I did spent an hour an a half on the phone with the Town of Londonderry contract New Urbanism consultant from Franklin Tennessee doing much the same for him on the master plan project for the town, (He was too busy to meet in person during his visits to Londonderry.) so I thought a quick summary might be good for all concerned on both projects. New Urbanism is now the new normal in Londonderry these days.
From 1719 till about 1960 Londonderry was Londonderry.
Then three things happened:
I-93 came through town dropping off two exits.
The Air Force and Air National Guard decided to pull out of Grenier Field
The town planned a response to the first two events.
The town decided that because it had developed on old farm roads, without sewers and a municipal water system, plus town-wide ledge and wetlands, high density development was impractical.
The 2500 members of the town voted in one acre zoning, and industrial development commitment at the airport and a new school system. (Over a period of years, but all by plan.)
The result was that Londonderry transitioned from an agricultural base to a residential town, centered on education. Our largest taxpayers went from being orchards, to a power plant and industrial and commercial businesses. (The one at the airport, the others on the interstate exits.)
The schools became Londonderry’s new business, and its largest employer.
Attracted by this “masterful” master plan, 25,000 residents came and invested their savings, lives, and families in the fifty year build out of this concept.
The town center was not a green, although we have one, but rather the schools and the athletic fields that we built for our children.
Everyone accepted the fact that if you were going to purchase a one acre lot you were going to have to own an automobile. (Banks and gas stations were early builders to support these two elements.)
Those moving to Londonderry accepted the fact that in order to support this life style, commuting to work would be required. Bedroom communities are not bad planning nor a bad lifestyle. Automobiles are not evil. Station wagons, and now SUVs are good.
Doctors offices, grocery stores, the post office and everything else in our region of the country was built on this semi rural, school centered bedroom community model. It has served us well. Our orchardists did a masterful job of selling off small portions of their farms which became residential subdivisions and shopping centers.
One large farm did transition into a self contained residential village (Century Village) but it did so without connecting to, or putting pressure on surrounding residences or on town roads or services. Although by town standards it was high density, it was made to work. It never did turn out to be the walking community as advertised even though support commercial development was within walking range of parts of the development. Social engineering is an inexact science.
Mixed residential/commercial is still far better suited to urban development than to bedroom/child centered communities. Young singles, like the cities, young families like Londonderry.
And so we are.
The profitability of high density for developers is without dispute. Smaller lots, driveway instead of roads, commercial mixed in, all make for compact living almost like a city, but with very low land costs. And thus New Urbanism! The profitability of high density without urban development land acquisition costs.
Not a bad idea or a bad concept, but one that must be made to fit the environment.
Open, easy to build on land, no neighbors except for surrounding fields, an adjacent interstate to bring all those committed to walking, (A bit of a contradiction, but everything can be made into a compelling story.)
A return to the glories of yesteryear. Your front porch is three feet from the sidewalk with a hitching post, (Decorative) and neighbors walking by all dressed up and tipping their hats to you as they do.
This can be a new (And profitable to develop and market) lifestyle.
Making it fit in the northeast as it has in the south and southwest is a bit of a challenge. Proposing a twenty year build-out requires a futurist on staff, both theirs and ours! Living as a neighbor to a twenty year construction project that is not encapsulated will drastically depress real estate values and investments.
For a town to absorb several thousand new residents and to develop the infrastructure they will require is not inexpensive. Either the developer has to come up with a substantial financial package or the current residents have to. None of this is free.
Many are comfortable driving a pick up, going to school events and work, and living in relative privacy.
They do not resent those who wish to live more contained, higher density lifestyles. They have allowed many such developments in Londonderry.
There is however great concern that scaling up these projects can not be done without great care. So far there has been little indication that great care is being exercised.
New Urbanites are a committed group.
Those of us who have committed to building Londonderry on its current model are not to be put down because of our accomplishments by a few who believe they know better.
We should be able to work together. And so that is the challenge we have been facing for the last few years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
There is more to Londonderry than just being a site for multiple high density villages.
“Jack Falvey Et al:” provides a hometown analysis of Woodmont Commons. Since attending the design charrette offered by the developers of the project Jack has been asking questions, you too have been asking questions, many to Jack himself. He has provided thoughtful analysis from his point of view and shared it back to the questioner and a growing list of Londonderry residents wanting of more information.
As they become available we will provide these questions to our readers and the search engines. We hope to provide a broader view of the project through the eyes of someone that came to town in the 1960′s. Jack raised a family here, volunteered in local government and founded his company “Making the Numbers” after a career at Gillette. As a motivational speaker and a prolific writer with major media outlets his views on the project may take you by surprise!