New England urbanists look for the silver lining in the ‘New Austerity’

Every city has the capacity to make its own stuff, declares a Providence artist-developer.

Author:

Philip Langdon

New Urban Network

Two and a half years after the worst national economic crisis since the Great Depression, many of New England’s architects, builders, and developers are just scraping by. Real estate projects are far from plentiful. Nonetheless, the mood was upbeat at the March 17-18 annual conference of the Congress for New Urbanism’s New England Chapter.

Some of the 125 participants who gathered in downtown New Haven seemed almost to welcome what they described as “the New Austerity.”

With jobs scarce, young people “are much more open to going to many other places than Boston, San Francisco,” and other stars of the urban firmament, said David Dixon, head of urban planning for the Boston design firm Goody, Clancy & Associates. That’s welcome news for smaller urban areas, he suggested. Energetic young adults may settle in some of those smaller cities and start enterprises there.

“People are not going to want to work at business parks at the edge of town,” observed Rod Stevens, an economic development consultant from Bainbridge Island, Washington. “They want access to transit and coffee” — his shorthand for urban amenities.

Many New England communities have old factory complexes that can be reused and refashioned to serve contemporary residents and businesses, Stevens