1st Annual National Green Building Conference

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Perry Bigelow - Spirituality of Sustainability

Each HomeTown Neighborhood has identifiable gateways. You know visually when you enter your neighborhood. For example, the traffic circle and gazebo at the south entry to HomeTown serve as the gateway to the first three neighborhoods. When you turn off the traffic circle and onto Four Seasons Blvd., you see the Neighborhood Park directly ahead of you - you know you've left the world, and you are home.

Each Neighborhood has a single Neighborhood Street which functions like the spine of the Neighborhood - it is like Main Street in a small town. The Neighborhood Street has safety platforms, neckdowns, and sharp turns to make the street safer for children and pedestrians. These devices slow down cars to about 15mph and give the street a more human scale. The 6' wide sidewalks are "family wide." Three people can comfortably walk on them side by side. Most subdivisions have 4' to 41/2' wide sidewalks. HomeTown's 6' wide sidewalks become pedestrian streets. They are wide enough to accommodate a plethora of pedestrian activity.

The Neighborhood Street is designed to City standards with parking on both sides and trees in the parkway, which makes the wide sidewalk safer. The houses are set back from the sidewalk 10' to 20'. The closeness of the houses to the sidewalk along with the house entries, porches, and bay windows create a sense of enclosure for the streetscape, give the street a human scale, and make the street safer and more lively. The overall effect is that of a linear park with the Neighborhood Park as its focus. The continuity of the landscaping is enhanced by the lack of driveways and garages facing the street. All garages are accessed from Motor Courts or Living Lanes. As a result, driveways are usually 170' to 200' apart. Also, since there are no garage doors facing the street, the facade of houses is much more interesting, varied, and articulated. The street no longer looks like a place where cars live. For the first time in 50 years, it looks like a place where people live. Neighborliness and pedestrian convenience and safety take precedence over automobile speed and use. The result is a high level of visual interest along the street, which encourages pedestrianism and social interaction.

At the heart of each Neighborhood is a small Private Neighborhood Park. The Neighborhood Street and its sidewalks lead directly to the Neighborhood Park. You cannot enter or leave the Neighborhood without feeling the Park's presence - without feeling you're a part of the Neighborhood. In most subdivisions, parks are on the land that is not suitable for housing, i.e., leftover, poorly located places. In HomeTown, a small Neighborhood Park is at the heart of each Neighborhood, on the most visible land.

HomeTown's Neighborhood Parks have many benefits. Each home is within 1-2 blocks of a Neighborhood Park. Each home is no further than 3-4 minutes from a Neighborhood Park. The Neighborhood Parks are humanly scaled - they are not too big. Each one has a gathering place.

Each Neighborhood Park has as many houses as possible facing the park so there are always lots of "eyes on the park" which increases safety and security. The Neighborhood Street has a neckdown and tight turns at each end of the Neighborhood Park, which forces cars to go slow naturally. This increases safety for children in the park and along the street.

The first Neighborhood Park has a huge green spruce Christmas tree and a Pavilion with a cedar shake roof and cupola on top. The usefulness of the Pavilion is extended by large patios on two sides and with shrubs and perennial flowers all around it. The Pavilion will be used for amateur concerts, Neighborhood holiday parties, individual homeowner parties, children's meetings, just hanging out, and all kinds of community activities. The Christmas tree is set on the center line axis of the Neighborhood Street. The Pavilion and Christmas tree are a visual terminus of the Neighborhood Street.

Across the Living Lane from the Pavilion is a Tot Lot with an exciting, colorful, challenging play structure and two types of swings, for tiny tots and for bigger kids. Adjacent to the Tot Lot is a seating area with two benches where moms can exchange news while they watch the kids in the Tot Lot.

HomeTown's post office and the Corner Store and Café will be across the street from the first Neighborhood Park. It goes behind the street light. The Corner Store and Café is an old-fashioned general store. You can have coffee with friends, pick up some groceries, have an ice cream cone, buy the paper, enjoy a sandwich, pick up your mail, meet your neighbors, have your kid's party, pick up morning coffee and rolls on your way to work, et.al.

The store has large windows overlooking the Pavilion and Neighborhood Park. The store also has a large, wraparound, covered veranda overlooking the Neighborhood Park. The store's covered veranda will be one of the most favorite respites in HomeTown - a place for people watching, park watching, people meeting, et.al.

The store also has a mezzanine upstairs that will function like a community family room. Outside the mezzanine is a wide wraparound deck that will be a favorite summertime overlook of the park.


HomeTown is designed the way communities were built before the automobile and truck came to dominate street design.

A "high speed residential street" is an oxymoron of the worst possible kind. A good residential street cannot allow high speeds. Only arterial streets should be designed for high speed trucks and cars. Residential streets should be primarily designed to live on not to drive on at high speeds.

Up until World War II residential streets were designed by planners for families to live on. After World War II the specialization, efficiency and engineering that were used to win the war were applied to street design by engineers. As a result, specialized civil engineers have designed streets to drive on, not to live on. Most streets are designed for cars and fire trucks and snow plows, not people. The residential street that a family lives on is designed for the cars and trucks of people who don't even live on the street.

As a result; a person living on a typical subdivision public street today knows that she has no control over the street she lives on; she knows that the person driving on the street has more rights with respect to the street than she does; she knows that the street belongs to a "public" who doesn't live there; she knows that the street is not designed for her family; and that the street is safe for high speed cars and trucks; but that it is not safe for people - specifically her own children who live on the street.

In HomeTown we took the design of the realm in front of the home out of the hands of the engineers and put it back into the hands of planners; and as much as possible we designed the streets and lanes for the people who live there, not for other people's cars and trucks.

By design, automobiles which use the streets and lanes must respect and give deference to the people who live there. The lifestyle of people who live and use the streets was given preference to the movement of cars. The glitch is that some of the older historic, timeless, human-scale patterns of street design have been very negatively impacted by the raw power of the automobile - a 1˝ ton high-speed projectile. The perfect example is the old-fashioned grid street.

About thirty years ago, after several children had been killed on neighborhood streets, a group of residents in Delft, Netherlands took street safety matters into their own hands. The city had torn up a street for normal replacement. The residents in a matter of days replaced the street themselves in such a way that cars had to go slowly so kids were safe. Thirty years later "traffic calming" is standard practice throughout Europe in residential neighborhoods - it's the way most new neighborhoods are designed.

In the Netherlands these low speed, pedestrian oriented streets are called "Woonerfs". Roughly translated, Woonerf means "residential district". The entire distance from the front of one house to the front of the house on the opposite side of the street is considered to be a residential district in which pedestrians and automobiles have equal rights of passage and use. To balance the unnatural power of the automobile, the Neighborhood Streets and Living Lanes in HomeTown are designed so that they can only be driven on at safe, slow speeds. Various "Woonerf" type "traffic calming" devices are being installed to accomplish this objective - traffic circles, raised pedestrian crossing platforms, neck downs, tight curves, etc.

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