Thursday, June 12, 2008

Are we smart enough for smart growth?

I was sorry to have missed the presentation on Smart Growth and SmartCode in person when renowned urban planner Robert Orr addressed the public and Middletown's Planning and Zoning commission. When I got home around 8:30, I tuned in the show on public access.

At the behest of commissioner Catherine Johnson, Orr gave an overview, and numerous examples of how Smart Growth, a rigorous blueprint for health and profitable urban development, can revitalize cities. The evidence seems clear that in places like Burlington VT, Petaluma, CA, New Haven and Hamden CT and Portland ME, that a Smart Growth approach, using a zoning formula called, appropriately enough SmartCode.

With Orr's approach, city streets would be more navigable, more approachable and livable in scale, and feature a mix of residential, retail and commercial space. The plan is inclusive, covering building and street design, occupancy and transit.

Middletown seems the perfect city in which this plan could work. We have a vital Main Street, already well on it's way, enough vintage architecture so that the entire city would not have to be built, Smart Growthwise, from the ground up, and a core of urban pioneers who would like to see the city make the next leap forward.

Interestingly, SmartCode stipulates "no banks/no blanks" in Smart Growth corridors. Orr explained that banks present "blank facades" in the streetscape that are not inviting for pedestrians to walk by. I wonder what he would think about the block of Main Street, on the West Side of the street, between Court and College Streets - three banks, and two parking lots make up the entire stretch, with Middletown's only outsized office highrise looming behind.

I'd encourage citizens to push the Planning and Zoning Commission to adopt SmartCode for our city center. The Commission is now reviewing the plan of development for the town. Whether our town planners have the courage and vision to do so remains to be seen.

The presentation was recorded, and should be available on tape in the public library. We can also ask the cable access station to edit the meeting down to just the Orr presentation and feature it for repeat broadcasts.


Anonymous said...

Personally, I am very fond of the Liberty Bank Building on Main Street. I go out of my way to enter the building from its small rear parking lot and, if nothing else, enjoy passing through its old fashioned cavernous cool marbled interior, meant to convey infinite trust and solid dependability, to use the ATM. Sometimes I cheat on the free parking a little and walk up the block, passing the always exciting Klekolo, the gigantic New Building and the graceful Old Liberty Mutual Building, in order to patronize another Old Favorite, the Russell Library. But who could disagree with Smart Growth? Smart Talk is all well and good as long as Stupid Reality is taken into consideration. As for the entire Length of Main Street, it has its ups and downs. Is an identical building going up where the blocky Middletown Press building was just torn down? For sure Middletown could be better with Smart Planning. If only there were 10 hard working people as Smart as the energetic Catherine Johnson the plan might actually work.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Catherine for bringing this speaker and presentation to the public and the P+Z commission. Middletown has much potential. It needs leadership that can help translate the potential into development that focuses on people and not cars.
The lack of interst by the chairperson of the P+Z commission to hearing any feedback on the presentation was not a good sign.