Thursday, March 4, 2010

Where is Downtown Garwood?

It's a great question for residents, visitors, planners, and government leaders alike. Where is the heart of Downtown Garwood? Where is the center of the town's commerce? What section of town embodies the borough's small neighborhood feel of intimate shops and markets carrying necessities for locals?

Where can residents walk to shopping and eating options?

Forget the strip malls.

After some research, and the application of some good old fashioned common sense, the answer is clear. The center of Downtown is the corner of South Avenue and Center Street, a block south of the Garwood Train Station.

And despite poor planning by government which allowed a parking lot to take up 1 of the 4 critical corners, the important intersection manages to pulse, albeit slowly, with the feel of a small neighborhood's Downtown. The corner has active businesses at 3 of its corners- the Station Bar and Grill (northeast), the BBQ joint (southeast), and the fitness center (northwest).

But, from reviewing the town's master plan and observing it's current building patterns, it appears this corner may not be viewed as the center of town by the people who matter most: the town planners.

Currently, much of the focus for new or redevelopment sites are away from this intersection- most notably the lofts/senior housing mixed-use development on North Avenue and Chestnut. The town may be working against itself by allowing a development of walkable Downtown style shops so far away from the town's center.

Garwood doesn't have to look far to see two excellent examples of Downtowns that work and are relevant to the surrounding area- Westfield and Cranford. Both of those towns have commercial hearts that are condensed, connected by sidewalks, and offer actual amenities for residents.

Garwood has designated the Northwest corner of South and Center as a potential Transit Oriented Development site, but right now it's still the giant Casale factory. But, the town needs to be sure its T.O.D doesn't become the giant white elephant that the massive Cranford Crossing has become in the east.

If Garwood wants to remake its Downtown it needs to refocus its sights on it's historically significant center instead of abandoning it. Center Street and South Avenue is the Commercial Heart of the Industrial Center of Union County, and it deserves some attention.

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