Stoltzfus’s vision for downtown

Brent Finnegan -- September 25th, 2008

Earlier this evening, architect Eugene Stoltzfus gave a presentation to local residents of his vision of what downtown Harrisonburg could become. The visual presentation, featuring computer renderings and fly-thrus of a virtual buildings and parks, was less a blueprint for actual development, and more a philosophical demonstration of what sort of development is possible and desirable downtown.

11 Responses to “Stoltzfus’s vision for downtown”

  1. Scott Rogers says:

    I found the presentation to be quite interesting! The hardest part is figuring out how to make some of these things happen — but I suppose the city, and private developers will help it move along — over time. I’m definitely excited for the future of downtown Harrisonburg, and I hope that the City can keep finding ways to get the content of Eugene’s presentation out into the community for discussion.

  2. finnegan says:

    Agreed. The presentation made the abstract term “smart growth” less abstract. It is the answer to the question, “What would smart growth downtown actually look like?”

  3. Thanh says:

    I pose a second question for us all to also consider: “what would smart growth in the rest of the city (outside of downtown) look like?”

    Thanks Brent for posting that interview.

    If anyone missed the presentation, definately check out the book linked above.

  4. Josh says:

    I think smart growth outside of downtown ties into the “fingers” of smart growth downtown. e.g. If the downtown area implements an extensive alternative transportation plan with bike lanes and a more expansive network of bus stops, etc., smart growth outside of downtown would tie into these systems.

    Smart growth outside of downtown would also share many of the same values, just on a smaller scale. Density, abundant streetspace, sidewalks, greenspace. The things that are good for downtown are also good for outside of downtown.

  5. ammc says:

    I caught the presentation on cityspan and was also impressed. It was really cool to have an actual visual presentation of how things could possibly move ahead. Very exciting and insightful, as I hadn’t pondered lots of the architectural possibilities like the tapered buildings, or how large buildings can be made to feel smaller by reconfiguring the masses. Also thought it was neat how they incorporated Blacks Run. I think it’ll definitely prod conversation along. Mr. Stoltzfus did a great job.

  6. Renee says:

    I was flipping channels the other day and was wondering why some guy was talking about what trees are for, but after I saw Thanh’s post with the PDF, it all made sense :)

    My office is downtown and I think this is all really interesting.

  7. Perhaps an oversimplification, but one definition of Smart Growth is building in the right place:

    * where infrastructure already exists
    * with an emphasis on mixed-use development
    * with a variety of transportation choices

    More on what Smart Growth is on my blog here.

  8. Thanh says:

    Agreed that the principles of Smart Growth (such as those defined by Scott and Josh above) are great for our community.

    I would be interested in a discussion between hburgnews readers and others on suggestions for how these principles would be implemented or envisioned throughout the City. I guess I’m curious about how we might RETROFIT what already is here – i.e. how do you create more density in a nieghborhood that has single family homes, or in a college student apartment complex (when people are still living there)? We do see an example of higher density development at 865 East at the corner of Port Republic Rd and Devon Ln on a previously undeveloped lot in an area that is not really surrounded by high density; are these our only opportunities or is there something else we can do? Examples might be – additional sidewalks in specific neighborhoods or along specific commercial corridors to encourage walkability or construction of a multiuse path to connect specific areas of the City. Of course all of these cost money to implement (and cost more to retrofit), whether monies spent by private developers, by the city (through taxes), or through grants and may also require zoning code changes (to enable mixed use development in areas that are zone purely for residential OR business use only, or to enable high density development in areas outside of downtown without frontage or parking space requirements, or to provide for shared parking facilities). Specific visions, such as what Euguene Stoltzfus presented, are not gauranteed to happen, but they do get us all into a place where we are better able to understand what we want and to take specific steps towards encouraging or planning for specific “improvements”.

    When I was younger, when I created a birthday wish list, I was asked to be as specific as I could be in listing the brand name and size of the things I wanted. It made it easier on my parents, and it helped prevent the look-alike-but-not-exactly-what-I-wanted items. I suppose being as specific as possible is good to ensure that 1) we’re on the same page and 2) it gives a platform of items to agree or disagree with.

    Your specific wish list? (Most of us aren’t experts in the layout of the entire City, so what in your neighborhood, or where you spend a lot of time, would you like to see something changed, and how would you suggest that change happen? Things can be built around existing infrastructure or existing infrastructure can be removed to make room… As a side note: These are the types of things that are probably good to be communicated to your local government representativies.)

  9. Some of my ideas/thoughts…

    1. On increasing walkability and transportation options, it seems like there are still quite a few areas of the city that are lacking sidewalks. (map of existing sidewalks) Though, it looks like quarterly opportunities exist to participate in that planning process. Thanh — do you have good citizen input on that committee?

    2. I’m assuming HDR may have a plan for “what comes next” with the content that Eugene has created. I’m definitely interested to see how that document can be used as a tool to facilitate more specific discussions about particular properties, plans, etc.

    3. Your idea of allowing denser development in areas outside of downtown is definitely interesting, and likely controversial. :) My initial thought is that there are still lots of opportunities to do that downtown before it would need to happen outside that area…

  10. Thanh says:

    Scott, thanks for pointing out the work of the City’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee that meets quarterly. The next meeting is November 4th. The citizens on the committee have worked with city staff to create a list of priorities for sidewalk and bicycle facility projects. Using this information, city staff is able to estimate project costs and needs (right-of-ways/easements/utility relocation/etc) and either include the projects in the City’s Capital Improvement Plan and/or use the information as support for grant opportunities applcations for VDOT’s Safe Routes to School Program, <Highway Safety Improvement Program, Community Development Block Grant, etc. The Committee is also open to the public, and anyone can be added to the email list or read meeting minutes at the link you posted above.

    Allowing denser development outside of downtown is not an idea that I came up with. Generally, the discussions I’ve heard and been involved with are vague but some specific examples are when people talk about some of the city’s commercial corridors – think all the stuff on Rt 33 East – and when 865 East came about. You also noted the 23 Guiding Values that Eugene Stoltzfus listed in his work and I’ll mention some of them specifically here:
    1. Build density within the City and maintain openness in the County.
    7. Encourage mixed-use development throughout the city.
    10. Eliminate large surface parking lots, and provide structured parking decks of 4 to 6 stories.
    21. Cultivate the value that we are building a city for the long term.

    Perhaps controversial when it involves impacting an area where a home or business already exists, but what about on the many undeveloped parcles of land that still exist within city limits, but outside of the downtown area? Do we consider high density and mixed use as they develop today or do we wait until later? Why and how?

    (Thanks for engaging in this discussion. :)

  11. Perhaps controversial when it involves impacting an area where a home or business already exists, but what about on the many undeveloped parcels of land that still exist within city limits, but outside of the downtown area? Do we consider high density and mixed use as they develop today or do we wait until later? Why and how?

    Many undeveloped parcels are surrounded by or are in close proximity to other homes or businesses, so the controversy might be there anyhow. But — anticipated controversy certainly doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering. :)

    Personally, I think higher density, mixed use, and structured parking make sense for many areas of the city beyond the downtown area. Waiting until later to consider this doesn’t make a lot of sense — then we’ll be talking about how to retrofit or re-develop properties that were built in a location/fashion/configuration that does not allow for smart, sustainable growth.

    Check out a few selected stated goals from the 2004 Harrisonburg Comprehensive Plan:

    Goal 2:
    To promote novel patterns of development like those developed early in the city’s history – vital, well planned and well integrated mixed-housing and mixed-use urban areas of distinct character.

    Goal 9:
    To develop a safe and convenient transportation system serving all modes of travel, such as, automobile, pedestrian, bicycle and transit.

    Goal 10:
    To support a vital city with community facilities, infrastructure and services that are efficient, cost-effective and conserving of resources.

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