Want to know what we do in the Professional Fellowship Program? 🙂
It’s been a week since we got to Northampton, so let me tell you about our host: The Planning and Sustainability Office of the City of Northampton.
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Joe Rogers is a consultant for the Planning Office, and his work scope is really wide: Taking care of conservation areas, talking to private owners about land and possible trails, manually installing and removing elements in a space (such as hammering conservation signs and removing bike stands)–and pretty much a lot of things that go into nature: Trees, new growing plants, water and water animals, he’s into all of those things. Fai and I get to tag along with him on the field work.
Joe told us how the city has increased at least 30% in having more open spaces, including parks and parklets, conservation areas, community gardens, recreation and sports areas, bike trails, river buffers, and the like. Joe shared something very important on working on connectivity about “underserved communities:” “We don’t want parks which are only accessible to affluent people.”
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She’s a certified planner and part of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).
Carolyn gets to work with Boards and Committees, and is hands-on for planning, zoning, and the central business architecture. She also gives advice to neighbourhoods and communities on what could and couldn’t be done, and she also helps draft legislation after new plans are created.
Let me tell you a little more about her work with the different Boards:
- Planning – people present projects (ie. site development for planting, open space preservation, access areas, building use) which are reviewed by this Board to see if the projects are in sync with policies and regulations. Public hearings are held for the projects to be heard out. The Planning Board meetings are televised, and are available on YouTube for reference of the general public. Check it out the proceedings archive here.
- Zoning – pretty much like planning, but deals with projects that require the review of the zoning code, because they don’t meet specifications
- Central business architecture – helps with the policy of maintaining historic structures, and seeing that facades fit with the current architecture
Here’s the Q&A we gave Carolyn:
Q: The city planning office has a number of plans: Sustainability, Conservation, and Rails to Trails, but is it mandatory to have a bigger, comprehensive plan?
A: While laws vary from state to state, Massachusetts does not require a larger comprehensive plan. However, implementing regulation should be based on a plan, and grant funds for communities should be based on plan.
Q: How did Northampton implement the Bike Trail network, since it is connected with other cities? (Click here for reference.)
A: Northampton worked closely with neighbouring cities, for example, in Easthampton, they also already had trails. Coordinating on how to connect the existing paths and extending to areas without accessibility was the challenge. The bike path was funded by transportation dollars (taxes).
Here’s Carolyn teaching us more about the trails:
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James is the GIS Specialist for the city, and has a reputation of staying behind his desk the entire day (he also has a puppy fence around his work station). He showed us a lot of cool data, both at the local level and those sourced from higher levels.
One valuable lesson from James is how he explained the concept of wards and precincts, which are updated every ten years for the US census. The city population is re-divied into new wards and precincts so that every unit will have the same number of people, equally distributing needed resources, and accounting for fairness in the bottom-up processes.
Here are several videos with James:
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Field Work and Broad Brook
So Joe took us for field work. Here are just two videos where we grabbed lunch and rode his truck and to the site areas (so you can also see some more of downtown):
We went to the Connecticut River Greenway, where Joe talked to a certain Jippy on his proposal to make a short walk trail near the greenway.
Afterwards, we went to Broad Brook to see more of Joe’s work on the Conservation Areas. We walked a few kilometres from the entrance to the dam, learned about flora and fauna (poison ivy, birch, pines, and the like), and had the best time fathoming how a lone beaver could breach his own dam and create an entire swamp. We anticipated rain to pass by (Weather.com is accurate here, in a non-tropical area) so we didn’t bring our phones during the trek.
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Touring with Wayne.
Wayne is the Director of Planning and Sustainability in Northampton. After the Pride Parade, Wayne was very kind enough to tour us around the parklets of downtown, and to tell us techniques on how theses spaces where developed.
Learning about Parklets
Here is a video series of our tour with Wayne. It was really a privilege to learn so much.
And here are some lessons:
Chilling at Pulaski Park
Pulaski Park at the downtown is the biggest park in Northampton, and probably my and Fai’s favourite hangout so far.
Read my other posts on the YSEALI Professional Fellowship: