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Collaborative Downtown Market Analysis and Benchmarking Workshop Held in December

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 1.51.06 PMAs a partnership between the Connecticut Main Street Center, UConn Extension and the University of Wisconsin Extension six communities and several state agencies attended a workshop on December 2, 2016  to learn how to conduct a downtown market analysis.  Nationally known downtown expert and Community Business Development Specialist Bill Ryan and UConn Extension Educator Laura Brown co-presented the morning agenda which included an overview of ways to use existing data to better understand downtown trade areas and market potential.  John Simone, from the CT Main Street Center led a discussion in the afternoon about what data might be needed to benchmark success and demonstrate how downtowns are changing statewide.  Based on an evaluation of the 14 participants many felt the most effective part of the workshop was learning about new online tools like the Downtown Market Analysis Toolbox, Canva & On The Map.  If you weren’t there, you can explore the tools presented in the workshop here:

 

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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

Celebrating Connecticut’s Makerspaces

 

Spark Maker Space, New London March 2016
Spark Maker Space, New London March 2016

Over the past several years I’ve had the opportunity visit several “makerspaces” and “makerlabs” in both Wisconsin and Connecticut and have been eyeing this growing movement from the sidelines. Just a couple of weeks ago I visited the new Spark Makerspace in New London as well as some downtown highlights including the funky freewheeling performance art venue, Hygienic Art  and Fiddleheads Natural Food Coop.  My tour was organized by  colleagues Hannah Gant of Spark, Anna Perch from New London Main Street and Tammy Daugherty from the Office of Development and Planning.  The galleries, murals, theaters and coffee shops tucked into New London’s charming main street district are evidence of a long lived and growing creative culture here.

Maker spaces seem to have their origins in the cooperative hacker movement in the 1990’s in Europe primarily for computer programmers to share information and ideas.  Over the years maker spaces evolved from these origins to include spaces or organizations that share tools and technology such as 3-D printers, software, craft or hardware supplies, tools, as well as resources and and infrastructure like meeting and work spaces.  Also called “techlabs” or fablabs”   these spaces are governed by their own set of rules but, according to  www.makerspaces.com, “…at the core, they are all places for making, collaborating, learning and sharing.”  Maker spaces have been promoted as a strategy for entrepreneurship  to reduce the costs of startup, product  development and design.   As centers of research, innovation and creativity, many libraries have even joined this movement to offer permanent or temporary maker labs for children and adults.

During my visit to Spark in New London I was greeted by three lively young men who were busy renovating the former El n Gee nightclub into a community run workshop. A brightly lit room was filled with wood working equipment and tools, much of which had been donated or procured from basement clean-outs and yard sales.  While the learning center is open to the general public, members pay monthly dues and may access a wood shop, commercial kitchen, 3D printers, CNC machine and laser cutter, robotics lab, screen-printing equipment, shared office space, and retail space.  Spark acquired the space in October 2015 and hopes to open  in the Spring of 2016.

Spark is not the only makers space in Connecticut and I hope to have the opportunity to see how other spaces are building a creative culture in Connecticut’s communities!  Read a 2013 article on the rise of the Maker Space movement by Hartford Courant’s Matt Pilon  or check out whiteboardct which also maintains a list of co-working space, incubators, and maker spaces.  Here are links to other Connecticut maker spaces (don’t see your link here?  Let me know!)

  • Spark Maker Space – New London, CT http://www.spark.coop/ “Spark Makerspace is a community run workshop and learning center open to the general public. Members pay monthly dues and get access to a full woodshop, commercial kitchen, 3D printers, CNC machine and laser cutter, robotics lab, screen printing equipment, shared office space, retail space and much more.”
  • CT Hacker Space – Watertown, CT http://www.cthackerspace.com/- CT “Hackerspace is a DIY and Technology oriented group located in the US State of Connecticut . Our Mission is to provide a physical location where community members interested in technology can gather to collaborate on projects both physical and conceptual.”
  • MakeHartford – Hartford, CT http://www.makehartford.com/ “It’s a gym for geeks and creative people. Instead of free weights and dumbbells we have 3d printers, CNC machines, and a wood/metal shop to build and create in. MakeHartford is Hartford, CT’s first maker space, i.e. community of artists, technologists, and entrepreneurs for hands-on innovation.”
  • MakeHaven – New Haven, CT http://www.makehaven.org/ “MakeHaven works to educate the community through interest-driven projects and hands-on skill building experiences in mechanics, electronics, crafts, art, design, programming, cooking, biology, chemistry, fabrication, metalworking and woodworking.”
  • Westport Library Makerspace – Westport, CT “The MakerSpace opened July 2012 as a place for people to connect, invent and create. It’s a great way to use your Library, in addition to finding books and movies, working, viewing art, meeting friends and attending programs. Stop by and learn about the 3D printer, which prints physical objects from digital files. People of all ages have come to watch demonstrations of the printer, and to learn how to design and print their own creations! See the calendars below for all of the Maker events.”
  • Danbury Hackerspace – Danbury, CT http://danburyhackerspace.com/- “The Danbury Hackerspace @ the Innovation Center is a hackerspace and co-working facility at 158 Main Street, connected to the Danbury Library. The City of Danbury has graciously provided the space to help launch the hackerspace and build a community of entrepreneurs, makers, craftspeople, & artists. We are now open for membership.”

 

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

On the Training of Community Observers

We have all heard or perhaps spoken the phrase “a fresh set of eyes”, meaning to obtain a second viewpoint or return later to a situation to see what has been missed due to fatigue or overstimulation. Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan makes the distinction between visitors and tourists, for whom a landscape is novel and usually provokes an immediate response, and residents, who may be dulled by familiarity or are too deeply invested in their environment to remain objective. As Tuan (1974) discusses “generally speaking… only the visitor has a viewpoint; his perception is often a matter of using his eyes to compose pictures. The native, by contrast, has a complex attitude derived from his immersion in the totality of his environment” (Tuan, 1974, p. 63). Jacobs (1984) also recognized the primacy of the visual modality when he explained that by simply looking at the built environment it is possible to realize “something of its history, the social and economic changes which have taken place, who lives there now, whether there are major problems that may exist, and whether the area is vulnerable to rapid changes” (Jacobs, 1984, p. 32). However, visitors are often bound for a specific destination and notice little beyond their narrow route, and tourists’ viewpoints can be skewed, as they are on the lookout for places of historical significance or entertainment value. All too frequently, cityscapes become a collection of theater props, as the large-scale environment is reduced to a simplified orientation schema known as a cognitive map in which landmarks figure prominently but lesser elements are usually eliminated (Lynch, 1960).

Everyone, visitors and residents alike, can become purposive observers and gain a deeper knowledge of the communities they investigate. The best mode of transportation for this sort of inquiry is walking. When we step outside of our cars, we are struck with what amounts to a sensory barrage. Stilgoe (1998) refers to what lies beyond our technological cocoon as “unprogrammed awareness that at times becomes directed serendipity” (Stilgoe, 1998, p. 2). It is a valid point to ask how it is possible to move from our initial confusion to the state of mind which facilitates a more thorough exploration of our environment. Hiss (1990) offers an explanation in what he refers to as simultaneous perception, which he describes as “the only internal mechanism… that can combine the responses of all our sense [including] any change in our surroundings which our senses can register” (Hiss, 1990, pp. 13-14). Simultaneous perception, then, involves all our senses working in conjunction. Sounds and smells can be as powerful cues as visual stimuli when navigating the built environment as anyone walking past a musical festival or bakery can attest. The process of using our senses in concert requires effort at first, but becomes increasingly automatic with practice. The combination of simultaneous perception and mental focus promotes the greater awareness which can allow us to see both familiar and unfamiliar landscapes in a new light. We cease to become informal observers and become students of our communities.

While the senses and mind are to be focused, it is essential that the journey be relatively unscripted. Machen (1924) notes the bipolarity of the workaday mindset and the state of idleness which facilitates the process of wandering, or the casual and curiosity-driven engagement of the environment that often serves a prelude to a deeper form of exploration (Machen, 1924, pp. 12-13). One of the central concepts of psychogeography is the derive, or “drift”, a day-long pedestrian odyssey in which individuals travel at whim through the urban landscape, guided subconsciously by the city’s form, the goal of which is to arrive at a novel and genuine experience (Debord, 1956). Observers should be encouraged to wander their target communities, the only directive being a brief manual instructing them to make note of infrastructure, amenities, and public services. This minimally directed approach has been used with the First Impressions program, created in 1991 by Andy Lewis and James Schneider of the University of Wisconsin-Extension, which has been applied with great success in a variety of communities (University of Wisconsin-Extension, 2015). It stands to reason that maintaining a certain level of spontaneity while offering a framework for analysis can enable each observer to record their personal vision of the town or city, while still retaining some objectivity.

In order to achieve a fuller understanding of the environments which we study, we must reflect upon what our senses record. It is the individual and unmediated product of these reflections that can be of great value to community developers. Although qualitative data will be tabulated and quantified and the aggregate output will be studied, it is nonetheless true that each unique perspective has something to offer. Service learning is a trend in education wherein students are encouraged to reflect upon their experiences of performing community service activities. Eyler (2002) states the case that reflection can have many benefits. Particularly, students are able to link their experiences to previous knowledge, creating the basis for a more in-depth analysis (Eyler, 2002, p. 520). Ong (2000) further suggests that knowledge is constructed in context (Ong, 2000, p. 5). In this sense, reflection in situ is most effective for community observers. Observers should be prompted to reflect upon the nature of their experiences in the target communities and to make connections between the various characteristics that they have observed, thereby arriving at a more comprehensive account of these places.

 

-John McDonald, Extension Intern

 

References

Debord, G. (1956). Theory of the derive. [K. Knabb, Trans.] Internationale Situationniste, 2.

Eyler, J. (2002). Reflection: Linking service and learning – Linking students and communities. Journal of Social Issues 58(3), 517-534.

Hiss, T. (1990). The experience of place. New York, NY: Random House. Print.

Jacobs, A. (1984). Looking at cities. Places 1(4), 28-37.

Lynch, K. (1960). The image of the city. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Machen, A. (1924). The London Adventure. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Print.

Ong, R. (2000). The role of reflection in student learning: a study of its effectiveness in complementing problem-based learning environments. Centre for Educational Development.

Stilgoe, J. (1998). Outside lies magic. New York: Walker and Company. Print.

Tuan, Y. (1974). Topophilia: A study of environmental perception, attitudes, and values. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Print.

University of Wisconsin-Extension. (2015). About the First Impressions program. Center for Community and Economic Development.

 

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

 

Reflections from the Southern New England APA Conference

Paeter Kageyama 9-15Anyone who’s been in this field will attest that community development takes grit.  Sometimes the day to day work is monotonous, exhausting, and trying.  We’re challenged by conflicting personalities, politics and bureaucracies and given the charge of changing the status quo when the tides seem turned against us.  That’s why a couple of times a year I make it a point to get together with colleagues, to reflect, and zoom out of my work work and world and learn about amazing things happening around the state and beyond.  Almost without fail when I make the effort to get out of my routine, I find myself utterly in awe, humbled, and reinvigorated.   The Southern New England American Planning Association Conference held in Hartford last week did that for me, even if my time there was short.

The Thursday keynote speaker, Peter Kageyama has written several books about community place-making.  I haven’t read any of them but we got a good feel for his approach to place-making through the bits of advice he shared using examples from cities like Detroit, Michigan and Greenville, South Carolina.  Not having read the book I can’t say how much of this advice is based on actual research versus anecdotes but the stories from communities across the country were compelling and inspiring.  I’ve always found this kind of storytelling, viral education, between communities to be one of the most effective ways to share community development. Here are a few of the tidbits I took away:

  • We should ask ourselves are we asking more from our cities other than to be safe and functional?  We should be aspiring for cities that are safe and functional but also interesting and comfortable.
  • Cities will give us back what we put it- we can think of these as “love letters” 
  • Sometimes you have tho break the rules to get where you want to be.  Rule challengers can help us think in new ways and explore what might be if things were different.  Peter gave the example of a spectacular lantern release  in Grand Rapids that involved thousands more lanterns than were approved originally by the city.
  • Think easy- garden hose solutions work.  Some times I think we tend to overthink the issues we face in our communities- assuming that we need big complicated solutions to simple problems. Simple solutions, like a garden hose sprinkler in a park, can make our communities better places to live and work, even if they don’t require thousands of dollars to implement.
  • People need to play– We love to be surprised and delighted by our cities. The Mice on Main campaign inspired people to look for tiny mouse sculptures all over Greensville, South Carolina. Anther fantastic example involved an artist in Seattle who painted this “graffiti” on sidewalks that only appears when it rains.
  • We cant look at everything through the lens of cost- Those of us with a bit more analytical than creative brain love to crunch numbers.  While there is certainly a financial realty to every project Peter inspired the audience to consider “what is the cost of ugly and boring cities?”  My artist husband has taught me that there is immense value in beauty and inspiration- if only that it makes the heart sing.
  • We usually get the big stuff right- we need to focus on the small stuff– In my mind this meant really engaging change makers; new people, unique minds, in thinking about our communities and the issues we face.

– Laura Brown, Community & Economic Development Educator, UCONN Extension

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