Blog Posts

What is New Urbanism?

No, it’s not a new brewery! New Urbanism is a movement to embrace the structure of a city to the benefit of the community. Lots of old cities like, Norwood have some of these principals innately. However, they would be recognized as things of the past Walking to the store? Looking to the future, these ideals would be easily implemented.

Principals of New Urbanism

1. Walkability

-Most things within a 10-minute walk of home and work
-Pedestrian friendly street design (buildings close to street; porches, windows & doors; tree-lined streets; on street parking; hidden parking lots; garages in rear lane; narrow, slow speed streets)
-Pedestrian streets free of cars in special cases

2. Connectivity

-Interconnected street grid network disperses traffic & eases walking
-A hierarchy of narrow streets, boulevards, and alleys
-High quality pedestrian network and public realm makes walking pleasurable

3. Mixed-Use & Diversity

-A mix of shops, offices, apartments, and homes on site. Mixed-use within neighborhoods, within blocks, and within buildings
-Diversity of people – of ages, income levels, cultures, and races

4. Mixed Housing

A range of types, sizes and prices in closer proximity

5. Quality Architecture & Urban Design

Emphasis on beauty, aesthetics, human comfort, and creating a sense of place; Special placement of civic uses and sites within community. Human scale architecture & beautiful surroundings nourish the human spirit

6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure

-Discernable center and edge
-Public space at center
-Importance of quality public realm; public open space designed as civic art
-Contains a range of uses and densities within 10-minute walk
-Transect planning: Highest densities at town center; progressively less dense towards the edge. The transect is an analytical system that conceptualizes mutually reinforcing elements, creating a series of specific natural habitats and/or urban lifestyle settings. The Transect integrates environmental methodology for habitat assessment with zoning methodology for community design. The professional boundary between the natural and man-made disappears, enabling environmentalists to assess the design of the human habitat and the urbanists to support the viability of nature. This urban-to-rural transect hierarchy has appropriate building and street types for each area along the continuum.

 

-More buildings, residences, shops, and services closer together for ease of walking, to enable a more efficient use of services and resources, and to create a more convenient, enjoyable place to live.
-New Urbanism design principles are applied at the full range of densities from small towns, to large cities

8. Smart Transportation

-A network of high-quality trains connecting cities, towns, and neighborhoods together
-Pedestrian-friendly design that encourages a greater use of bicycles, rollerblades, scooters, and walking as daily transportation

9. Sustainability

-Minimal environmental impact of development and its operations
-Eco-friendly technologies, respect for ecology and value of natural systems
-Energy efficiency
-Less use of finite fuels
-More local production
-More walking, less driving

10. Quality of Life

Taken together these add up to a high quality of life well worth living, and create places that enrich, uplift, and inspire the human spirit.

 

Check out http://www.newurbanism.org for more info and ideas to spark conversation!

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Placemaking. Yes!

I tend to think of Norwood as two separate entities. City and Community. The City is struggling. The Community has a warm, thick pulse. The Community is the thing keeping this place we call home feel alive.

There is a word for what is happening in Norwood. It’s happening in small towns and struggling cities across the country. When City governances are unable or unwilling to meet the needs of the community, often times people turn to “placemaking.” In theory, placemaking is the act of making a place what you want it to be. It’s the DIYers of the community seeing the need for a change and then doing something about it. Working with a team to bring an arts and fair, starting a community orchestra, tending community garden, putting up a Little Free Library, even participating in our favorite rock painting group, are all essentially acts of placemaking.

On a larger scale, however, “strategic placemaking” would be of great benefit to the city. It would require City and Community to share ideas and work together to create places and events that are reflective of the spirit of the community. This does not seem to be a priority for the folks at City Hall. So many great ideas from the community get shut down. I am committed to bridging the gap between these two entities.

 

For more information on placemaking check out these resources and get inspired!:

Warnick, Melody. This is Where You Belong; Finding Home Wherever You Are. Penguin Books. NY, NY. 2017

Project for Public Spaces
https://www.pps.org/reference/what_is_placemaking/

Spaces to Places
http://spacestoplaces.blogs.realtor.org

Creative Placemaking
https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/CreativePlacemaking-Paper.pdf

 


Try, Try Again

In 2015, I ran for City Council in Ward 4 against a long time incumbent. When I decided to run I was told to expect to lose. I was told that first time candidates rarely win. In fact, I could tell you every famous politician that ran for office and lost their first election (Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama) because many seasoned officials quoted them to me. Run. But don’t expect to win. This didn’t really soften the blow when the numbers from the polls started coming in on November 3. (Even if your opponent is winning by marginal votes, they’re still winning.) I was standing with my lifelong friend, also a candidate at the time, also not polling well, and I think he knew my disappointment. He said something that really had a huge impact on me and that I consider quite often. In speaking of our impending losses, he said, “What does this really change for us anyway? Aren’t we just going to keep doing what we do?” For both of us, we would still continue to serve our community. In that moment, I had hope. I would still be able to encourage change in our city through daily interaction with neighbors, with work, and in volunteering.

We make our city better by *being* part of the community, which thankfully there are a lot of people Norwood who do just that. For me being a part of the PTA, volunteering and working in our schools, giving opportunities for musicians in the Community Orchestra, having dialogue with local officials, going to community events, supporting local vendors and nonprofits, connecting people to others, are all things that are important to me and they do not change because of an election, or a campaign season.

Thankfully, my friend was right and nothing has changed about my commitment to making our city better, but I still have the drive to do good on a larger scale. I still feel like I would be a good representative. I still think that my voice can echo the concerns of my neighbors and that I can use that voice to make a change in City Hall.

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Norwood is not immune to certain ailments. In fact, it seems we have our fair share of them. If you listen to the news, drugs, violence, and crime are rampant here. Each time we hear about something terrible, whether it be on the news, or our Facebook feeds, or talking with neighbors in the morning on our way to work; we think to ourselves, “What is this world coming to?” “What is happening to our city?”

People are looking for answers. So what can we do to eliminate some of the problems in Norwood? I would like to offer this simple proposal…Be the Light. Let’s get out into our neighborhoods. Let our children play outside. Walk our kids to school. Relax at the park. Sit out in the evening on our porches with our neighbors or families. These are all such small things. Let each of us determine the type of community we have. We cannot and should not let the fringe dictate the norm. This is our city. Our home. And we love it. So I challenge us, as a community, to “Be the Light.” Be the light that drives out the darkness.

-Val


Why Streets and Sidewalks Aren’t the Only Issue

When I talk to friends, neighbors, and voters a lot of them have the same complaint: streets and sidewalks. I get it. Really, I do. We have potholes. Lots of them. The snakes of tar-filled cracks in the streets are an eyesore. I can’t tell you the amount of times my five year old (who rarely wears shoes outside) has tripped on the broken concrete of the sidewalk and skinned her knee or sliced the corner of her toe. My eight year old, on the other hand, thinks the bumps in the sidewalk make “awesome ramps” (I did, too, when I was his age). But there is a larger, looming issue and hand, something bigger than the repair of the streets and sidewalks.

We need to talk about the big picture. A failing infrastructure in simply indicative of a larger issue. Let’s start a dialogue on the importance of a fiscally responsible Norwood instead of proposing a Levy to raise the funds, or seeking grants to fix the streets and sidewalks. Let’s ask why there isn’t enough money in the General Fund to fix them.

Let’s talk about how we can free up some funds to get things done in Norwood, without turning to grants and levys. Do we need to explore our operational costs as a city? Does our city have cost-saving employee benefits? Do our city-owned buildings need repair to promote energy and cost savings? Can our department heads recognize and initiate ways to reduce spending?

We simply can not keep saying the repairs need to be done and complaining that the City doesn’t have enough money, we need to earnestly discuss how to move forward in a financially responsible way. We need to come together, seek out long-term initiatives (not just another band-aid fix), and enforce financial responsibility – so that in another twenty years from now, political candidates in Norwood still aren’t promising to fix the streets and sidewalks.

-Val

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