2014 New Urbanism Awards Announced!

The New England Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism held its third Urbanism Awards ceremony on Thursday, April 10 at the Asgard, in Cambridge, MA. Established in 2006, The Urbanism Awards recognize projects which fulfill and advance the principles of the Charter of the New Urbanism and the Canons of Sustainable Architecture and Urbanism, which define the essential qualities of sustainable urban places from the scale of the region down to the level of the building and the block.

 The Urbanism Awards recognize excellence in architectural, landscape and urban designs built in harmony with their physical and social contexts as well as the policies, plans and codes that structure them. As a chapter, we recognize these projects as models for future design and implementation in New England and beyond. This year’s award winners represent planning tools for the profession and large-scale masterplans for urban neighborhoods.

 Grand Award – Boston Complete Streets Design Guidelines, Boston, MA

Category: Block, Street and Building                                         Submitted By: Utile, Inc

Project Team:              Utile, Inc.                                        Urban Design/Communication Design

                                    Boston Transportation Department       Client

                                    Toole Design Group                              Transportation Planning

                                    Charles River Watershed Association     Environmental Advisors

Juror’s Comments:

This set of guidelines for street design and interventions is a grand achievement, and represents “a triumph of policy over politics.” The Guidelines present an effective kit of parts,  compiling strategies for design at the cartway, curbside, pedestrian way and beyond. The intelligently simple Guidelines “eschew the traditional, auto-centric classification of roadways, and instead define a taxonomy of urban streets—from “Downtown Commercial” to “Neighborhood Connector”—that holistically consider a street’s urban design context and neighborhood character.” The jury noted that the project demonstrates the physical implications that unfold when every detail is considered with the attitude that people are always more important than automobiles.


Urbanism Award – Simsbury Stormwater Module, Simsbury, CT

Category: Planning Tool                           Submitted By: Morris Beacon Design + Principle Group

Project Team:    Morris Beacon Design                           Project Team Leader

                           Principle Group                                     Conceptual Design and Renderings

                          Town of Simsbury                                 Client

            Juror’s Comments:

The Simsbury Stormwater Module is a “terrific, well-illustrated and accessible” set of stormwater regulations, performance standards and planning and design guidelines for a small New England. The project fills an important need, in providing an alternative approach to stormwater regulations, beyond the current archaic standards that exist throughout our region. This module’s triumph is that is an extremely useful and adaptable tool for other planners and communities promoting higher density infill development.


Urbanism Award – Inner Belt Brickbottom Plan, Somerville, MA

Category: Neighborhood, District, Corridor        Submitted By: Goody Clancy

Project Team:  Goody Clancy                          Planning and Urban Design

W-ZHA                                      Commercial Market Analysis

                        Fay, Spofford & Thorndike       Transportation Planning and Traffic Engineering

                        Kittelson Associates, Inc.           Transportation Planning

PlaceMatters                              Community Engagement

SMC                                           Survey and Mapping

Systra                                         Transit Operations and Service Analysis and Planning

Carol R. Johnson Associates     Landscape Architecture

             Juror’s Comments:

The Inner Belt Brickbottom plan presents a vision for a 150-acre site surrounding a future transit station scheduled to open in 2017.  The project team addresses economic development opportunities, presents a multi-modal transportation analysis, and provides a vision for increased housing, open space and site connectivity. The jury was impressed by the organic nature of the plan, as it assumes an incremental development approach that is composed of both small, simple tactical programming interventions and larger, more complex building and infrastructure investments.


Honorable Mention – Hill to Downtown Community Plan, New Haven, CT

Category:         Neighborhood, District, Corridor   Submitted By: Goody Clancy

Project Team:  Goody Clancy                                 Planning and Urban Design

City of New Haven                          Client / Owner

W-ZHA                                            Commercial Market Analysis

Zimmerman/Volk Associates          Residential Market Analysis

CDM Smith, Inc.                               Civil Engineering and Survey

Nelson/Nygaard                             Transportation Planning

Ninigret Partners LLC                     Economic Analysis

Juror’s Comments:

This smart plan for an 150-acre site in New Haven makes important connections between downtown, the medical and research center, surrounding neighborhoods and the train station. The plan leverages Yale’s investments in a life-science innovation district to create a new urban district that is welcoming and accessible to all of New Haven’s citizens and visitors. The jury commends the team for the in-depth community participation process that they undertook in order to gain the community’s trust and support.



Ted Brovitz, Manager, Community Planning & Design - Howard/Stein-Hudson Associates, Inc., Boston, MA

David Dixon, FAIA, Urban Design Leader – Stantec Consulting Ltd., Boston, MA

Vanessa L. Farr, CNU-A, Director of Planning and Development - Yarmouth, ME

Anne Tate, Professor – Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI

Tactical Urbanism comes to New Haven

How can an inexpensive, short-term project create long-term societal change? Guerilla Wayfinding, Parklets, DIY Crosswalks – these are all examples of an exciting trend in urban placemaking commonly referred to as Tactical Urbanism.

From 3:00-4:30PM on Saturday, February 8th, the Bourse Co-Working Loft will host a FREE distinguished speaker series on Tactical Urbanism called "Urban Interventions: A Tactical Urbanism How-To". This event will explore how inexpensive, short-term projects - such as Guerilla Wayfinding, Parklets, DIY Crosswalks - can create long-term societal change. Our two speakers represent the public view from the street AND and the regulatory view from inside city hall: Bottom up AND top down interventions.

Mike Lydon, Principal of The Street Plans Collaborative, will lead an overview of Tactical Urbanism alongside Dan Bartman, Senior Planner at the City of Somerville. The overview of Tactical Urbanism will equip attendees with an understanding of how to plan, fund, and implement projects. We'll also explore how the City of Somerville, and other municipalities, have integrated Tactical Urbanism into the project delivery process.

Learn about how other communities have used Tactical Urbanism to bring about meaningful change in their cities and towns, and to inspire the practice in the Elm City.

You can RSVP and find more information about the event below: 

On the Bourse Co-working loft website: http://www.boursenewhaven.com/category/urbanism/

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1450343088512588/

On MeetUp: http://www.meetup.com/TheBourseCoworkingLoft/events/161284862/

The 2014 Urbanism Summit: A Toolkit for Vibrant Neighborhoods

April 10 and 11 | Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts

Join the New England Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism for the 2014 Urbanism Summit. On our tenth anniversary, we examine the components of successful neighborhood transformation for more affordable, sustainable, livable, and authentic communities. Join planners, architects, policy makers, and citizens advocating for change in New England’s neighborhoods. Sessions will feature mobile workshops in dynamic neighborhoods and talks from experts who have successfully refashioned their communities using a diversity of tools and tactics. Join the conversation and be a catalyst for change.

Full details, including event locations and schedules, are available at http://summit.cnunewengland.org/

Register at: http://urbanismsummit.eventbrite.com

Special Screening of Jan Gehl's "The Human Scale"

The Human Scale

Thursday, January 30 @ Somerville Theater

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone and CNU New England are pleased to announce a special screening of an important film making the rounds on the Film Festival circuit. The Human Scale is a new documentary film about the work of Danish Architect Jan Gehl and how his human centered approach to urban design is revolutionizing urban places around the world.

When: January 30th, 2014 6:30-8:30PM
Where: The Somerville Theatre. 55 Davis Square, Somerville MA 02144. 
How Much: FREE! 

Space is limited. Please click to register now on Eventbrite. 

[UPDATED on 1/11/2014: The Somerville Theater has moved the screening to its largest theater to accommodate more attendees! More tickets are now available on the registration link above. If you were on the wait list we've released those tickets this morning and you should have received an email from Eventbrite to complete your registration.] 

[UPDATED on 1/9/14: We are working to accommodate the many request for tickets for this event. Please sign up through the link above to be placed on the waiting list. Thanks]

Special Introduction by Mayor Curtatone to introduce the film.

The Human Scale questions our assumptions about modern cities, exploring what happens when we use a people centered approach as the focus of city design. For 40 years the Danish architect Jan Gehlhas systematically studied human behavior in cities. His starting point was an interest in people, more than buildings – in what he called “Life Between Buildings”. What made it exist? Why was it destroyed? How could it be brought back? This lead to studies of how human beings use the streets, how they walk, see, rest, meet, interact etc. Jan Gehl also uses statistics, but the questions he asks are different. For instance: How many people pass this street throughout a 24 hour period? How many percent of those are pedestrians? How many are driving cars or bikes? How much of the street space are thevarious groups allowed to use? Is this street performing well for all its users?

Jan Gehl conducted his first research in Italy and utilized is observations to transform the planning of Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, for the past 40 years. His ideas inspired the creation of highly walkable streets, the expansion and improvement of cycling infrastructure, and the reorganization of parks, squares and other public spaces throughout Copenhagen and across the Nordic region. Today, cities like Melbourne, New York, Christchurch, and Somerville are all taking notice of Gehl’s work that helped quickly change Copenhagen into the world’s happiest city.

Gehl Architects is an urban research and design consultancy focused on the relationship between thebuilt environment and people’s quality of life. They address global trends with a people-focused approach, utilizing empirical analysis to understand how the built environment can promote humanflourishing. They apply this analysis to strategic planning and human-centered design to empower citizens, decision makers, company leaders, and organizations. The work of Gehl Architects is based onJan Gehl’s five decades of extensive research on life in public spaces. Their research continues to deal with the many factors that influence public life and public space and how people use it.

Join us January 30th at the Somerville Theatre to learn more about measuring happiness in a city and to continue the conversation started at CNU New England's Tactical Urbanism Salon

Happy Hour to follow in the neighborhood at: 
255 Elm Street
Somerville, MA 02144

Cross-posting from RTUF on "It's a Wonderful Life"

Your humble correspondent had a ferociously busy fall, so the blogposting was a little thin on the ground the last couple of months. In any event, we here at RTUF Worldwide didn't want to let the calendar turn over without at least one final thought for 2013. And this thought comes with a mild and somewhat oblique ding on Geoff Anderson at Smart Growth America. I don't know Geoff, but I have seen him speak and have great respect for the work he is doing at SGA and the work he did when he was at the EPA Smart Growth office before that. That said, I received a fundraising email from Geoff on behalf of SGA and found the following passage worth commenting on:

One of my favorite holiday movies is a story about family, friendships—and smart growth. You’ve probably seen "It’s a Wonderful Life." If you’re like me, you’ve seen it more than once, and you know the story of Bedford Falls. Bedford Falls is more than just a town to the movie's hero. It's a community, it's home. It's the place where friends and family come together along tree-lined streets, sidewalks, businesses and houses. And when the movie's villain threatens Bedford Falls, the hero knows it is more than just a threat to his housing choices. It is a threat to his home. This is what smart growth is all about. Creating places where families, businesses and communities can come together and thrive. Towns like Bedford Falls need your help...Bedford Falls might be fictional, but it’s a story that plays out across the country every day. No town wants to become a Pottersville.

I have to say that appealing to Bedford Falls as depicted in "It's a Wonderful Life" as a symbol of all that is good and place-centered in urban America without any qualification misses the point by a good deal. As depicted, Bedford Falls is certainly idyllic. But at a deeper level there are unmistakable signs that all is not well, and the source of the impending tragedy that will be full-tilt auto-oriented suburbanization is not Old Man Potter but George Bailey himself. It simply cannot be denied that the new housing Bailey Building & Loan is financing in the movie is suburban tract, Levittown-style housing that appears unconnected from the main street and is reachable only by car (or at least, you only see cars in the scene when the Martini family enter their new "castle"). The unbridled greed of Mr. Potter may well be the ultimate source of the accompanying post-war American tragedy of de-industrialization that treated moving jobs to low-wage states and economies as a kind of never-ending parlor game. Yet it is also hard to deny that well-intentioned George is the point of the spear when it comes to the cul-de-sac McMansions that have come to rule suburban America in our time. While I view Jim Kunstler as a decided mixed-bag, his decade-old take on this is essentially perfect and I'm with him that Pottersville looks a whole lot more exciting than what Bedford Falls would almost certainly have become in our time under George's steady hand:

Frank Capra's 1946 movie "It's a Wonderful Life" has become the totemic American Christmas story over the last couple of decades. It was a box-office flop when it came out, but constant holiday-time TV exposure since then turned it into the classic it has now become. It has replaced Dicken's A Christmas Carol with an updated and more accessible American mythology. But a close examination shows that it contains strange, paradoxical, and disturbing messages for our time. 

The movie was made just after our nation's triumphal victory over manifest evil in World War Two, but it carries a heavy undertone of the Great Depression that preceeded the war. Indeed the story takes place from early in the 20th century to the middle of it and, in a way, can be viewed as a comprehensive social history of America's industrial high tide. To greatly simplify it, the story concerns the denizens of Bedford Falls, New York, a provincial main street town, and one George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who grows up to preside over a little Savings & Loan Association (a kind of bank that no longer exists thanks to the scandals of the 1980s). Over the years, George struggles with his family-owned bank, tries to help his neighbors, raises a family with wife Mary (Donna Reed), and eventually endures a great personal crisis of conscience and self-worth, from which he is rescued by an angel. In the end, the world is made right and Christmas carols ring out as the credits roll. Oddly, George Bailey's greatest accomplishment in the movie is shown to be the development of Bedford Falls' first suburb, Bailey Park, with a scene of much patriotic hoopla when the first unit is sold to the owner of a local restaurant, Mr. Martini, an immigrant. I say odd because of how innocently clueless our collective imagination was about the consequences of that seemingly benign transaction. Like vicious nano-bots, the little units of suburban America metastisized over the following fifty years to consume and defeat all the small towns like Bedford Falls in America, and all the rich local social and economic networks that the movie celebrates, including George's bank and Mr. Martini's family-owned restaurant. Along similar lines is the sequence in which George Bailey is shown, by the angel who saves him from a suicide attempt, how Bedford Falls would have turned out if George had never been born. The town is renamed Pottersville, after the movie's villain, a greedy rival banker played by Lionel Barrymore. How striking and odd, though, what a wonderful town Pottersville actually appears to be, compared to the real horror of what happened to American towns in the late 20th century. In fact, Pottersville looks like the kind of tourist town that demoralized suburbanites now flock to for country weekends. Standing on Pottersville's lively Main Street, George sees the sidewalks full of people. Some of them are carousing drunks. Some of the businesses are gin-mills, with hints of prostitution and all the other usual quaint human vices of an earlier day (including many that are now part of mainstream American culture). But the catch is that Pottersville is actually portrayed as a town brimming with life and activity! Only the content is considered bad -- too many gin mills and loose women, not enough soda fountains. 

As we really know, the many Bedford Falls of our nation have uniformly become hollowed-out ghost towns with no life and no activity. And the George Baileys of our world went on to become the WalMart moguls and real estate tycoons who sold out their towns and ultimately destroyed them. So, it really provokes me to wonder what Americans are thinking when they see this beautifully-crafted but deeply paradoxical movie. Do we notice what it is we really have lost? And how insidious the process was?


Tactical Urbanism Salon

Urban Interventions, Near and Far: Afternoon Sessions at the Tactical Urbanism Salon

The afternoon speaker session included a range of professionals from the public and private sectors, reflecting on a variety of urban interventions in Boston and around the globe. 

The first speaker of the afternoon, Ryan Harms from advertising agency ArnoldWorldwide , provided perspective on the role of private corporations in civic engagement. He introduced Outpost - a project to design and develop portable office space from shipping containers. He posed a question (and a challenge) to large corporations: how can placemaking tactics be used to retain and attract creative capital in Boston? 

Dan Bartman, from the City of Somerville Office of Strategic Planning & Community Development and co-Author of "Tactical Urbanism", addressed both top-down and bottom-up tactical interventions. Referencing Nicco Mele's earlier discussion of the potential role of technology, Dan highlighted crowd-funding (as well as crowd-lending and crowd-investing) as a key tool for implementing urban interventions on any scale. 

David Glick presented his research on European citizen urbanism. One example, a community garden in Berlin that operates as a flexible, quasi-public space - serving as garden, cafe, kitchen, restaurant, school, library, and performance space - broached the question, "should permanence always be the end goal?" 

Charles McCabe, from the Rose Kennedy Greenway, discussed the importance of place making in public green space. He highlighted the array of activities and interventions that have occurred along the Greenway - from food vending to art installations. Charles concluded with an invitation to contribute suggestions for interventions in an underutilized space, Parcel 12 near the North End, that engage people in public space.

Jessica Parsons of Circle the City, Boston's Open Streets Project, presented the organizations' successful efforts to provide public space for innovative, healthy and community-minded uses. Circle the City is a local example of the worldwide movement to temporarily reclaim street space that is generally dedicated to automobile use for walking, bicycling, games, commercial activity and socializing. Circle the City implemented four open streets in the last two years, and is looking for sponsors to continue their initiative in the future. 

Russell Preston, CNU New England President, reviewed the Kennedy Plaza project in Providence, Rhode Island, a collaboration with Union Studio Architects. A series of small-scale, temporary interventions, from temporary parks to beer gardens ("sanctioned drinking") gradually paved the way for a long-term capital improvement project on a historically underutilized downtown plaza. Russell concluded by emphasizing the value of connecting the design of space to place-making, and how short-term interventions can provide invaluable input for successful long-term developments. 


Tactical Urbanism Salon

Big ideas in small interventions: Morning discussions at the Tactical Urbanism Salon

Local planners, architects, and community members presented to a standing room-only crowd at District Hall in the Innovation District for the second day of the Boston Tactical Urbanism Salon. Topics ranged from the concrete to the conceptual, orange cones to space-saving, street-friendly cars. The focus throughout was delivering big change in little packages.

Mike Lydon of the Street Plans Collaborative opened the morning, discussing the tactical urbanism state of the practice around the world. Mike emphasized that Tactical Urbanism isn't just about small interventions--it's about small interventions that move towards long-term change. In cities like Boston with a rich neighborhood fabric, this often involves fostering and scaling good ideas that develop naturally in urban neighborhoods.

Mark Matel of Nuestra Communidad CDC in Roxbury discussed Bartlett Yard, a former MBTA busyard that his organization is helping to redevelop. In the meantime, Matel's organization has used tactical urbanism to engage the community and envision what future growth will look like.

"[We tried to foster] a culture of yes... where when someone has a good idea you try your best to make that happen."  - Mark Matel

Jennifer Effron of Washington Gateway Main Street discussed the overhaul of the I-95 underpass at Washington and Albany in the South End. Her presentation sparked a discussion about strategies to mitigate the safety and aesthetic issues with one of the most challenging types of urban infrastructure. 

Alexis Canter of Sasaki presented on the Midtown Detroit Techtown District and how tactical interventions can help bring the energy of research and technology institutions out to the street. 

Ryan Chin of MIT Media Lab talks about the small technologies that could make big impacts on urban living. ultra-compact, ultra-mobile cars, flexible micro-apartments, and highly compact urban agriculture. 

Vineet Gupta of the Boston Transportation Department explores the evolving role of city government in an era where the roles of information technology and "bricks-and-mortar" infrastructure are merging.

"We are the government and we're here to help you enjoy the city."

Rachel Szakmary, also of the Boston Transportation Department, talks about the city's parklets pilot program and how the city government is working with neighborhoods to create flexible, seasonal parklets that respond to the needs of each particular place.

Mariko Davidson, recent graduate of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning discussed tactical urbanism from an academic perspective, exploring how the movement developed from public art to a powerful way of effecting change in urban environments. Her challenge to the audience and tacticians: consider how a code of ethics for tactical urbanism would legitimize and make efforts more effective.  

Aaron Naparstek, founding editor of Streetsblog, talked about the tactical birth of livable streets movement in New York City, showed how these grassroots efforts shifted to become official city Department of Transportation policies, and noted how activists now need to make state and federal lawmakers understand the movement or "see the chair-bombs."

Nicco Mele, author of The End of Big, ended the morning with his midday keynote on technology empowering individuals. He raised a question of core relevance to tactical urbanism: how do we reconcile the important values and responsibilities of large institutions with the increasingly individualistic focus of technology and society?


Join us for our September Happy Hour!

September 25th, 7:00PM at Abigail's in Kendall Square

Come chat with CNU New England members and supporters. Hear about the upcoming Tactical Urbanism Salon, recent advocacy, and the launch of our new website at cnunewengland.org.

Don't miss the chance to meet Dr. Emily Talen, CNU National leader and visiting professor at MIT. Learn about her latest research on community land trusts (CLTs) and their potential to alleviate affordable housing shortages in walkable neighborhoods, as well as her work on urban codes and urban form. 

Come for fun and interesting conversation!

RSVP through Eventbrite.  Free to attend; cash bar.

August 2013 Advocacy Activities

The CNU New England Advocacy Committee is continuing its efforts efforts over the summer to promote sustainable urbanism in the Boston area in particular. For more information on the Advocacy Committee and how to get involved, please see the advocacy page on the CNUNE website.

Development Projects

Logan Nash and Lisa Gluckstein of the CNU New England Advocacy Committee were recently involved in the public approvals process for the 40 Trinity project, a 33-story, mixed-use project in the Back Bay. The members met with Jordan Warshaw, a developer with Saunders Hotel Group, and discussed the project, its benefits to local urbanism, and its current status in the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) approval process. After reviewing the Draft Project Impact Report, the committee determined that the project was thoughtfully developed in accordance with New Urbanist principles and of an appropriate density and scale for its placement in the heart of Back Bay, near Copley Square. Lisa attended the BRA Scoping Session, and Logan and Lisa participated in the public meeting on July 30th. The committee is expressing CNUNE's stance that the project promotes high-density, pedestrian-oriented development that will have positive city-wide impacts in a letter of support, which will be submitted to the BRA.

The committee hopes to undertake similar project-specific advocacy efforts in the future, working to provide constructive criticism on projects in order to assert CNUNE's position as a credible advocate for responsible urban development in the Boston area. Logan and Lisa are currently investigating projects where CNUNE can be involved at an earlier stage to provide input on projects affecting the built environment. The committee is also looking into projects that could fold into a future CNUNE program or event.

Green Line Safety

The Advocacy Committee has been exploring the safety implications of the MBTA's proposed implementation of a Positive Train Control (PTC) on the Green Line. While only a light-rail system, the Green Line provides very high frequency transit service to some of the most densely populated and regionally significant areas of Boston's urban core. However, it is currently manually controlled by drivers, and as a result has suffered a few high-profile collisions that have attracted the attention of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which have recommended the installation of an automated PTC system to improve overall safety. However, a PTC system would require longer headways than those in use under the current driver-controlled system. Without other major capacity improvements, this would result in decreased Green Line capacity on this significant transit asset, which is already overcrowded.

The implementation of a PTC system, and its negative effects on Green Line capacity, will force more people to drive as an alternative. While this is obviously detrimental to the goal of a dense, sustainable, and transit-friendly urban core, it may actually reduce transportation safety. Statistically, driving is much more dangerous that traveling by public transit. In effect, efforts to improve overall safety through a PTC system could reduce overall safety for areas served by the Green Line by making transit less convenient and, consequently, encouraging driving. 

We are currently compiling data from the MBTA, MassDOT, and MAPC to compare rates of fatality per vehicle mile traveled for each mode of transportation. It is clear that fatality rates will be significantly higher per car VMT, and we are working to complete that analysis. We also are considering how to estimate the number of people who might switch from public transit to car given the decrease in Green Line efficiency, which is another crucial figure for the analysis.

Our goal for this project is to encourage the MBTA to reconsider an expensive PTC system as an improvement to overall safety. This research may also have implications for FTA's national policy focus on transit safety. The marginal benefits to safety of focusing on the topic narrowly may in fact be less than if the US Department of Transportation focused on shifting more drivers onto relatively safer transit service.