Wednesday, February 2, 2005

The New Urbanism Here in Greensboro

Developer John Stratton's proposal to build 14 condominiums and one single-family home in historic Fisher Park was approved by the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission last week. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Commission, and I made the motion to approve the plan). I think Stratton's project is a sign of things to come in Greensboro, and a very good one.

You can get a rough idea of what his project will look like from these architectural elevations. Here's the front:

Here's the side:

Here's the single family home:

All of this is tucked into a couple of lots on N. Elm St. and on Magnolia Court which have been disused for some time.

The project succeeds on many fronts. It is architecturally appealing; it meets the Historic District Design Guidelines and fits into its historic setting very well; it has the approval of the neighborhood association; it is in line with the City's Comprehensive Plan for the area; and -- most important for Mr. Stratton -- it will probably make him a lot of money. (I hope it does; he's earned it.)

Mr. Stratton held a lot of meetings with the Fisher Park neighborhood association, with the Historic Preservation Commission's design review committee, and with the Commission itself. He also had to go before the zoning board and City Council. I believe the opinions and advice he got from these groups added a lot of value to his project. Although meetings like these are probably not high on a developer's list of favorite things, as infill progresses in Greensboro, that is the way development will have to happen.

I also think Stratton's project is a good example of what's known in planning circles as the New Urbanism. If you want to get a quick idea of what the New Urbanism is all about, along with some criticisms of it, read this. A lot of people think the New Urbanism is the most important architectural movement in America since the rise of Modernism.

New Urbanism preaches that neighborhoods are important, that they need a variety of housing types, that they should be friendly to pedestrians and cars. New Urbanists are not in favor of restricting growth a la Portland, Oregon, but are in favor of market-driven development that is congenial to urban living. New Urbanists like architectural forms that create inviting public spaces and streetscapes.

Somehow, a lot of that stuff happened in Mr. Stratton's project, without anyone really trying to be a New Urbanist. Neat. Let's have some more of that.

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