September 14: Public Information Session on Update to Open Space Plan

A message from Sarah I. LaValley, Conservation, Preservation and Land Use Planner in Northampton’s Office of Planning and Development:

“A public information session on Northampton’s 2011-2017 Open Space, Recreation, and Multi-Use Trail Plan will be held September 14 at 7:00 PM in Northampton High School’s Little Theater. This Plan will be an update to the 2005-2010 Open Space and Recreation Plan. You are encouraged to attend to participate in discussions regarding the Plan update, and its analysis of needs, goals, and action plan identification.”

See also:

Northampton Open Space Plan: “This loss of habitat and natural flood buffering areas is Northampton’s most serious environmental problem” (emphasis added)
…Although Northampton has diverse plant and animal habitats, the habitat is not as productive as it once was. Like most areas in New England, wetlands were filled to allow development, prior to federal and state wetlands protection acts. Even with the passage of those acts, small amounts of wetlands, especially isolated wetlands, continue to be lost or degraded because of nearby development. As development extends up valley corridors and increasingly up hillsides, habitats are being fragmented. This fragmentation is degrading the range and productivity of the flora and fauna in those areas. (p.20) …As development occurs, especially development with little sensitivity to the community’s views, some scenic views are being lost. (p.22)

UMass Press: “Natural Land: Preserving and Funding Open Space”
Protecting open space is often about protecting what makes a community special and unique… At the small-town or village scale, a forested hillside or surrounding farmland helps create a unique sense of place. Furthermore, preserving open space helps to create distinct edges that stop the blurring of community boundaries that is characteristic of urban sprawl. Defining what is unique about one’s community and identifying places that are special to local residents is an important part of the overall planning process (Hester 1990)…

Seeing Like a State: Planning Gone Awry in the 20th Century
Cities tend to be complex organisms, Scott observes, so planners are constantly tempted to try to simplify their task:

Once the desire for comprehensive urban planning is established, the logic of uniformity and regimentation is well-nigh inexorable. Cost effectiveness contributes to this tendency… [E]very concession to diversity is likely to entail a corresponding increase in administrative time and budgetary cost… (p.141-142)

In Northampton, the simplification du jour appears to be a drive to segregate our open space to the periphery, while weakening greenspace preservation in the more urban districts where it is already scarce.

Irony of Infill: You Have to Drive to Enjoy Nature
A key assumption built into infill is that walking access to amenities associated with civilization takes priority over walking access to nature. If developers are permitted to aggressively pave over green spaces downtown, more residents will be compelled to drive if they want to enjoy parks and woods. Most likely their overall time spent in ‘unbuilt’ environments will decrease.

Moreover, if downtown neighborhoods are hotter, uglier, more crowded and more polluted, this will discourage people from walking and biking through them as they do now. Contrast walking down King Street with walking down North Street.

As one can see from the 2005 report from the Sustainable Design Assessment Team (PDF), a large fraction of Northampton’s population live within a mile or two of the center of town. It would be a shame if the synthesis that attracted many of them here–a rare balance between nature, homes, shops and workplaces–was lost.

Northampton Redoubt: Urban Ecology, Planting Trees, and the Long-Term View
If we remove all of our in-town forested areas and wetlands they will likely be gone forever or at least a very long time. We would do well for posterity to err on the side of caution.

The Ecological Cities Project: Greenspace in “The Humane Metropolis”
A metropolis (i.e., metro region or citistate) is considered green if it fosters humans’ connections to the natural world — an idea Anne Whiston Spirn promoted in her seminal 1984 book The Granite Garden. Spirn rejected the idea — easily absorbed if one watches too many “concrete jungle” films, or even televised nature documentaries — that the natural world begins beyond the urban fringe. “Nature in the city,” she wrote, “must be cultivated, like a garden, rather than ignored or subdued.”

Rutherford Platt, “Regreening the Metropolis: Pathways to More Ecological Cities”

…cities and metropolitan areas, now too large to conveniently escape, must themselves be viewed as incorporating both built and unbuilt environments… And into the bargain, the urban environment will prove to be more habitable, more sustainable, more “ecological”…

Photo Essay: The Forest Behind View Avenue

Topographical Map Shows How Kohl Condo Proposal Will Eat Into a Rare Stand of Mature Trees in Downtown