The Notre Dame Northampton Charrette – Website Launches

The Notre Dame School of Architecture has launched a website to present their ideas about Northampton and engage with citizens. Professor Philip Bess and six graduate architecture and urban design students–Kalinda Brown, Dan Degreve, Josh Eckert, Scott Ford, Aaron Helfand, and Crystal Olin–initiated a semester’s worth of study of Northampton with Design Northampton Week. Visit The Notre Dame Northampton Charrette website here:

The site includes a page discussing our concerns about cul-de-sacs and more generally the approach of New Urbanism towards crime prevention. We are pleased these concerns are being taken seriously and look forward to reviewing this material in detail. Let it be noted that New Urbanism and the North Street Neighborhood Association share a great deal of common ground. The North Street neighborhood has many characteristics that New Urbanists favor: relatively high density, within walking distance of downtown, mixed use and mixed income.

NSNA’s desire is to preserve what’s good about a neighborhood that’s working well. We want New Urbanist principles to be applied with nuance, a light hand, and an appreciation for local conditions. For example, not all cul-de-sacs are as bad as the Sustainable Northampton Plan makes them out to be. Some, such as Northern Avenue, are great places to live. New Urbanists need to understand what makes a street layout work in one place and not in another. Above all, they need to be cautious about imposing changes on neighborhoods when residents are happy with their current condition.

We are concerned that developers will seize on New Urbanism and Smart Growth as an excuse to jack up density, erode in-town greenspace, and build near wetlands. This may feed their profits, but it may also degrade our quality of life, increase the risk of flooding, and even motivate homebuyers to prefer homes farther out, increasing the sprawl that New Urbanists hate.

We encourage the Notre Dame team to solicit the opinions of residents who live in a broad range of neighborhoods, especially those areas that came in for criticism during Design Northampton Week. One example is the postwar neighborhood in the southwest corner of Northampton (shown below). It’s less dense than in-town neighborhoods and it’s primarily residential (not mixed-use). It also appears to be a handsome and pleasant place to live, although a car is virtually required for shopping and other daily activities.

See also:

Notre Dame Northampton Charrette: Videos, Pictures, Handouts and Commentary

Smart Growth and Crime
[Jane] Jacobs [who promoted the advantages of mixed-use neighborhoods
in big cities] never claimed her inner-city urban villages suffered
less crime than the suburbs–or, indeed, that any part of her analysis
applied to the suburbs. “I hope no reader will try to transfer my
observations into guides as to what goes on in towns, or little cities,
or in suburbs which still are suburban,” she wrote. “We are in enough
trouble already from trying to understand big cities in terms of the
behavior, and imagined behavior, of towns. To try to understand towns
in terms of big cities will only compound confusion.”

New York Times: “Report Says Public Outreach, Done Right, Aids Policymaking” (8/22/08)
“A lot of science has to be applied to a very local context,” [said Thomas Dietz, the director of the Environmental Science
and Policy Program at Michigan State University] in a telephone interview. “Local knowledge is essential.”

Downtown house on “dead end street” in “rural setting” flies off market
The Gazette reports that residential real estate sales
in Northampton are slow, but you wouldn’t know it if you were the
seller of a certain single-family house on Bradford Street. According
to the Multiple Listing Service, this home went on sale on February 8
and is now under agreement, just 12 days later. What makes it special?
The first sentence in its MLS Remarks section gives us a clue:

“Sunny Colonial on dead end street with rural setting close to bike path and walk to downtown.”

It would appear this combination of amenities is highly desirable. It also happens to be threatened by elements of the new Sustainable Northampton Plan (PDF). On page 51, the Plan recommends:

Avoid creating cul-de-sacs and dead ends when possible and
instead create a network of streets. Dead end streets, while desirable
to some residents, add significantly to the delivery of city services
and increases traffic flows to other local streets…

objective of the Plan is to “implement ideas for maximizing density on
small lots” (p.14) and “consider amending zero lot line single family
home to eliminate 30′ side yard setback” (p.67). Both of these
ideas may well erode the “rural setting” in neighborhoods like Bradford

…there are excellent
reasons for many homebuyers to desire cul-de-sacs and leafy
neighborhoods. Planners who ignore these strong (and logical) market
preferences risk making sprawl worse, as some buyers may come to avoid
downtown Northampton and seek these amenities in the outskirts or even
out of town.

Our Column in Today’s Gazette: The Hidden Risks of ‘Smart Growth’
Steven Greenhut, a columnist for the Orange County Register, is critical of [Bozeman’s] Portland-style growth controls:

Creating unattractive and high-density projects in a place
awash in open space only pushes people farther out into the
countryside. In Belgrade, eight miles away, one finds market-driven
suburban-style subdivisions. That city does not have many restrictions,
and those who cannot afford Bozeman or who want a bigger place simply
move away, thus promoting the sprawl that Smart Growthers are trying to

Mary Riddel, “A Dynamic Approach to Estimating Hedonic Prices for Environmental Goods: An Application to Open Space Purchases”
important outcome of the Boulder [Colorado] open space purchase program
has been leapfrog development of areas outside the greenbelt. Many
critics of the program maintain that development was not thwarted, but
rather relocated. Our [research] results support this conclusion. In
fact, commercial and residential expansion occurred because of the

Metro Portland’s Long Experience with Smart Growth: A Cautionary Tale
notion that potential homeowners would prefer to pay the higher cost of
high-density housing as an alternative to the traditional
home/yard/neighborhood environment style of raising families is wrong.
The percentage of families moving to the Portland area that buy or rent
within the UGB [Urban Growth Boundary] has fallen dramatically since
site restrictions were implemented…

Seeing Like a State: Planning Gone Awry in the 20th Century
From time to time [Jane] Jacobs stands back from the infinite and changing
variety of American cities to express a certain awe and humility:
“Their intricate order–a manifestation of the freedom of countless
numbers of people to make and carry out countless plans–is in many
ways a great wonder. We ought not to be reluctant to make this living
collection of interdependent uses, this freedom, this life, more
understandable for what it is, nor so unaware that we do not know what
it is.” The magisterial assumption behind the doctrines of many urban
planners–that they know what people want and how people should spend
their time–seems to Jacobs shortsighted and arrogant… (p.140)

cities are the outcome…of innumerable small acts bearing no
discernable overall intention… [Jacobs praises the unplanned city,
saying,] “Cities have the capability of providing something for
everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by
everybody… The main responsibility of city planning and design should
be to develop, insofar as public policy and action can do so, cities
that are congenial places for this great range of unofficial plans,
ideas and opportunities to flourish.”

…A city that was extensively planned would inevitably diminish much
of the diversity that is the hallmark of great towns. The best a
planner can hope for is to modestly enhance rather than impede the
development of urban complexity. (p.142-143)

…Jacobs quotes
with approval Stanley Tankel… “We will have to admit that it is
beyond the scope of anyone’s imagination to create a community. We must
learn to cherish the communities we have, they are hard to come by.”

…[T]here is little doubt that [Jacobs] has put her finger on the
central flaws of hubris in high-modernist urban planning. The first
flaw is the presumption that planners can safely make most of the
predictions about the future that their schemes require… Second,
thanks in part to Jacobs, we now know more about what constitutes a
satisfactory neighborhood for the people who live in it, but we still
know precious little about how such communities can be fostered and
maintained. Working from formulas about density, green space, and
transportation may produce narrowly efficient outcomes, but it is
unlikely to result in a desirable place to live. Brasilia and
Chandigarh, at a minimum, demonstrate this. (p.144-145)

Rutherford Platt, “The Humane Micropolis” – Full Text
Northampton has mercifully been spared top-down, macro plans in vogue
from the Garden City era to Urban Renewal in the 1960s. Unlike
architect and developer-driven concepts of urban design, the Humane
Metropolis has few aesthetic preconceptions. Ecology is “messy” and so
are older communities like ours. But who wants to live in an “ideal
community” planned by outside experts when we can live in the “Paradise
of America” (aka “The Humane Micropolis”), a work always in process of
adaptation by its fortunate inhabitants. “The Human Face of Smart Growth Opposition”
of smart growth share many of the same concerns that its advocates have
about future growth and development – traffic congestion, environmental
degradation, reduced housing affordability, outdated planning codes
that prevent innovative developments, to name a few. The difference is
that the smart growth skeptics are not willing to buy into a “grand”
solution to these challenges.

And why shouldn’t they be
skeptical? After nearly a century of urban planning, the latest
solution to the planning mistakes of the past and challenges of today
is…you guessed it…more planning. The last major urban planning fad –
the nationwide urban renewal efforts of the post-WWII era – was sold
with the promise of dramatically reinvigorating cities and improving
urban life, but the actual result was the wholesale destruction of
vibrant urban neighborhoods and the large-scale stifling of inner city
economic opportunity. It is not unreasonable to be wary of the latest
planning fad, especially when so much is at stake for our families and

Wall Street Journal Opinion Column: “What Jane Jacobs Really Saw” (5/2/06)
urban planners’ almost universal reverence for Jacobs, it is ironic
that many have largely ignored or misinterpreted the central lesson of
“Death and Life”–that cities are vibrant living systems, not the
product of grand, utopian schemes concocted by overzealous planners…

many in the Smart Growth and New Urbanism movements cite Jacobs as the
inspiration for their efforts to combat so-called “urban sprawl” and
make over suburbia with dense, walkable downtowns, mixed-use
development, and varied building styles. While Jacobs identified these
as organic elements of successful cities, planners have eagerly tried
to impose them on cities in formulaic fashion…

Video: First public “in-process” presentation and feedback session for Design Northampton Week
Fran Volkmann, Vice Chair, Community Preservation Committee
We would like to concentrate development closer in, we like the idea of
walkability, bikeability, neighborhood center… The thing that happens
to us, however, is that we buy that and then somebody builds some
horrible thing…and then they say to you, “This is infill, you know.
It’s good, it’s infill.” …You know if you walk in European cities,
you very often find little tiny pocket parks, and little bits of green
spaces, mixed in with beautiful buildings… How do we…learn
to…value…respect for people at the same time that we try to fill in
our park spaces?

Condo Monotony: The Future of Ward 3?
To maximize profits, the developers have shoehorned units into their
lots with little regard to the preexisting appearance of their
neighborhoods. The developments feel inward-facing or ‘withdrawn’, not
part of the regular street fabric. These aspects are probably what
prompted the “carbuncle” comment from the planning board member…

If a trend towards dense, monotonous developments gains momentum, we can expect to see larger effects on Ward 3, such as higher temperatures, more air pollution, more traffic congestion, a greater risk of flooding from the spread of impervious surface and encroachment on wetlands, and an overall reduction in charm and beauty. This is not inevitable, but it appears we need to adjust our zoning to preserve what’s good about where we live. Let your city councilors know how you feel.

Berkeley, California: Cautions on Infill
…propelled by their
simplistic “smart growth” philosophy, [the Planning Department] encourages developers to
build the largest possible projects over neighborhood objections…

Scrape-Off Redevelopments Provoke Backlash in Denver Neighborhoods
Supporters [of lower-density zoning] said the increased density from the multiple-unit structures
was ruining the character of the two neighborhoods, which are comprised
of predominately single-family detached homes.

LA Weekly: “City Hall’s ‘Density Hawks’ Are Changing L.A.’s DNA
The shift is pushing L.A. from its suburban model of single-family
homes with gardens or pools — the reason many come here — toward an
urban template of shrinking green patches and multistory buildings of
mostly renters…

“…The deal [says Yaroslavsky] is that there are a number of developers who see an opportunity here to make a killing.”

much more crime — something “density hawks” never mention. A report by
the National Center for Policy Analysis says crime rates in dense
cities outpace by up to 20 percent the crime in more sprawling,
spacious cities. So-called “smart growth” Portland and Seattle lead the
pack in property crime…

LA Weekly: “What’s Smart About Smart Growth?”
Real estate developers have caught on, using the phrase shamelessly to
gain public support for enormous developments, from a hillside
subdivision near Santa Clarita to the Westside’s Playa Vista, the
massive, 5,800-home development near Marina del Rey. In a city where
growth was once a dirty word, smart growth is the spoonful of sugar
that suddenly makes bigness palatable…