Built Environment

Engage everyone…even in the big city?

Boston, MA aerialBoston is changing rapidly, by-and-large for the better. There are cranes everywhere. Our population is growing. We’re revitalizing old neighborhoods and building new ones. But, as even expert planners acknowledge, artists and young adults recently out of college can’t afford to live and work here. My neighborhood has lost its middle class.

There are public housing units, high-end condos and expensive single-family residences, but very little in between. Elsewhere, preservationists struggle to save historically important neighborhood buildings while others bemoan the lack of cutting-edge architecture.

I enjoy thinking about how cities grow and change. I keep up to date on the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s (BRA) latest decisions, have weighed in on development proposals in neighborhood forums, and served on a “citizen advisory committee” when the BRA rezoned a broad swath of my neighborhood.

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The Road to Resilience

Photos: www.mansfieldheliflight.com/flood/
Irene Damage - http://www.mansfieldheliflight.com/flood/On August 28, 2011, US Route 100 leading into the mountain town of Rochester, Vermont simply ended. And so did every other road leading in and out of town. That was the day Tropical Storm Irene washed away roads and bridges and homes throughout the region, leaving 13 towns cut off from the outside world. It was hours before anyone managed to get in or out of Rochester, and even then only by ATV and on foot. It was days before most people could communicate with anyone outside of town. It was weeks before power was restored and roads were passable to anyone other than emergency crews.

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Seven Ways to Increase Community Power in Local Decision-Making

CommunityMatters®, a partnership of seven national organizations including Orton, share the belief that people have the power to solve their community’s problems and direct future growth and change.

As leaders in the fields of civic engagement and community and economic development, the partners believe that by strengthening civic infrastructure, communities can become more prosperous, vibrant places to live.

Why is civic infrastructure key? Because, like the physical infrastructure that supports a community’s built environment, civic infrastructure supports the social sphere. It consists of the opportunities, activities and arenas, both online and face-to-face, that allow people to connect with each other, solve problems, make decisions and celebrate community.

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Compromise and Community

This post was co-written by John Elder and Kris Perlee, two residents of Bristol, Vermont, who were tasked with finding a compromise to a ten-year-old land use debate. Here is the story of how they found common ground.

For the better part of a decade our town of Bristol, VT was up to its axles in controversy about a proposed new gravel pit. One casualty of this situation was the Planning Commission’s ability to come up with a Town Plan that the voters would support.

Some of our fellow residents strongly supported the rights of the landowner to develop the property as he wished, especially given the increasing scarcity of gravel in our region. Opponents of the new pit were equally adamant, fearing that noise and traffic from this site near the Town Hall and Main Street would seriously disrupt both the commerce and the neighborhoods of our village.

The full range of opinion in Bristol was appropriately represented on our Planning Commission, but this in turn made it challenging for us to advance toward a clear consensus.

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Reimagining America’s Streets

Americans’ expectations of our streets are changing. While we once saw streets exclusively as a means to move cars from one place to another as quickly as possible, we are increasingly recognizing them for what they are—our largest public space—and for what they can become—an opportunity to promote economic development, build community and even improve public health.

The Open Streets Project is leading this revolution in how we view and use streets. Also known as Ciclovias, Sunday Streets, Viva Streets (to name a few), Open Streets temporarily closes busy streets to automobiles so that people may use them for any activity but driving—walking, jogging, bicycling, dancing…name your physical activity—bringing thousands of people together to experience their city in a way that is normally forbidden.

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Imagining North Adams

Every year, 120,000 people make a pilgrimage to the Northwestern corner of the Berkshires in Massachusetts and head for MASS MoCA.

They park next to the concrete channels of the Hoosic River and walk into a complex of historic brick mill buildings, repurposed as a world-class museum.

They spend a few hours, or a few days, exploring the cavernous galleries, and they collectively spend millions of dollars on tickets, souvenirs and gourmet food in the museum cafés.

What they usually don’t do is spend much of that time or money a block or two away—on Main Street. And it shows. While North Adams has made many efforts, and admirable progress, to reinvent itself as a vibrant arts community, its Main Street still struggles to fill up storefronts, local businesses struggle to stay afloat, and many residents struggle to find jobs and rise above the poverty line. (Check out this 2012 piece from NPR for the full story.)

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Celebrating the Re-opening of Doors

shickshinny_blogpic_400x300.jpgSara Grier is External Relations Manager for ShickshinnyForward.

Natural disasters bring a level of destruction to communities that is difficult to understand for those who have never experienced it.

While the physical ruination of shops, schools, homes and businesses takes an enormous toll, it is often the devastation of the emotional “soul” of a community that makes re-building such an uphill effort.

For the cities and towns along the Susquehanna River, the flood of September 2011 surpassed anything experienced in over 100 years. Shickshinny, PA, population 800, was one of the hardest hit communities. Since the flood, the town has not only drained basements and repaired roads; it has taken this opportunity to make itself “home” once again.

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The Value of the Mini-City

One of my top priorities in choosing where to live this summer was the convenience and walkability of the neighborhood (second to actually finding a job, of course). Now that about a month has passed and I’m feeling settled in, I’d say the place I chose meets those desires.

Every day I walk to work in about four minutes. On my way out the door, I pass the most popular local bar on the ground floor of my apartment building. I shop for all my daily needs within a five minute walk. And, perhaps not so ideal, I hear the constant roar of traffic and sirens as they whiz by my window.

So, take a guess, where do I live? If you imagined New York, Boston, or any other city, you’re wrong.

What I didn’t mention is that my commute takes me over Otter Creek via a pedestrian bridge, that the local bar on the ground floor of my building is the only local bar, that those stores I shop at fill the few blocks downtown, and that noise outside…well, that’s only there because my apartment happens to be right next to one of the few traffic circles in town.

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