Despite an expensive PR campaign that included a slick DVD, lots of advertising, multiple mailings, and even free ice cream, residents of Wayland, Massachusetts, rejected a developer’s plans to build a large “town center” retail development during a special town meeting.
Dubbed the “Wayland Town Center,” the project was to include about 200,000 square feet of chain retail with 120 housing units. The stores were to be laid out along a faux “Main Street.”
But residents organized as Wayland Citizens Against Reckless Development argued the project was not a town center, but a shopping center.
They pointed to the roughly 1,300 parking spaces that would surround the development and the very high ratio of store space to housing units. This was not a project meant to serve the town, but to pull in shoppers from a broader region, bringing traffic and higher police and infrastructure costs to Wayland.
“What we will end up with is a fancy, perhaps well-designed, upscale shopping mall, whose chic stores are owned by post office boxes in Rangoon,” wrote one resident in a letter to the editor. “[Wayland's] existing businesses are wonderful examples of establishments that provide needed goods and services and, just as important, are run by the people who own them.”
The Wayland Planning Board agreed, advising voters to reject the project. The Select Board (i.e., City Council), meanwhile, endorsed the proposal, citing financial benefits that opponents countered would be largely absorbed in the form of higher public costs.
Similar “town center” and “lifestyle center” projects are being proposed and developed across the country. Although sold as mixed use, walkable community centers, most are little more than regional shopping centers styled to evoke traditional downtowns and neighborhood business districts. They are only nominally mixed use and, while they have a “pedestrian” look, most are located near major highways and designed to pull shoppers from an area much larger than the immediate “neighborhood.”