Naugatuck Valley

NVision2020 event focused on how communities can build on their assets

palacetheater3Last week partners in the Naugatuck Valley gathered at NVision2020 in Waterbury to discuss asset based strategies for regional development with a focus on transportation infrastructure.  The event was appropriately hosted at the beautifully renovated Palace Theater in downtown Waterbury– a true gem!

 

CT Post article about the event by Hugh Bailey

“Just as few regions prospered as much as the Naugatuck Valley at the height of industry, few were as damaged when the factories left town.

But previous eras left behind the kind of downtowns that companies are once again seeking in the new economy, local leaders said on Thursday, while acknowledging that persuading businesses to come won’t be easy.

“Compact, walkable, vibrant town centers rose around industry,” said Mark Nielsen, director of planning at theNaugatuck Valley Council of Governments. With those kind of communities again in demand, he said, the region has plenty to offer to companies and younger workers.

 

The conference Thursday was organized by NVCOG and featured an array of state and local leaders who described how the economy has changed and what towns can do to get ahead. Though the Valley is marked in many ways by its past, in terms of closed factories, depopulated Main streets and an aging populace, its towns are poised for growth, speakers said.

“Amenities are primary to attracting talent,” said Laura Brown, a planner with the University of Connecticut’s extension program. “In the new economy, we have to embrace what we already have, and the waterfronts, the downtowns and the people are what we have.”

 

Read more at http://www.ctpost.com/business/article/Valley-looks-to-prosper-in-new-economy-6791320.php

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

New! Literature Review – Economic Impact of Multi-Use Trails

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 9.53.47 AMThe Naugatuck River Greenway (NRG) is a planned 44-mile long regional greenway and trail that will extend from Torrington in the north to Derby in the south, passing through eleven communities.  In Spring of 2015 the Naugatuck River Greenway Steering Committee, with members from each of the eleven NRG communities, and the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments approached the University of Connecticut to assist to better understand potential economic impacts of the proposed trail as well as best practices for helping local communities capitalize on the trail when it is completed. To date, a literature review regarding trail impact studies and background on the NRG has been completed and partners have co-designed the economic impact analysis and trail user survey that will be assessed this fall. Read the newly public literature review here.

“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