Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Campus Parking and Surrounding Neighborhoods, Solutions to a Contentious Issue?

College and University parking is a hot button issue and often there is significant negative spillover effects on surrounding neighborhoods. The relationship between a University and the area in which it sits are often strained to say the least, hence the common colloquialism referring to "town/gown" relations. Although many in the surrounding neighborhoods benefit greatly from the University with events, cultural happenings, diversity, employment, and the like, so much of the relationship is defined by the day to day. For Americans, sadly, it might boil down to the ease with which one can park on the street in the neighborhood where one lives.

The University of Southern Maine (USM) in Portland is located in a quasi-urban, quasi-suburban part of town. Forest Avenue to the northwest of campus is retail oriented but the neighborhood immediately southwest is primarily residential. The density is high (for a suburb), reflecting its historical past as a streetcar suburb in the days before the automobile. USM is essentially land-locked in its current location. The southwest part of campus is primarily composed of converted housing, now filled with administrative offices. The northeast is composed of large buildings and significant space dedicated to parking. The grey polygons in the map below represent surface lots, the orangish polygon is the parking garage.
USM Campus, parking facilities, and impacted neighborhoods.
During peak class hours, parking on campus is difficult to obtain. Without going into the numbers here, it is safe to say that many cars idle while waiting for turnover in the parking garage. Surface lots are reserved for faculty and staff and tend to fill up early. Many of those waiting for spaces to open resort to parking on neighborhood streets, much to the chagrin of nearby residents. The large polygon, in the map above, that nearly encompasses campus is neighborhoods that are likely affected by this parking spillover. This area is not definitive and effects could be occurring across Forest Avenue as well. For our purposes of thinking about solutions, I just included this area.

As a potential remedy to the strained relationship, what if neighborhoods issued permits to residents as well as students, faculty and staff, that would fund neighborhood improvement projects? Neighborhood residents who wanted to park on city streets would pay for a nominally priced, reduced rate permit, meant to cover the administrative fees of issuing those permits, and students, faculty and staff would pay for permits at a market rate. How is a market rate set you ask? Many transportation demand management researchers suggest that the target goal for parking should allow for 15% of spaces to be unoccupied at any given time. Logistically this is difficult with permit parking in an uncontrolled space. Rates would need to be adjusted periodically, and due to University scheduling, perhaps every semester, rates could be adjusted based on peak hour studies to achieve an optimal peak hour vacancy rate.

Administering a program such as this would require some monies, but much of the revenue would be surplus. To bolster relations with surrounding neighborhoods and foster good will, the revenue from those permits would be spent in ways that directly benefit neighborhood residents through infrastructure improvements such as improved signage, speed tables, and community events. A neighborhood association could be responsible for identifying improvements and work with the city to accomplish neighborhood goals.

I am not sure how something like this would play out, but as universities seek to grow from land-locked locations such as USM, surface parking lots seem like good choice for cheap real estate. A scenario such as this would have to be a small part of a complete suite of transportation changes on urban campuses. These would involve: land-use changes, enhanced transit offerings, financial incentives, financial disincentives, car/van pooling, and promoting walking and biking. A solution is out there, it just requires some planning!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Historical Context and Planning - Waterville Maine's South End Neighborhood

What does it mean to be either a  historically recognized or a historically significant place in the context of planning; especially when that place is no longer tied to the historical conditions that created it? Waterville Maine's, South End Neighborhood is just the sort of place where the deindustrialization experienced in the Post-World War II era has left a place behind.

I wrote a paper for a class on the Waterville South End Neighborhood, and in that paper I spent a some amount of time discussing the historical significance of the neighborhood and why it is where it is, what happened to it, and how does that shape it for the future. The South End owes much to it's water powered industrial past, but how much of that past will play into the present? In terms of planning for a future where energy is much more expensive, a place created before the advent of the automobile will be poised to do well in that future. The dense working class neighborhood of Waterville's South End may be considered a model for future development, as well as a place for emphasizing redevelopment in an energy limited future. The easily walkable streets characterized by the dense arrangement of the built environment may once again prosper at the intersection of resource limitations (namely petroleum) and climate change.

The adjacent Kennebec River once played a significant role in powering the industrial fortunes of Waterville and its cross river neighbor, Winslow. Perhaps the already damned rivers will once again be responsible for generating much of the power needs for the citizens, industrial processes, and fortunes of these towns again. At one time the Hathaway Shirt Factory was at the heart of Waterville's economic might. Times changed of course as firms focused more emphasis on labor costs as the criteria for profitability. This ultimately led to the deindustrialization of the region, and much of the United States as firms seek every economic advantage they can to remain competitive in a global market. Places that succeed in adapting to a changing economic landscape will be places that succeed. Places that don't will suffer, and ultimately wither away. It is my hope that Waterville, and especially the much beleaguered South End Neighborhood will adapt, and thrive once again. This will involve creative reuse of existing infrastructure, wise use of resources, and a community effort to imagine a place that can roll with the punches and adapt to a rapidly evolving landscape.

Hathaway Creative Center Along the Kennebec River, once was at the heart of Waterville's industrial past, now looks forward to being a part of its economic future.

Below is a snippet from that paper regarding the historical context. I wish I had spoken more to the role that the urban design of the late 19th century would play in an energy limited world. Alas I didn't but here is what I wrote:

The Waterville South End Neighborhood was historically and still is the modest working class neighborhood of Waterville. The South End was originally home to French Canadian families that came to the area to work in the mills and factories located along the Kennebec and Messolanskee waterways. These waterways were originally integral to providing these burgeoning industries of the early industrial period with mechanical power, which eventually became electrical power, both allowing the region to prosper. These mills and factories focused on numerous industrial sectors important to Maine’s economy at the time, but had the strongest relationship to locally sourced wood harvests, abundant throughout the state of Maine. The locational advantage provided by a steady supply of power, close proximity to forestry resources, and a waterway and its’ abutting flat railroad grade along that waterway, allowed the region and Waterville to prosper greatly in the early American industrial landscape. The South End Neighborhood as a result, prospered as well.
The homes in the South End Neighborhood are modest in nature and reflect the working class roots of the community. The spatial layout of the neighborhood reflects the era in which it was built, harkening back to the days before the automobile. The neighborhood was built with a considerably dense layout, and that density is currently reflected in the housing stock seen today. Many of these closely spaced houses have been neglected in recent times, which paint a telling picture of the change in fortunes for the residents of the neighborhood. While the economic fortunes for Waterville have fluctuated throughout the last 50 years, the South End Neighborhood’s fortunes have been in a steady decline. The Town of Waterville is home to two colleges, three regional medical centers, and serves as a regional hub for retailing. This service sector economy has been largely shielded from the Post-World War II deindustrialization experienced in the United States. However, the South End Neighborhood, whose residents were largely dependent on the manufacturing sector for wage labor, saw their stable lower-middle class working lifestyles decline rapidly, as manufacturing companies sought new locational advantages, in cheap labor. No longer was the proximity to raw materials and water powered locations key components to profitability. With the introduction of cheaper fossil fuel based power, and along with that cheap transportation, products could be manufactured anywhere in the world, with inexpensive labor being the key to profitability for many firms focused on labor intensive manufacturing. These changes hit the Waterville South End Neighborhood especially hard.
As people adapted to these changing economic trends, many residents sought opportunities elsewhere. The strong social fabric that once bound the neighborhood together was coming unraveled. This resulted in a severe decline in the condition of housing and an uptick in crime that has further eroded the community. However, fortunes have a tendency to change and in the South End Neighborhood, they have been slowly changing for the better.
The neighborhood has a strong group of concerned citizens who are playing a key role in the revival of the neighborhood. They have formed the South End Neighborhood Association (SENA), and have been active agents of change in the neighborhood. The neighborhood has also seen a resurgence in community organizations that have based their operations in the South End, taking advantage of commercial and institutional space that was vacated during the neighborhoods decline. These will play a key role in helping to shape the changes that the neighborhood needs in order to be prosperous again.   

Friday, December 23, 2011

Fragmentation, Forests, and Planning

From the perspective of someone "from away", the Town of Bowdoinham, Maine is what I would call a fair representation of Maine outside and away from the big towns of Maine, the tourist regions of the coast, lakes and mountains, as well as the three metropolitan regions of Bangor, Portland, and Lewiston/Auburn. Surprisingly there is a lot more of the Bowdoinham, Maine than the big city, touristy places of Maine. 

As places like Bowdoinham seek to define themselves through the comprehensive planning process, the role of their forests and natural areas will be a major consideration. The towns people have placed a high priority on the preservation of these resources, but as growth pressure mounts and the sale of the family forest or farms becomes more lucrative, these lands become threatened by fragmentation. Each of the areas in the map below in cross hatches represents lands that have been split in some way or another since 2004. Parcels in green or brown are enrolled in state land preservation programs. Those with both cross hatches and program enrollment represent land use patterns that are threatened in some way or another, whether they are agricultural or forestry oriented.

Lands Enrolled in the Maine Tree Growth (green parcels) & Open Space (brown parcels) Program, contrasted with parcels that have split since 2004 (cross hatches).
As a planner, I feel my role is to inform the people for whom the planning process is being conducted,  of what lies ahead for the place that they call home. Although Bowdoinham is growing slowly, it does experience some growth pressure, albeit at a snail's pace. As they seek to match their shared values as a town, with the land ownership rights and economic realities of individual land owners, they should bear in mind that there are often other decisions that can be made in lieu of the splitting and further parcelization of rural properties. 

For now, we have made the observation that Bowdoinham has experienced some parcelization and that some of  those splits occur on lands that were at one time enrolled in programs designed to prevent the fragmentation of these lands. Whether they decide to work with an active land trust, or develop policies geared to restricting land use rights in Bowdoinham is up to them. Some combination of the two might be the best, working to preserve lands through transfer of development rights, restrictions of how much or how often land is split and developed, and growing the awareness of land-owners of what their land means to rural Maine way of life and how best to preserve it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bowdoinham - Land Use Planning

Bowdoinham - Composite Land Use Map

Bowdoinham is a small Maine town 30 miles or so between the state's largest metropolitan region of Portland, and the state's capital city of Augusta. Bowdoinham is largely a rural place taking up approximately 34 square miles and has about 2,770 as of the 2010 census. As Bowdoinham embarks on their comprehensive planning process, they began by envisioning who it is they are and want to be. For the residents of Bowdoinham who are actively involved in the planning process, they clearly stated that they hope Bowdoinham maintains its charming rural character.

Students of Mark Lapping's, Introduction to Community Planning Class have been "contracted" to work with the town of Bowdoinham, ME, to conduct Land Use Planning, GIS Mapping, Forestry & Agricultural Resources Analysis, in an effort to help them develop an updated Comprehensive Plan.

My role was primarily technical in nature, conducting GIS mapping and analysis for the land use planning and the forestry resources group. Along with another student,  I set about to conduct a build out analysis of the town. Bowdoinham has no actual zoning, but does have a town-wide land use ordinance in place. This ordinance specifies large lot sizes (about an acre) for development throughout the town, which they classify town-wide as a residential/agricultural district.

The first scenario that was conducted looked at the preservation of Bowdoinham's rural character, natural resources, existing forest and agricultural lands. The goal was to show the town of Bowdoinham what their town could look like, preserving what the citizen's feel Bowdoinham should be, in light of the town's current land use ordinance, with restrictions on development in these areas.

In a GIS, the appropriate land use data layers were merged including: soil suitability, current agriculture lands, unsuitable soils for development, protected lands, and other layers conducive to protecting the rural integrity of Bowdoinham. A symmetrical difference function was performed with this merged layer against the town's parcel layers, giving us a pretty clear picture of what lands could be developed, if the town chooses to maintain their rural character and develop policies aimed at preservation. 

Bowdoinham - Build-out Scenario, Preserving Rural Character

A no-holds-barred scenario which only discounted areas that were unsuitable to building structures and lands with special easements on development (transportation right of way, Shore-land Zoning, etc.). The differences are astounding.

Bowdoinham - Build-out Scenario, No Holds Barred

Bowdoinham, which currently has about 1,200 residential structures could be looking at ten times that amount of structures under the current land use ordinance and with no vision for how it wants to protect open space and rural character. By protecting open space, forests, habitat, and agricultural lands, Bowdoinham could be looking at the potential for growth in habitable structures of only four times, the amount that it currently has now.

A third scenario was proposed that takes advantage of Bowdoinham's Downtown Water Service District. What if this area was the focus for growth in Bowdoinham, and the rest of the town was preserved as much as possible, through zoning or land use districting measures that help Bowdoinham accomplish it's goal or rural preservation? How would this scenario look? Bowdoinham could be only looking at an additional 1,000 structures developed all within a somewhat dense (dense is a relative term here) downtown core area. Limits to this type of development would be the water service districts capacity as well as the minimum area needed for parcels on a septic system, and not a city-wide sewer system, something I don't think Bowdoinham could nor should afford, regardless of where the funds came from.

Bowdoinham's Water Service District with Land Ripe for Development in the Downtown Core Under the No-Holds Barred Scenario.

These are some of the map products I created in the process.

Bowdoinham Composite Map

Bowdionham Build-Out Scenario 1

Bowdoinham Build-Out Scenario 2

Bowdoinham Build-Out Scenario 3 - Downtown Focused Growth