Houston Chronicle: “Density hasn’t been kind to Cottage Grove…”

The Houston Chronicle published a cautionary tale about infill on June 28:

How urban can Houston become?

Density hasn’t been kind to Cottage Grove, a small neighborhood with narrow streets, few sidewalks, poor drainage and scarce parking for the owners of its many new homes and their guests.

Like many neighborhoods inside Loop 610, Cottage Grove in recent years has experienced a flurry of construction of large townhomes that loom over 80-year-old cottages next door. Two or three dwellings crowd sites where one house stood previously. Streets are cluttered with vehicles parked every which way. Water stands in the streets after heavy rains.

“It was shocking to see this jewel of a neighborhood in this condition,” said former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, a senior fellow with the nonprofit Urban Land Institute who toured Cottage Grove two years ago. “It was about the ugliest thing I’d ever seen, to be honest with you.”

[click for the full article]
See also:

Our Ad in the May 6 Gazette: “How to Avoid Classic Infill Design Mistakes”

Knoxville Infill Housing Design Guidelines: Lessons from Experience
As the Zoning Revisions Committee gears up to implement the vision of the Sustainable Northampton Plan, there are useful lessons to be drawn from other cities that have traveled the infill path…

“Following World War II, many single family neighborhoods were rezoned to permit apartments. This was done under an urban development theory that the highest density housing should be close to the central business district. The results have been mixed. In some instances the design of multi-unit buildings are completely out of context to older neighborhoods with apartment buildings looking like they should have been part of suburbia. In places where multi-unit housing is permitted (such as areas with R-2 or R-3 zoning), it is essential to neighborhood stability that new apartment buildings be designed in scale and context with the early architectural features of the neighborhood…

Portland: A Photo Tour of Spiraling Densification

Portland, Oregon Voters Sour on Densification Over Time
Today, most Portland-area neighborhoods of single-family homes can point to nearby four- and five-story apartment buildings that have sprung up in response to Metro’s demands for higher densities. These developments contribute to congested streets, crowded schools, and overstressed water, sewer, and other urban services.

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…

Halle-Neustadt: A Case Study in Compact, Transit-Oriented Development
I first became aware of Halle-Neustadt at a 1998 conference on sustainable transportation at which two planners from the University of Stockholm declared it to be one of the most sustainable (i.e., least “auto-dependent”) cities in the developed world…

What the Swedish researchers failed to note in their 1998 presentation, but faithfully recorded in their full paper, was that Halle-Neustadt was only “sustainable” during the socialist period. When Germany reunified, many residents moved out, and those who stayed bought cars so that auto ownership “reached nearly the level of western Germany.” Naturally, this created major congestion and parking problems: “The cars are parked everywhere — on pavements, bike-ways, yards and lawn.”

Scrape-Off Redevelopments Provoke Backlash in Denver Neighborhoods

Latest Kohl Condo Proposal for North Street: 20 Units as Duplexes
The density would still be too high relative to the amount of land suitable for building. The proposed units look like they are squashed into North Street’s backyard space. This disrupts the character of the neighborhood and intrudes on neighbors’ privacy. The units would not be in harmonious relation to their surroundings…

Northampton’s Flood and Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan: Floyd Flood Damage Reported Behind View Avenue; Avoid Building on Filled Wetlands
The Background of the plan states (emphasis added):

…Northampton can experience flooding in any part of the City. One great misunderstanding is the belief that floods only happen in the floodplain. With sufficient rain, almost any area will experience at least pockets of surface flooding or overland flooding. Overland flooding in rural areas can result in erosion, washouts, road damage, loss of crops and septic system back-ups. Heavy rain in the more urbanized parts of the City with extensive paved and impervious surfaces can easily overwhelm stormwater facilities resulting in localized flooding and basement damage. Stormwater flooding also contributes to water pollution by carrying silt, oil, fertilizers, pesticides and waste into streams, rivers and lakes. As the intensity of development continues to increase, Northampton will see a corresponding increase in serious stormwater problems…

Analysis of Flood Hazards in Northampton
(emphasis added)

…Flooding from stormwater runoff is a growing problem in every urbanized area and is caused by large amounts of impervious surfaces and by undersized or poorly maintained stormwater drainage infrastructure, including culverts and detention basins. Development not only creates more impervious surfaces, but it also changes natural drainage patterns by altering existing contours by grading and filling, sometimes creating unexpected stormwater flooding during heavy rains. Recently, the City of Northampton has seen flooding on Elm Street, along Church and Stoddard Streets, Bliss Street and Austin Circle due to undersized pipes and catch basins and lack of upstream detention that caused streams to jump their banks and flood roadways and properties.

Stormwater contributes to water pollution by carrying silt, oil, fertilizers, pesticides and waste into streams, rivers and lakes. Stormwater flooding also has the potential to cause considerable property damage because it occurs in areas of concentrated development… (p.19)

Additional Natural Hazard Identification and Analysis
(emphasis added)

…In addition to flooding from hurricanes and northeasters, Northampton is also susceptible to flooding from severe rainstorms and thunderstorms. The occurrence of significant rain events in the City has been increasing over the past several years.

Vulnerable Areas and Populations
The greatest impact in the City is felt in neighborhoods along rivers and streams. In recent years, heavy rainstorms have caused significant problems in more urbanized areas as increased development inhibits proper drainage and existing or poorly maintained water systems cannot handle increased stormwater runoff.

The most recent example is the flooding following Tropical Storm Floyd, a 100-year storm that occurred in September of 1999 which created severe localized flooding conditions in the small flashy watersheds of the City, especially along the Mill River and the historic Mill River (both within and beyond the mapped Zone A), and along Barrett Street Brook and Elm Street Brook (both outside of Zone A). This storm caused approximately $900,000 in property damage.
EPA: Urban Heat Islands
Heat islands form as cities replace natural land cover with pavement, buildings, and other infrastructure.