to gradually dismantle the older parts of town and replace these outdated relics with the best practices that we all know work better. With enough federal and state money, aggressive code enforcement, and zoning regulations this place can be dragged kicking and screaming at least into the late twentieth century.