Author: John McDonald

Waterbury: A Challenge for Community and Economic Developers

Waterbury’s clock tower rises above burned-out section of American Brass building

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American Brass was one of Waterbury’s “Big Three” brass manufacturing firms. American was formed in 1893 as a holding company for six brass firms and by 1909, American manufactured two-thirds of all the brass produced in the United States and consumed one-third of all the copper produced in the county. American was bought by in 1922 by the Anaconda Copper Mining Corporation and was merged into Anaconda’s other businesses in 1960. Thenceforth known as Anaconda American Brass, the name which adorns the facade of the Freight Street rolling mill, the company continued as an entity of gradually lessening importance until all operations were moved out of state.

The American Brass complex lies on a parcel of land between Freight and West Main Streets not far from downtown. The majority of the buildings were constructed in 1910. These include a single-story 150,000 square foot rolling mill on Freight Street and a smaller three story structure located at the foot of Crane Street. I explored both of these buildings during my two trips to the site. Environmental Waste Resources, a hazardous waste disposal company, operated out of the complex during the 1980s. Phoenix Soil, another waste disposal company, rented the facility from 1992 until 2012, when they moved their operations to Plainville, CT. It has sat vacant since.

Exterior and interior of Crane Street building

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Some of the American buildings were razed to make way for a small strip mall anchored by a Walgreens store. This mall also contains a liquor store and auto parts store and is frequented by panhandlers. If you park in the mall lot and walk past the Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Crane Street building comes into view. Chances are, you will be able to walk into the building without attracting the attention of passers-by. There are no fences or signs warning against trespassing. This building is three stories but the main portion is one large open space. It is possible to climb to the second story of the building but rotting floors and hordes of wasps make it difficult to reach the top floor.

From the Crane Street building, it is possible to walk through the lot to the rolling mill. This is a large wide-open structure where some of Phoenix Soil machinery can be seen. There are 55-gallon drums and 50,000 gallon tanks near a large apparatus of undetermined usage. The rest of the space is vacant, and water has fallen through the gaps in the decaying roof creating a large pool in one portion of the building. I ended my exploration here. There is another structure located to the north but I elected not to check it out as there was activity in the area.

Exterior and interior of rolling mill

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Post written by former Extension intern, John McDonald. More of John’s writing can be seen at writtenonthelandscape.wordpress.com

Brownfield Revitalization as a Community Development Catalyst

Brownfield redevelopment has become a hot topic of late. The issue can be examined through a number of different lens. A project in Middletown, Connecticut will focus on the health outcomes of brownfield conversion in inner-city neighborhoods. Middletown’s Department of Planning, Conservation and Development has been awarded a grant from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a division of the Center for Disease Control. One of the aims of this initiative is to increase recreational opportunities on unused brownfield properties in order to address health disparities including childhood obesity and associated illnesses in several of Middletown’s urban areas. This is a very interesting take on the subject, and the process of creating playgrounds from brownfields can serve as a powerful symbol of neighborhood revitalization. The Middletown initiative also seeks to educate community residents about the potential hazards posed by contaminated buildings and land. This latter task is also being done in Waterbury through the Waterbury Environmental Health Fund.

As Hugh Bailey, a journalist for Hearst Media and urban planner who has researched brownfield revitalization in many communities across the nation and in Germany, points out, a paradigm shift is necessary when dealing with brownfields. It is not enough to see them in economic terms, but in how they can be redeveloped for the benefit of their communities. In his presentation, “Ruins Reborn”, developed from the short film and series of articles that were the product of his research, Mr. Bailey described the difference in how the Germans approach the issues of brownfields. The Germans have a more holistic view of the problem, unlike the case-by-case assessment typical of American brownfield redevelopment. Mr. Bailey discussed Landschaft Park in Duisburg, the focal point of a network of greenways and revitalized brownfields in the Ruhr Valley. This re-appropriation of the post-industrial environment is notable for its aesthetic and cultural significance. The Germans have taken what was once one of the most heavily industrialized regions of Europe, nearly rendered a wasteland by the departure of the manufacturing base, and transformed it into an area with a strong sense of place and community. This was achieved by tapping into the industrial heritage of the Ruhr Valley, which was not seen as a liability, but an important component of the region’s identity. The Germans were able to keep many buildings intact but gave them new purposes, ones that serve the greater good of the community and environment. Mr. Bailey noted that preserving buildings in place is a better solution than demolition, which releases large amounts of toxins into the atmosphere.

Mr. Bailey proposes something similar for the Route 8 corridor, and spoke of Knowlton Park in Bridgeport as a beachhead on that city’s beleaguered waterfront. He stressed the importance of connectivity, a theme frequently invoked at the Let’s Talk Trails event. If all the elements of the project are not united by a single vision or master plan, the prospect for success and overall effect of redevelopment will be much lower. Mr. Bailey brought up the necessity of using available state and federal funding to leverage private monies, but acknowledged that in-demand locations such as Boston and New York are seen as lower risk to developers than communities like Bridgeport, despite the latter city’s harbor and transportation access. Towns like Ansonia and Waterbury are considered even riskier, and the issue of connectivity is of great importance in this regard. Mr. Bailey spoke of the catalytic effect, the process by which one successfully redeveloped property changes the complexion of the surrounding neighborhood and spurs further revitalization, and hoped that Knowlton Park and O’Sullivan’s Island in Derby, in conjunction with the Naugatuck River Greenway, would have this effect in starting the transformation of the post-industrial landscape in the Route 8 corridor.

 

-John McDonald, Extension Intern

Let’s Talk Trails Write-up

The Let’s Talk Trails event held yesterday at Torrington City Hall was arguably a gathering of the most important people involved in trail development, construction and maintenance in the state of Connecticut. Bruce Donald, Chairman of the Connecticut Greenways Council and President of the Farmington Valley Trails Council, Clare Cain of the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association (CFPA), and Laurie Giannotti of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) all participated, offering their collective experience in a series of brief presentations. Other panelists included Bruce Dinnie, Director of Vernon Parks and Recreation, a 30-year veteran of trail construction and maintenance, and Beth Critton, an attorney who sits of the Board of Directors for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I must provide the caveat that the following synopsis does not offer a comprehensive account of this event. Readers who wish to learn more should consult our trails resources page which should be up and running very soon.

Bruce Donald’s overview of the various benefits of greenways set the tone for the morning’s proceedings. Some of what he discussed, such as economic impact and preservation and amenity value, were examined at length in the recent literature review drafted by the UConn Extension. Important topics not covered by the review but explored in detail by Mr. Donald included the role of greenways in the transportation network and in pollution and noise abatement. As Mr. Donald reported, one important new development is that biking and pedestrian activity are now considered viable transportation alternatives by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and bike/ped projects are eligible for funding as such. A balanced transportation system is now seen as one in which biking and walking play a significant role. This is reflected in such programs as Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets. The pollution and noise abatement properties of greenways are directly related to their role in the transportation system, as every trip taken by bike or on foot equates to one less trip by a motor vehicle.

Clare Cain, like Mr. Donald, emphasized the importance of trail connectivity as she discussed how the state Blue-Blazed Trail System has evolved since its inception in the 1920s. While suburban development has severed existing trails and makes it difficult to connect others, the end goal of the CFPA is an interconnected statewide network of hiking trails. Ms. Cain talked at length about the volunteer cadre that is the backbone of the CFPA, a sentiment that was later echoed by Bruce Dinnie of Vernon Parks and Recreation. Ms. Cain discussed important new technological developments that have changed the way CFPA works. All new trailhead kiosks feature a QR code, enabling smartphone users to download trail maps, access the CFPA website, and report trail conditions to the CFPA. These user-generated trail condition reports can then be used to direct trail maintenance activities. The trailhead kiosks serve as the CFPA’s public interface as well as a partial trail user counting system. The CFPA’s mapping database has also been overhauled. Much of this data is publicly accessible through Google-based interactive maps. These maps indicate trail locations and length and parking information such as location, type of parking facility and number of parking spaces. These maps also alert users to trail closures and restrictions and provide a more up-to-date accounting of the trail system than the CFPA’s traditional guidebooks, the latest edition of which came out in 2006.

Laurie Giannotti gave a specific presentation about constructing trails on DEEP property, but she also discussed the benefits that being recognized by the Connecticut Greenways Council can confer upon a designated trail. These benefits include official greenway signage at all trailheads and road crossings, a higher profile for grant requests, and inclusion in the Connecticut Plan of Conservation and Development. Most importantly, Ms. Giannotti stressed that providing ease of access is perhaps the best marketing strategy for a trail or greenway.

Bruce Dinnie discussed his lengthy experience in trail development and maintenance as Director of Parks and Recreation in Vernon, a community with three designated greenways, numerous town-owned hiking trails and a portion of the CFPA Shenipsit Trail. Mr. Dinnie praised his greenway volunteers and talked about the role of sponsorship in trail maintenance. He also discussed some of the technical aspects of trail construction and maintenance. Mr. Dinnie veered into environmental psychology topics when he mentioned how removing trees to improve visibility along trails led female trail users to feel safer, how signs should be welcoming and not a list of do-not proscriptions, and how a mural project led to a decrease in graffiti at an underpass tunnel on the Vernon trail system.

Beth Critton’s presentation centered on the potential risks for trail users and the liabilities assumed by trail owners and organizations. After listing, in an often-humorous fashion, most of risks trail users could face, she discussed the differences in liability between non-profit and for-profit trails organizations and mentioned several key court cases and the Connecticut General Statutes with relevance to trail construction and maintenance.

I was not able to stay for the following roundtable discussion.

 

-John McDonald, Extension Intern

Let’s Talk Trails, Thursday, October 22 at Torrington City Hall

It is exciting when community partners, municipal officials and universities have an open dialogue regarding projects that will affect the towns and cities in which we reside. The proposed Naugatuck River Greenway has become a focal point for governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, and the University of Connecticut. Interest in greenways and multi-use trails has been growing in recent years, and many studies of their potential benefits have been conducted, usually from an economic perspective. The economic impact study of the proposed Naugatuck River Greenway which was initiated over the summer is a collaborative effort between UConn and the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and is partially funded by the Connecticut Community Foundation. The Naugatuck River Greenway Steering Committee members represent the eleven communities through which the completed greenway would pass. They hail from a variety of backgrounds. Some are parks and trails professionals while others represent organizations working toward the economic and environmental well-being of the Naugatuck Valley communities.

On Thursday October 22nd from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Torrington City Hall, trails professionals will host the Let’s Talk Trails event, a panel discussion on the benefits that trails can provide the communities through which they pass. Presenters will use existing Connecticut multi-use trails and the blue-blazed hiking trail system as examples to discuss best practices for trail design, construction and maintenance. The panel will include John Monroe, the Director of Rhode Island and Connecticut projects for the Rivers and Trails Program of the National Park Service; Clare Cain, the Connecticut Forest and Park Association Trails Stewardship Director; Bruce Dinnie, the Director of the Parks and Recreation Department of Vernon; Beth Critton, an attorney who serves on the Board of Directors of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Laurie Giannotti, the State of Connecticut DEEP Parks, Trails and Greenways Program coordinator and DEEP liaison to the Connecticut Greenways Council; and Bruce Donald, who is President of the Farmington Valley Trails Council, Chairman of the Connecticut Greenways Council, and Chair of the Connecticut Committee of the East Coast Greenway Alliance.

I will be attending the event and will post a complete summary afterward.

 

-John McDonald, Extension Intern

 

“Ruins Reborn”, Hugh Bailey offers revitalization strategies

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Former Bristol Babcock complex in Waterbury, photo by John McDonald

 

Hugh Bailey, urban planner, columnist for the Connecticut Post, and member of UConn class of 1999, will be speaking on the issue of the post-industrial challenges posed by the numerous abandoned buildings in Connecticut’s urban areas. His presentation, “Ruins Reborn: Revitalizing Post-industrial Cities”, scheduled for 10/28 from 12:30 to 2:00 pm at the Waterbury campus of the University of Connecticut, promises to tackle this issue in a fashion which would integrate historical preservation and community economic development. I am looking forward to hearing Mr. Bailey speak. The harsh realities of the post-industrial decline hit Connecticut’s cities in the 1970s. Many communities have never fully recovered. The legacies of our reliance on heavy industry have included fiscal insolvency and environmental degradation. While underutilized, polluted buildings and land abound, it is important to remember that the scale of the problems we currently face are lesser than they once were.

I was born in Waterbury in 1973. My first inkling of the post-industrial decline came with my father’s layoff in 1980. Food stamps soon supplemented our meagre income. We bounced back somewhat during the Reagan years, but another recession was around the corner. I left high school in the thick of it, with no concrete plans for my future. I became a college student only recently, after a lengthy odyssey that included Job Corps, an apprenticeship, and many low-paying service jobs. My memories of post-industrial Waterbury are vivid and my experiences in this landscape shaped my environmental attitudes, in this case meaning my enduring orientations to the physical environment. I remember riding in my parent’s minivan along Silver Street, en route to the Naugatuck Valley Mall on Wolcott Street. I looked out the window in awe at the derelict Scovill Brass buildings. This massive complex covered nearly 200 acres. I remember some ten years later, walking down East Main Street, still in the shadow of the Scovill buildings.

Waterbury’s landscape has already been greatly altered. The Brass Mill Center currently occupies the former Scovill site. True to my blue-collar roots, I worked as an apprentice electrician, wiring a few of the stores in the new mall which was completed in 1996. Other industrial sites in Waterbury have since been demolished. There are similar instances throughout the Naugatuck Valley. Naugatuck has also been transformed as the former U.S. Rubber complex has largely been razed. Those familiar with the region’s industrial heyday are no doubt surprised to see how much of the built environment has been changed. Mr. Bailey advocates a different sort of approach than widespread demolition, which sometimes results in polluted lots sitting vacant for years, or conversion to retail space, which would further dissipate the area’s limited consumer base. In his article, which has been published in UConn Magazine, Mr. Bailey discusses other ways to deal with the problems posed by abandoned factory buildings.

One of Mr. Bailey’s suggestions is to link the proposed Naugatuck River Greenway with factory complexes restored as industrial heritage sites. As Mr. Bailey reports, this strategy has worked well in the Ruhr Valley of Germany, one of Europe’s most heavily industrialized areas. Mr. Bailey also discusses instances where factory complexes have been converted into successful mixed-use developments. Mr. Bailey believes that these type of developments can help post-industrial cities regain their lost identity by connecting their rich past to their uncertain future. In this sense, these cities can be reborn, as the title of Mr. Bailey’s lecture suggests.

From my experience assisting with the economic impact study of the Naugatuck River Greenway, I understand that these sort of projects can be costly and may not provide the type of economic boost Naugatuck Valley municipalities are looking for. They are long-term solutions to a pervasive problem whose benefits will accrue over time and ultimately create stronger communities. The Naugatuck Valley cities and towns must be made aware of such concepts as amenity value, preservation value, and social capital; intangibles that are often difficult to quantify. That may prove to be as big of a challenge as restoring factory buildings that have been abandoned, in some instances, for nearly 40 years.

 

Event information: http://events.uconn.edu/event/41793/2015-10-28

Mr. Bailey’s article: http://magazine.uconn.edu/2015/04/ruins-reborn/

 

– John McDonald, Extension Intern

Spirit and sense of place in relation to the Naugatuck River Greenway

The Romans advanced the concept of the genius loci, or protective spirit dwelling in a certain place. The same idea, minus the superstitious trappings of polytheism, is today reflected in the notions of spirit and sense of place. Spirit of place is more often used with unspoiled or rural locations, and references the aesthetic properties of these locales. Romantic poetry and landscape paintings attempt to convey these qualities. Sense of place refers mostly to domestic and urban sites and their psychological and social significance. It is important to understand how we are affected by the spirit of the places that we cherish and how we come to develop a sense of place through residency and habit. Many places in rural, suburban, and urban areas are under constant pressure of being redeveloped or otherwise changed due to fluctuations in the economy. In fact, it is important to realize our environment as a palimpsest, or canvas that has been painted and painted over many times throughout the course of history.

It is not necessary to look too deeply into the surrounding landscape to see vestiges of former patterns of land use. The rocky fields that broke the backs and hearts of Connecticut farmers have been reclaimed by second growth forest or transformed into pretentiously titled suburban developments. The industrial complexes that once brought money pouring into municipal coffers stand forlorn and affronted, weather beaten and vandalized, if, in fact, they have not already been torn down to make way for malls and shopping centers. I have explored the Connecticut landscape at large and chronicled my investigations into the past and present spirits of the places that I have found. I have examined my own sense of attachment to the places where I have lived, worked, and played. I have connected these experiences with what I have learned as a student.

From all these studies, both informal and academic, I have taken away the notion that changes to the landscape can be positive if well-directed and funded. True to New Urbanist principles, we can have a smoothly functioning relationship between our urban centers and their peri-urban and rural hinterlands. Open space preservation and infill development have been two of the most promising trends in modern planning work. Greenways and multi-use trails fulfill both these missions. This can be witnessed across Connecticut, but most emphatically in the Naugatuck River valley, where the interplay between the newly restored river, the abandoned industrial and transportation infrastructure, and the health and aesthetic needs of the residents of the distressed Valley municipalities has created a situation where the completion of the proposed 44-mile Naugatuck River Greenway should be seen as an imperative.

The forthcoming environmental impact analysis of the Naugatuck River Greenway has, by intention and design, a directed focus. Preservation values, health benefits, and aesthetic values are difficult to quantify. Measures such as recreation expenditures, property values, and jobs created make more sense to the municipal governments of the strapped Valley towns. It is important to note, as many researchers have pointed out, that greenways and multi-use trails are not “a panacea for economic growth” (Bunting & Briand, 2003). Unfortunately, this is how the proposed greenway must be pitched. The literature review portion of the study attempts to situate the Naugatuck River Greenway within the regional history and the history of greenways themselves. It is necessary to make these connections in order to get the full picture of how the proposed Naugatuck River Greenway will affect the Naugatuck Valley cities and towns. By considering this information and supplementing it with survey data, it is possible to capture the genius loci of the Valley and to understand how area residents may positively identify with the greenway, creating a stronger sense of place and community.

 

References

 

Bunting, D. & Briand, G. (2003). Impact of trails and greenways in Spokane’s Great River Gorge. Eastern Washington State University Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis. Retrieved from http://friendsofthefalls.org/documents/EWU-ecostudy.pdf

 

– John McDonald, Extension Intern

Assessing the potential value of the Naugatuck River Greenway

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Naugatuck River in Waterbury, photo by John McDonald

 

Greenways are multi-use trails that act as linear parks, often following the course of a river or former right-of-way such as a canal, railway or trolley line, or abandoned road. The Greenway movement gathered momentum in the United States through the 1980s and ’90s, and in 2001, the Naugatuck River Greenway was conceived. As of September 2015, there are only four unconnected, short segments totaling 4.1 miles in length. Completion of the greenway requires buy-in on behalf of the Valley municipalities and, with this in mind, an economic impact analysis was proposed by the Naugatuck River Greenway Steering Committee. The economic impact analysis will be a collaborative effort between the University of Connecticut Extension, UConn’s Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, and the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments.

This study will be the first economic impact analysis of a Connecticut greenway or multi-use trail. To date, a literature review has been drafted examining similar studies and situating the project within its historical and regional context. Trail user intercept studies are planned for fall 2015, and focus groups with administrators of existing Connecticut trails will follow in the spring of 2016. The data gathered by these methods will supplement the formal economic analysis done by CCEA and the end result will be a comprehensive evaluation of the impact that the construction of the Naugatuck River Greenway will have on the Naugatuck Valley. It is hoped that the findings will encourage Naugatuck Valley municipalities to invest in the construction of the greenway, which has the potential to be beneficial in many ways to the communities it will pass through.

Potential monetary benefits include jobs added, increases in property values and, by extension, property tax revenue, and recreational expenditures by trail users which is hoped will stimulate more purchases in the Naugatuck Valley. CCEA will conduct a formal economic analysis using existing economic data and an economic simulation model called REMI, designed by Regional Economic Modeling, Incorporated. This analysis will examine regional trends and the impact that the construction of the Naugatuck River Greenway will have on the regional economy. This, however, is only one part of determining the value of the greenway. Non-monetary benefits include health benefits due to increased physical activity, preservation value due to the conservation in perpetuity of the greenway as open space, and the sense of the greenway as a community resource with aesthetic and social significance.

 

– John McDonald, Extension Intern

 

The role of greenways and multi-use trails in Connecticut

The concept of a network of trails in the state of Connecticut dates back to 1929, when the Connecticut Forest and Park Association established the blue-blazed hiking trail system (CFPA, 2006). In many cases, these trails follow steep ridgelines in their quest for the most commanding views. They are accessible only to those who are able-bodied and reasonably fit. The relationship between the blue-blazed trails and Connecticut’s municipalities centers on the essential compromise between development and conservation. They are not urban trails and do not function as unifying elements in the built environment.

Greenways and multi-use trails are gently graded and often paved or surfaced with gravel. These trails are widely accessible, often to the handicapped. They often follow obsolete rights-of-way such as disused railway lines, trolley lines, roads and canal beds as they wend their way through the rolling hills typical of Connecticut’s landscape. Many greenways follow the course of rivers, as did the old railways. As rivers, railways, and canals have served and, in some cases, still serve as transportation networks, they connect cities and towns. It stands to reason that greenways and multi-use trails can link communities in a manner that hiking trails cannot.

In 1995 the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 95-335, which institutionalized Connecticut’s greenways program, and the Connecticut Greenways Council recognized the state’s first greenway in 2001 (DEEP, 2015). This governing body acknowledges that greenways allow for the preservation of urban and suburban open space and provide connections between these. The linear nature of greenways and multi-use trails offers multiple points of access. Greenways provide a truly public place in areas where open land is hard to come by. They can and do function as urban parks, and encourage passive recreation.

Outdoor recreation has recently seen an overall increase in participation. Jogging, biking, and hiking are among the top five recreational activities nationwide (Outdoor Industry Association, 2013). Greenways and multi-use trails are mainly used by walkers, with bikers and joggers making up a smaller percentage of users. Many researchers have examined the relationship between greenway-related user expenditures and local economies and their findings are varied. Many studies do not differentiate between types of trail users, and caution is needed when estimating the sales revenue generated by multi-use trails and greenways. These trails may not provide the economic infusion desperately needed by many Connecticut communities.

Perhaps the most optimistic view of these trails is that through the provision of a physical connection between communities they will encourage individuals to explore their surroundings and give them a safe place to walk, jog, and ride, which in many areas is sorely lacking. Greenways and multi-use trails can also take their users back in time. In the Ruhr Valley of Germany, planners have tapped into the industrial heritage of the region. They have added to a greenway network that has been in existence since the 1920s, providing links to former industrial sites that now serve as museums and cultural centers (Bailey, 2014). In a once heavily industrialized state such as Connecticut, this strategy could be quite successful.

 

References

 

Bailey, H. (2014). Seeds of the future in icons of the past. Connecticut Post. Retrieved from http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Seeds-of-the-future-in-icons-of-the-past-5940386.php.

 

Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. (2015). Connecticut greenways. Retrieved from http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2707&q=323858&deepNav_GID=1704%20

 

Connecticut Forest and Park Association. (2006). Connecticut walk book: West. Rockfall, CT: CFPA.

 

Outdoor Industry Association. (2013). Outdoor participation report. Retrieved from http://www.outdoorindustry.org/images/researchfiles/ParticipationStudy2013.pdf

 

– John McDonald, Extension Intern