Here’s a little fact that represents Framingham in a nutshell: The least expensive home on the market recently was a condo for $105,000, while the most expensive was a 14-room Shingle-style house for $5.9 million.
You’ve got it all in Framingham — from the making-do to the well-to-do and a whole lot in between.
The cultural and economic diversity means it sometimes seems like there’s more than one Framingham. The south side — that is, the area south of Route 9 — has its fair share of social service agencies helping the poor, while the north side has rolling hills and miles of trails.
Members of the “Framingham First’’ campaign, which seeks to change the town’s form of government to a city, bemoans the fact that only 7 percent of registered voters turned out for a recent election. On the other hand, there are all sorts of groups — for Brazilian-Americans, for HAM radio operators, for artists, for gardeners — that suggest a healthy level of community involvement.
Some of the town’s most enthusiastic boosters are committed to the revitalization of downtown, including the private Framingham Downtown Renaissance and the town’s Community and Economic Development Division, partly through its Choose Framingham campaign.
In October, townspeople overwhelmingly approved the creation of the Central Business District, centered on the downtown commuter rail station, with new zoning rules that allow high-density residential units and ease up on parking requirements for businesses. The downtown rotary is being removed, new lights and landscaping are being added, and several developers already have expressed interest in the district, says Marianne Iarossi, the town’s senior planner of community and economic development.
“Downtowns need that critical mass of people. We want people to come to downtown, but it helps to have people who live here,’’ Iarossi says. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, but it’s something we hope to see in the next few years.’’
Richard Panza, owner of Panza Shoes, one of downtown’s mainstays, is hopeful. When his father opened the store in 1944, he had to settle for an upstairs space because downtown was teeming with businesses, among them two dress shops, a Woolworth’s, and a J.C. Penney. Panza Shoes now occupies a storefront.
“They’re trying very hard to bring business into this area,’’ Panza says, “but retail is struggling because of online sales. Is it going to work? Eventually it will. Someday.’’
The number of languages — Portuguese, Russian, Mandarin, Hebrew, Urdu, and Gujarati among them — spoken in Framingham Public Schools
The year the original Shoppers World, the first shopping mall east of the Rockies, opened. On Route 9, its signature feature was the Jordan Marsh dome.
The population as of the 2010 Census, making it the town with the largest in the state
The number of residents between the ages of 30 and 62 originally enrolled, in 1948, in the Framingham Heart Study, which aims to identify risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The study has recruited descendants of the original participants, as well as a more diverse cross section of townspeople.
Pro & Con
This thoroughfare is a mixed blessing. It offers an abundance of shopping and great access to the Massachusetts Turnpike, Interstate 495, and Route 128, but the traffic can be brutal.
The town has a lot to offer: the Danforth Art museum and school, the New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden in the Woods, Performing Arts Center of MetroWest, Fountain Street Studios, Amazing Things Arts Center, and MetroWest Medical Center. There are also several trails and a commuter rail stop.
Though it appears ready to relaunch, downtown is still struggling.
Vanessa Parks is a freelance writer in Central Massachusetts. Send comments to [email protected]