We've long believed that the level of activity that can be found in Salem these days — not only downtown, but along Highland Avenue and on the state university campus that now stretches most of the length of Loring Avenue — is something to be celebrated.

There are few older urban areas in this state that can match Salem in terms of its vitality and livability.

Yes, traffic can be horrendous, especially at peak commuter times and on October weekends, and parking sometimes hard to find. But that hasn't kept people away.

Downtown Salem — designated one of the country's most livable places by the American Planning Association — is not only a hip address, but its cultural attractions and nightlife draw people from throughout the area. In addition, the city is the medical, legal and higher education hub for the entire area north of Boston.

All of which should give city officials pause as they contemplate new endeavors like privatizing the municipal golf course, developing Winter Island and opening the Essex Street pedestrian mall to traffic.

Residents — and visitors — need oases of quiet to escape from the hubbub created by all the activity within the city.

Granted, many of the pedestrian malls created during the concept's heyday in the 1970s have since been returned to their former use as vehicular thoroughfares. But Salem's still seems to work. And one would be hard-pressed to make the case that more traditional central business districts nearby like those in Lynn, Peabody or Beverly are more prosperous.

Not that the city, businesses and other institutions are wrong in wanting to explore alternatives. But as former mayor Anthony Salvo points out in a letter elsewhere on this page regarding the management of the municipal golf course, one should beware the unintended consequences of any change.

Speaking of which, neither the administration nor the Park & Recreation Commission can be faulted for wanting to explore the various options for the future operation of Olde Salem Greens. But they ought to bear in mind that this relatively short, nine-hole course will never be turned into a major money-maker, and its best use may be what it is now — a place where locals can go to enjoy the sport without a major expenditure of time or money.

Likewise with Winter Island, which offers almost as good a vantage point for viewing Salem Harbor as the deck of a boat.

Again, city officials are right to explore uses for the old Coast Guard hangar and officers' quarters that occupy the site, but any changes should not come at the expense of the opportunity this park provides for relaxation and contemplation.

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