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The Partnership for Strong Communities’ IForum series wrapped up on Friday, June 15 with a focus on visualizing the possibilities of transit-oriented development in Connecticut. A crowd of over 125 gathered at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford (a power outage forced a change of venue from the Lyceum) to hear architects and policy makers discuss the potential of TOD.
After a welcome by Partnership Executive Director Howard Rifkin, David Fink, the Partnership’s Policy Director, gave a brief overview of transit-oriented development and its benefits. Guest speaker Stan Eckstut - Principal of New York-based firm EE&K - presented snapshots of his projects from around the nation where transportation was a key ingredient. Commenting on the need to “transform transit from a second class experience to a first class experience,” Eckstut stressed the Importance of designing great public spaces. His examples also included alternative parking arrangements, integrated bike and pedestrian access, and structures built with high quality materials, made to last 50 years or more (no concrete to maintain!). Eckstut stated that transit is a means to great placemaking and his presentation offered a vision of how various communities incorporated their local character into these developments.
Next up was Rob Lane, Director of the Regional Plan Association’s (RPA) Regional Design Program. Lane offered a few technical lessons and process lessons based on his work in helping to design redevelopment efforts in various local communities in the NY-NJ-CT region (scroll down to download Lane’s presentation). Like Eckstut, Lane offered that very few projects lend themselves to traditional TOD design, so it’s essential to be flexible and work with the landscape that is there. While form is important, Lane also discussed the need to address the economic impacts of these developments because they are important to local communities. In addition, Lane stated that the walkability of a place greatly depends upon the character of that place – it must be safe and engaging or people will not be inclined to walk and explore.
Duo Dickinson, an Architect from the town of Madison, presented on a project undertaken in Madison to re-envision the Tuxis Square area of town. Focusing on the nonlinear process to getting a pathway connecting the train station to the downtown area built, Dickinson described some of the administrative and local political hurdles that led to the eventual result.
The final part of the IForum was a panel seeking to answer the question, “What do developers, the state and its municipalities need from each other?” The panel was moderated by Kip Bergstrom, Deputy Commissioner, CT Dept. of Economic & Community Development and included Ben Barnes, Secretary, CT Office of Policy and Management, Tom Maziarz, Bureau Chief,
Bureau of Policy and Planning, CT Dept. of Transportation, Abe Naparstek, Vice President, Forest City Residential Group, Geoff Sager, President, Metro Realty Group, Peter Souza, Town Manager, Windsor, CT and Lawrence Kendzior, City Manager, Meriden, CT.
The municipal leaders on the panel spoke about the need to understand the state’s larger vision, but also acknowledged the responsibility of the towns to identify what their own vision includes when it comes to TOD opportunities. The developers spoke about the need for flexible zoning, better education around what TOD is and entails and land inventory where development can occur.
Secretary Barnes stated that TOD is a great tool for providing CT residents with the lifestyle they want and affirmed that the state needs to make significant investments in transit, which will include envisioning the transit needs of the next generation. He views the state’s role in making TOD a success as eliminating bureaucratic barriers and providing towns and developers with the tools they need to make TOD happen. Tom Maziarz views ConnDOT’s role as acting as a facilitator between towns and the state, helping to identify resources in a more coordinated way to make these projects a success. Kip Bergstrom added his view that towns must raise the bar on the quality of their projects and stop settling for a lower bar.
Presentations from the Forum:
Materials from the Forum: