"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

August 26, 2007

Infill Development in Northampton. Parking Lots or Urban Forests. (circle one)

Much has been said lately in the City of Northampton regarding infill development; the practice of developing unused and underutilized lands within existing urban areas.

Two major projects are underway in the downtown area, with the photo at right identifying the parcel of land behind North St., that Doug Kohl of Kohl Construction in Hadley has submitted plans to build 31 units on. "The lot is one of few left to build on that are close to town and services." Doug said. "It's on the bike path. We want to build housing close to downtown so that people can bike and walk to where they have to go." The development will have 62 or more parking spaces. That's a peculiar way to encourage people to walk and bike.

The second major project underway is the proposal for a Hilton Hotel behind Pulaski Park that was recently green lighted by the planning board, despite intense and compelling opposition from an extraordinary number of varying members of the public. Including well regarded residents who once held political office, who were appalled at the way the process unfolded, and the lack of due diligence on the part of the planning board. For extensive coverage on the Kohl Development, see here. The same quality coverage on the Hotel's project can be found here, and here.

Northamptonist often walks down Hampton St., the street that runs parallel to Main St. behind the Northampton Brewery, while we are going about our daily lives in town. Passing the unfortunate placement of hundreds of parking spaces in the Hampton Avenue lots -on prime downtown public property- walking along we recall our time spent in other cities across the world. Cities that serve as exemplary examples in regards to their use and development of communities that are walkable, livable, and sustainable. Notably, the most telling aspect of those cities and the planning decision behind them, were the reasons they were planned as such. Because it just made sense. It was the logical thing to do. They weren't concerned with environmental buzz words when they built Santo Domingo, D.R. or Amsterdam, or Paris. They weren't concerned with property values, or parking issues. They knew there was a right way to build a city, and a wrong way. It was New Urbanism way, way, before it was new. Or urban. Plan a city the right way, they knew, and everything else will take care of itself. There's a reason people leave the great cities in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere, feeling inspired about life. Northamptonist wants people who live in and visit Northampton to be able to replicate those same feelings.

The Kohl Development proposal is near the bus path and the bike path. It is close to town. It is also slated to displace an invaluable urban forest in Northampton. The Hilton Hotel will be built in town in a parking lot. It is right downtown, and an attempt at proper infill, though a very awkward one at that. The Hotel's presence, use, and towering structure immediately abutting Pulaski Park will, in effect, privatize downtown Northampton's only public park. In addition, by abutting at an arms length the back windows and porches of the New South St. apt's., the Hotel will have a devastating effect on the livable qualities of those residences.

Clearly, the offices of Northamptonist must be full of idealistic dreamers. Because we believe what these two projects are attempting to accomplish very clumsily would have been accomplished neatly and visionary in the Hampton Ave. parking lots across the street from the Northampton Brewery. Something resembling the Maplewood Shops would now reside street level, fronting Hampton Street directly across from the Northampton Brewery, instead of their currently ill conceived placement behind a huge and unwieldy parking lot, and away from the natural flow of pedestrians. Mixed priced residential units would rise three floors above them, the central artery of a bike path that stretches the city lengths bordering the building in the back. A well designed hotel and parking garage would have been built right next door, in the larger and deeper lot. Wide sidewalks, a reconstructed intersection on Old South St., greenery and plantings, bike racks, benches, and a whole lot of people. The area would blend seamlessly with the Main St. above, as if one long and continuous boulevard. You wouldn't even have to offer any tax incentives to achieve this. Astute people with keen economic sense would badger City Hall for a chance to be a part of the project. Pedestrian traffic would move continuously and naturally down Main St., around the corner, and onto Hampton Ave. An extension of the activity on Main St. would grow and develop on yet another downtown street. People would live inspired. And Northampton would deserve yet more accolades.

LABELS: downtown, development, placemaking