For years we’ve been hearing how Malta was going to create a “downtown,” and thinking it was a joke. Other suburbs have tried the same thing, designating an area along a major road for more concentrated development, putting in some sidewalks, benches and maybe a gazebo among the fast-food joints and big boxes, and expecting people to want to be there. Malta appeared headed in that direction, but a new study gives it a legitimate shot at creating something like a real town center.
The existing plan, adopted in 2004, calls for the “downtown” to extend nearly two miles down Route 9, a distance that the study group, Synthesis Architects of Schenectady and River Street Planning of Troy, rightly considers too much. Nobody is going to walk that far, especially if the zone consisted largely of the usual commercial suburban development. “It’s kind of a Wolf Road downtown,” said one of River Street’s principal partners — which says it all.
Instead the study suggests focusing high-density development in an area about a quarter-mile long, near the intersection of Routes 9 and 67 and Dunning Street. That distance is walkable, it says.
But, of course, the key is having places that people want to come to, arranged in a way that encourages them to walk between them. The study’s authors know this. They recommend encouraging businesses that are public gathering places, like coffee shops and restaurants, as well as unique local retail businesses like clothing, hardware and bookstores. These businesses would be located close together, their fronts along the sidewalk, which invites walking. And rather than each having its own little piece of green space, in the typical suburban style, there would be a few small-scale public parks.
Whether this qualifies as a “downtown” or not, it sounds like a place where people might actually want to be: a chance to have a “there” there in Malta.