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It’s Just a Mall, People!

There’s been a lot of hoopla recently over an addition to the suburban Natick Mall. The renovation was so extensive it even resulted in a foofy new name: The Natick Collection.

In addition to the added shops (all high end: Tiffany, Nodrstrom, Nieman Marcus, etc…) a residential component was incorporated. Yep, luxury condominiums are being built with direct access to the mall. I’d been curious to scope this redevelopment out and last night I had the perfect chance: I needed to pick up a gift for Randy and the only store in Massachusetts was, you guessed it, located near that mall. Excuse me, near the “collection.”

First off, this 17 mile journey took nearly an hour as a result of traffic (there is no train access). How people drive to work in this everyday is beyond me. WHY somebody would do this is an even better question. I mean, at least on a train you can relax and read. And don’t give me crap about how trains are always delayed and such. Even if the train is delayed, you can still sit in a climate controlled environment and read/rest. Besides, based on what I witnessed on a typical Wednesday (in perfect weather) you’re going to be delayed as a result of vehicular traffic, too.

OK – that’s not the point of this thread.

So, I arrived at the mall and parked in the new wing. It is nice, I’ll give you that. But with all of the swirling rooflines and white on-white (with occasional wood) color schemes, I can’t help but wonder how dated this will look in 10-15 years. I mean, I’m sure the people at the Liberty Tree Mall were impressed when that first opened, too. But this new wing is so different, that there isn’t much one can do to “update” it without completely removing the ceiling. It also doesn’t blend with the existing mall at all. The new wing is all curves and open spaces while the old wing still has the standard linear mall walkway with annoying kiosks in the middle. You can tell the new wing screams “affluence” (Tiffany, etc…), while the original mall screams “suburbia” (Sears, JC Penney, Spencers). There really is no successful transition.

But the component I don’t get is the condos. I’m all for new urbanism. I’m all for mixed-use development where people can live without the need for a car. Hell, I think I feel more strongly about such things than any of my friends. Any sort of development that reduces the need for more automobiles is smart-development.

Or so I thought.

Nouvelle at Natick (the name for the condo portion) is weird. I mean, I can understand city dwellers wanting to live above/attached to a mall. For example, there are residences at Boston’s Prudential Center and Copley Place shopping malls. I’d love to live in such a location. You have easy access to the mall, plus you’re in the heart of EVERYTHING the city has to offer (Back Bay, South End, shops, restaurants, parks, supermarket). Hell, even suburban ones (like Mashpee Commons, designed as a small village with streets, shops, post office…even a church) can be successful.

If you lived at the Natick Mall (I mean, the Natick Collection) you’d have access to….

…a suburban mall.

There is no supermarket attached. There are no pedestrian streets around you. There is no onsite train service to offices or the city. It’s surrounded by parking and a million other strip malls. And a recent article in the Boston blog had a future tenant raving about her ability to watch the traffic on the Mass Turnpike. Wait…that’s a selling point?


  1. Comment by Lise on December 13, 2007 11:07 am

    Comment on the train – au contraire. First of all, there are ridiculous delays, for multiple reasons (of course a big part is simply not much money is allocated for public transit in this country..) – and the new digital signs sometimes have that info & sometimes not. And that doesn’t even matter when you are on the train and it just sits inexplicably for 10, 15, 20 minutes in the middle of nowhere and then just starts up again. There are lots of surburban and southern/central Mass town that don’t have any train stations reasonably nearbye. Climate controlled – are you kidding me!!!!! All winter we have freezing air blasting on us (sometimes starts as warm but it doesn’t last). Frequent no or insufficient AC in the hot summer days. And they’re notvery comfortable in general for a ride of any lenght. And if you take it every day you have to pay for parking in most of the stations – not cheap. And neither is the train. And they don’t run frequently enough, even at rush hour, on many lines (from where I get on the last train in the morning is … 7:20!). So….you can see why that’s not enticing to commuters. And let’s not even get into the recent fire under my train, my train pushing the one ahead that died…… Re: mall. What a stupid idea to build something that doesn’t go together right along w/ the exising one! But the whole thing, including condos, sounds like typical American surburbia (wanna-be city).

  2. Comment by snarl on December 13, 2007 11:15 am

    Well, I can only speak of my experiences on the commuter rail – and the majority has been good. I lived in the suburbs (Salem) for 3 years and had few problems with delays or faulty HVAC considering I rode it 5-6 days/week.

    And living in the North End I took the commuter rail (granted, just one stop) to work daily for 3+ years, also with no problems. Though, I’ve heard recently that October had the highest number of train delays on record.

    I will grant you (as a result of funding) the train schedules aren’t always ideal. The Salem line had an 8PM train…and then not another for nearly 2 hours during the week. That sucked when I took classes at night.

    But still, I’d rather take a train and deal with the occasional delay (and my delays were rare….and even those were rarely longer than 5-10 minutes) than to sit in traffic with aggressive Massholes.

  3. Comment by Lise on December 13, 2007 11:52 am

    Sorry, honey, the train from North station to Porter doesn’t count. And for awhile now the delays are not occasional – they are constant. If you get on at the beginning station or 2 less so, but as you go along they grow. My line is bad but not the worst. And the lack of trains is a serious problem. For me to get to work by 9 & get to trains station I have to get up at 5:45 am. If I drive, 7. To drive it’s one hour, 10 mins. Total train time w/ getting to it & from it to HLS – 2 hours 20 mins – and more if, as is almost every day, the train actually takes longer than the schedule. And I even live a relatively short distance (using a highway) from the train station and only have to get from Porter to HLS on the other end. Hence, while I’d like for a variety of reasons to take a train daily, it’s just ludicrous for me to do so. There, should we put on gloves & duke it out now? ;)-

  4. Comment by snarl on December 13, 2007 12:01 pm

    OOOH – a debate. FUN!

    No need for boxing gloves…unless you’re using them to beat up the environment that you’re destroying by driving everywhere! hehe

  5. Comment by Lise on December 13, 2007 1:23 pm

    I’m not driving anywhere! Car’s not on the road – so there! 😉 AND I live in the freakin’ middle of the state. I walk or bike to the store. Only car is my neighbor taking me to the train. I’m so green I’m glowing.

  6. Comment by Jeff on December 13, 2007 1:25 pm

    Moe and I have gone to the Natick Collection exactly once since it opened. We walked around and said “geez…looks nice…” and basically walked back out. We didn’t shop there all that often before they expanded, I doubt we’ll be there more now.

    Speaking of amenities for the condos…I suppose there is a park on the roof of the new mall that you can’t see for the tenants. Of course, that’s probably the only green space you’ll find anywhere near the mall in that area.

  7. Comment by Fred on December 13, 2007 3:24 pm

    Hmm…well, I take the train from Providence most days – have the advantage of end-of-the-line, to be sure, and, yeah, there aren’t enough trains, and, even more annoying, even when the cars are standing-room-only, they’re short on conductors so they close off EMPTY CARS – yeah, there are empty seats – next to scary smelly people, and barely…I’d rather stand, and so would most folks. And, yeah, they’re NEVER on time, but seldom horribly off, and it is better than driving and having to find expensive parking or risk tow/ticket in the city – not least because 128 and the Expressway are now a solid parking lot practically all day long thanks to the rise in suburban office parks – so people cross-suburb-commute as much as anything nowadays. In any case, the train problems are all because the MBTA is completely f*$%#d, as are general attitudes towards rail transit/mass transit in the country – that’s not entirely germane to Karl’s point – it’s INSANE that anyone would want one of those condos, to live in the hellhole of Rte 9 Natick, at vast expense (they ain’t cheap) btw, with no public transit whatever, even as an option – grotesque! It IS close to a Pike exit, and that’s one of the shorter Pike commutes, but I’ve driven that, even at the margins of rush hour, it’s hellacious.

    And the mall IS silly and WILL look dated in no time – pseudo-Gehry crap – welcome to Mr. Bush’s shallow consumerist police-state paradise….ever see Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”?! We SO live there already…yet, even they had trains!

  8. Comment by J.P. on December 13, 2007 10:56 pm

    I guess the York Steakhouse is gone from Natick Mall. Besides getting fat, I used to shop at Jordan Marsh and pick up new Swatches (Jaykers, that makes me sound really old).

    I always liked that retro groovy thing next door over the line Framingham. That outside mall thingee, but I don’t remember the name and it’s long gone now.

  9. Comment by snarl on December 14, 2007 8:52 am

    That one in Framingham…wasn’t that “Shopper’s World”? I thought that was the oldest “modern” shopping mall in New England (it’s gone now).

  10. Comment by Randy on December 14, 2007 10:56 am

    Fred your comment may be the longest sentence I have seen in years! Probably since my first year of college and had to read fellow students essays! EEK. At least yours makes sense!

  11. Comment by Fred on December 14, 2007 12:26 pm

    Heh heh – yeah, Randy, I’m known for my run-ons. I edit them out of more formal documents, but this kind of stuff I do stream-of-consciousness…

    Karl – I remember Shopper’s World well! It was pretty decayed and bad even by our childhood – but was one of the first two or three modern suburban malls in the US (I think one of the Minnesota “Dales” – familiar to “Prairie Home Companion” listeners – was the actual first). There were, of course, earlier urban arcades and even pre-WWII planned/themed suburban shopping districts, but this was much closer to what we now recognize as a mall, albeit open to the sky and weather in the middle (remember when the Pru was like that, and a total bleak windtunnel?!). By the 1980s, Shopper’s World was pretty clapped-out; hadn’t been built for duration, but if you ever see the original Ezra Stoller (I think) architectural glamor photos when it was new in the 1950s – particularly the night shots of Jordan Marsh – that big dome originally ‘floated’ on a complete ring of plate glass like something from the Jetsons – the bricked it in over the years and ruined the effect – WOW! Of course, I just remember peeling paint, warped walls, rust, and sickly reindeer pissing themselves in a pen at Christmastime…sad…

    But it seemed more REAL and honest than these incredibly contrived corporate nirvanas where even the way the air smells is engineered…sigh…but I’m jes’ gettin’ old!
    (Statler, or maybe Waldorf, up in the balcony…)

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