Collingswood: The Main Street Model


There’s a weird war raging these days. There are people who advocate high rise living and public transit in the urban core to the exclusion of other arrangements. And then there are folks who can’t hold their head up high in church on Sunday if they don’t live on a quarter acre lot out on the far fringe of the metroplex with four cars parked in front of their fully detached home. I always choose the thing in the middle. It’s called a “town”. I’m a Main Street kind of guy.

This is Haddon Avenue in Collingswood, New Jersey. It’s an intact functioning pre World War II Main Street town complete with hardware store, local mom and pop shops, great places to eat, business incubators, post office, public parks, and City Hall. The majority of the buildings are one and two stories tall.

Transit exists in Collingswood in the form of a PATCO train station and bus service, but transit isn’t necessary to travel within Collingswood itself. The train and bus are there to get people from one town center to another. Philadelphia is fifteen minutes away. Once you’re in town you can walk or bike everywhere. That includes the young, the elderly, people with limited physical mobility, the rich, the poor… everyone.

The most affordable apartments are directly above the shops. These are perfect for young adults as well as older people on a fixed income. Both groups enjoy the convenience of nearby shops and activities. As you turn off of Haddon Avenue the commercial buildings transition to residential side streets.

Duplexes nestle up against the commercial corridor and provide moderately priced homes and rental accommodations. These in-between properties work well for couples, empty nesters, and young families on a budget.

A couple of blocks away are fully detached homes on larger lots. Collingswood is built in such a way that a person could go from childhood to old age and find a comfortable place to live at an appropriate price point within a half mile.

Schools and public parks are located right in the residential neighborhoods.

All levels of employment from a first teen aged service job to an advanced career in Center City Philadelphia (fifteen minutes away by train) are available.

This arrangement satisfies nearly all the metrics for both of the warring factions. A traditional Main Street town is neither sprawl nor a hyper dense concrete city. It’s economical as well as ecological. It’s beautiful and family friendly. And perhaps most importantly, a Main Street town is physically structured in a way that allows its diversified local tax base to support the required infrastructure over the long haul.

Too bad it’s essentially illegal to build new places like this anymore…