Friday, December 19, 2008

New Urbanism in Maine

I just attended a New Urbanism workshop here in Maine. Our practice site was a small town in Maine and 20 or so participants all came up with unique ideas to the sketch problem. Within the rules of thumb there were an infinite number of possibilities and a few things stand out as quite pertinent to our state's situation.

1. The better we can concentrate building to the smallest area as in traditional villages (as in pre-industrial Europe), the more money we save. Now this is key to our situation as town's need a big carrot to help them get citizen's on board regarding creating a master plan which benefits all. The more buildings are concentrated in the town center, the less money spent on infrastructure. The less money spent on infrastructure the less money spent on energy. The less money spent on energy the less damage to our planet. And the more we concentrate our buildings in the town center the more our municipal spending can go towards high quality sidewalks, trees and plazas rather than spreading our funds over a vast area with minimal place creating.

2. The more we concentrate building to the town center the safer our lives become for kids and retirees. If you are a kid and run around and play and visit your friends you are being watched out for all the time in a packed neighborhood. If you are a kid and are walking to your friends and crossing pedestrian friendly streets you are physically safer than biking down a highway or walking down a road with no sidewalks. And you don't need a ride from mom or dad to play. Retirees do better and are more independent if they do not have to drive to everything.

3. Subtle shifts in our roads make drivers slow down. By shifting residential streets at intersections a bit from directly across from each other we make through traffic less speedy. Same applies to bending roads a tiny bit here and there. The medieval town with it's roads from old cow paths are more interesting and safer than the perfect grid.

4. The more we concentrate buildings in a small area the more beautiful and productive the surrounding landscape is. Farmers are allowed to make a profit if there land is zoned so as not to allow a development or taxed very high if development is outside the designated town center so land is used more efficiently, again, saving everyone money. And community gardens are a must as we all attempt to feed our families in times that can be very bad or very good economically thereby stabilizing our children's lives.

5.  The more concentrated buildings are in town centers, the less parking we need to build and the more money we save. This seems counterintuitive but one of our instructors, a traffic engineer, pointed out that in Portsmouth, because everything is concentrated, people only need to park once and walk around to everything. Therefore, they do not need to find a space at multiple spots in town to get to all the places they are going. This is important information for planners and citizens.

In conclusion, master planning for our towns is key to living a cheaper, safer, more interesting, more beautiful and more stable life for all! 


Sarah said...

I became interested in New Urbanism several years ago because of the disastrous creation of the city I live in, Charlotte, NC. There are very few places to live that are actually walkable communities. I believe that another important aspect of New Urbanism is that houses are functional and unused space is eliminated, Sarah Susanka, the author of The Not So Big House has some interesting things to say that might be of interest to you. One of main reasons I was attracted to Maine was the fact that there are still small towns that are thriving. I agree that it's important for architects to keep Maine on the right track in preserving those small towns and building houses like they used to be (small)!

Michael Belleau Architect said...

Thanks Sarah, great that people are coming around. Great to get a comment! Thank you for the link. If you google me you can get a link to my latest article in Maine Sunday Telegram, "Walking Into The Future".
Best, Michael

Sarah said...

I enjoyed reading your article. Keep Maine on the right track! I hope to move there after I graduate (December 2009)! I wrote a paper on New Urbanism several years ago--if you're interested, I could email it to you. As you can see, I'm a fanatic of New Urbanism!