Putting the “Walk” in Norwalk: Best Local Trails to Discover
The benefits of walking have been known for a long time. Whether to improve your health, stay in shape, enjoy the fresh air, or take advantage of your natural surroundings, walking is a great way to spend leisure time. Norwalk, CT has many beautiful places to walk, whether you’re looking for natural beauty or interested in more urban, historic sites.
New Historic District Recognized in Norwalk, CT
An 84-acre area around the South Norwalk train station in Norwalk, CT, traditionally known as Springwood and Whistleville, has been officially added to the National Register of Historic Places (U.S. National Park Service).
Whistleville HistoryThe neighborhood along Lexington and Ely Avenues was nicknamed “Whistleville” because of the sounds of approaching train whistles. The South Norwalk train station area has been a busy commercial center since Norwalk became a stop on the New York to New Haven line in the mid-1800s. The neighborhoods around the station were largely made up of immigrants, mainly from Hungary and Italy, who worked in Norwalk’s factories. Through the early 1900s, Norwalk, Connecticut had a thriving textile industry, producing hats, corsets, and shirts, in addition to manufacturing locks. It was also the largest producer of oysters in the country. This commerce was fueled by the railroad.
Benefits of a National Historic District DesignationThe main objective of designating “Whistleville” as a National Historic District is to preserve the historic character and buildings of the area by supporting and encouraging renovations and rehabilitation, as well as to enhance the quality of life for residents and businesses. Once an area is an official historic district, property owners are eligible for tax incentives and financial assistance programs from the State and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency to help finance historic preservation projects and property improvements. Almost all the streets in the district include wood-framed, single family homes built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most built between 1880 and 1920. Some of the architectural styles found among them are Gable-front Vernacular, Wing Vernacular, Queen Ann, Italianate, and Colonial Revival styles. The exception is a commercial section along Ely Avenue with three-story brick commercial buildings from the same era. There are also two churches, one in the Gothic Revival style and one in the Romanesque style. Whistleville joins several other districts in Norwalk, CT on the National Register including South Norwalk (SoNo), Wall Street, Five Mile River Landing, and the Norwalk Green.
Norwalk Social Media App Gets Reboot
[repost from The Hour] A Norwalk company has lined up $25 million in backing, after more than 4.5 million people downloaded its app that shares ad revenue with social media “influencers” and artists who use it to post videos, photos and other content. Display Social is a reboot of a social media startup called Tsu, which underwent a bankruptcy in 2016 only two years after its formation, even as celebrities like Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and William Shatner tried out the platform.
Climate Change in Connecticut and in Norwalk, CT
Did you know that the 2010s were the hottest decade ever recorded in the Earth’s history? Climate change isn’t a potential issue that we may have to deal with in the future. It’s a real problem, with global impacts that are already being seen today. Even if we can’t see the ice caps melting here in Connecticut, it’s an undeniable fact that the climate is changing our environment. To prepare for the challenges ahead, it’s good to educate yourself on the current and future impacts of climate change in CT, and the strategies the government will put in place to solve these issues. The Connecticut climate and geography are already changing. Here are some examples provided by the University of Connecticut’s Adapt CT:
Impacts of Climate Change in CT
Rising TemperaturesAll over the globe, temperatures are rising. If you live in the Northeast U.S. you may notice that the Connecticut climate in summer is growing hotter and longer every year. There are more ninety-degree days than ever before producing more heatwaves and droughts.
Vector-Borne IllnessPeople know Connecticut for the large numbers of ticks in its forests and tall grasses. In fact, Lyme disease was named after the town of Lyme, Connecticut. Warmer temperatures bring more ticks and the increased spread of pathogens.
Air PollutionThe potential for poor air quality also rises when the days are hotter. Poor air quality leads to health issues, aggravating asthma and other respiratory conditions. It can also affect the heart and cardiovascular system.
FloodingAs a coastal state, flooding is a large issue for Connecticut when it comes to climate change. Coastal marshes are flooding and drowning, which destroys crucial ecosystems, and homeowners are seeing rising flood insurance rates. Connecticut also faces an increase in precipitation. Climate change causes more intense storms, which means that a lot of rain falls from the sky all at once. That can quickly lead to flood conditions.
Sea Level RiseCoastal flooding can also be exacerbated by the impacts of sea level rise. Being a coastal community, Norwalk may be particularly impacted should the worst-case scenarios come to fruition. This could mean properties permanently or partially underwater, roads potentially underwater and infrastructure impacted. For further information on sea level rise impacts please see Chapter 9 of the Citywide Plan.
Water PollutionPollution from fossil fuel emissions and rainwater runoff hurts many rivers and bodies of water. These bodies of water include the Long Island Sound, and here in Norwalk, Norwalk Harbor, and the Norwalk River.Polluted runoff can negatively impact water-based economies such as shellfishing and recreation.
Solutions to Climate Change in CT and NorwalkThe state of Connecticut and city governments are working on solutions to both mitigate the effects of climate change, or make adaptations. Here are some examples of climate actions and plans:
Renewable EnergyThe state government has dedicated itself to the decrease of fossil fuel emissions by promoting renewable energy sources. The Global Warming Solutions Act sets targets to reduce emissions by 80% from 2001 levels by 2050. In Connecticut, the transportation sector gives off the largest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions. As part of the state’s effort to reduce greenhouse gasses, the EVConnecticut program is funding the creation and set-up of electric car charging stations throughout the state encouraging residents to buy electric cars. In Norwalk, EV stations have been set up in a number of municipal parking areas, including the South Norwalk train station and Maritime Garage.
Water and Wetland ProtectionIn Norwalk, about 22% of residents have private drinking water wells that draw mainly from bedrock aquifers. The Norwalk Aquifer Protection Agency was established in 2009 to regulate businesses located nearby the aquifers to make sure your drinking water isn’t polluted. The Norwalk Conservation Commission and Inland Wetlands Agency enforces the State and City’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Regulations. The Commission has a compliance officer who reviews building permits for wetlands issues. Another example of water protection is Norwalk’s partnership with Harbor Watch, an environmental organization, to identify, locate, and eliminate illegal discharges into drainage areas, coastal areas and rivers.
Stormwater ManagementThe city of Norwalk is taking direct action to prevent stormwater from polluting its rivers and flooding its city streets. For example, the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission created a plan to manage stormwater runoff from the Yankee Doodle I-95 bridge. Additionally, the city is promoting green infrastructure and low impact development as a way to reduce runoff and facilitate on-site infiltration of stormwater. These measures not only reduce pollution of inland and coastal waters, they can play an important role in reducing flooding.
Combating the Causes of Climate Change in CTEven though we’re already experiencing the effects of climate change and global warming, the state and local governments are working hard to promote actionable solutions. Norwalk is part of Sustainable CT, a voluntary certification program founded by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and other partners. Norwalk recently achieved a bronze certification from the group in recognition of the community’s sustainability accomplishments. To learn more about the changing climate in Norwalk, CT, and how the City is planning for it, see pages 141 - 161 of the 10-year Citywide Plan.
Applications Being Accepted for 2021 Neighborhood Assistance Act Program
If you're a nonprofit in Norwalk, CT you may be interested in applying for the Connecticut NeighborhoodAssistance Act Program (NAA). The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency is handling the application process for tax exempt organizations in Norwalk. The deadline for applying is 5 p.m. on May 10, 2021. What is the Neighborhood Assistance Act Program? Read on and we'll fill you in on the details on how it works and how both area businesses and the Norwalk community benefit from this program.
Connecticut Neighborhood Assistance Act ProgramThe Connecticut Neighborhood Assistance Act program is a tax credit program designed to incentivize businesses to provide funding to support approved municipal and tax-exempt organizations. Businesses may be eligible for a tax credit of up to 60% of the amount they contribute to one of these organizations. Tax credits may even go as high as 100% of the contribution amounts for certain qualified programs.
How Do Nonprofits Qualify For The Program?Community programs must be approved by both the municipality in which the programs are conducted and by Connecticut’s Department of Revenue Services. A tax exempt organization interested in participating in the NAA Program must first complete in its entirety the program proposal application, Form NAA-01. This form must be submitted for approval to the municipality where the tax exempt organization’s program is conducted. In Norwalk that is the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency. All approved applications will then be sent to the CT Department of Revenue for another round of reviews. Organizations that qualify include, but are not limited to:
- Employment and training
- Energy conservation
- Child care services
- Substance abuse
- Neighborhood assistance
What Are The Guidelines For Businesses?Although the program is available to a wide range of businesses, there are some parameters to be followed to qualify. For one, the annual tax credit is limited to $150,000. There is also a minimum contribution amount of at least $250 to qualify for the program. The application process for businesses can be done online through the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services website.
NAA Application Process in NorwalkAll tax exempt organizations in Norwalk will follow this process:
- The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency will collect applications and, after a public hearing, will present them to the Norwalk Planning Committee and Common Council for approval. Then the Agency will submit applications approved by the City of Norwalk to the CT Dept. of Revenue Services.
- The Dept. of Revenue Services will post on their website the list of approved applicants for businesses to review as potential community programs to make a contribution towards.
- Businesses wishing to sponsor a community program will have to fill out and submit Form NAA-02 between September 15th and October 1st. No earlier and no later.
- Later in the fall, CT Dept. of Revenue Services will notify municipalities of the applications that received contributions from companies. At that point, municipalities are asked to notify the organizations directly.
Planning Cities With People-oriented Design
We’ve written about what makes cities livable and what people are looking for in a city. There are various urban planning approaches that put and keep people at the forefront. Designing a city so it is people oriented brings in two subjects we’ve covered, transit-oriented development (TOD) and designing public spaces to make them more bikeable, walkable and encourage community (also known as placemaking). Below we take a closer look at some of the factors that make up people-oriented urban design.
The Problem with Car-Centric CitiesMany cities have been designed or have grown organically to be “car-centric”, meaning they are centered around automobile uses and connectivity. Examples of this can include, large urban blocks, unsafe conditions for bicycling and walking, an emphasis on building roads and highways to make it easier to get into the city, little access or connection to or between public transportation, and few public spaces. Primarily promoting the use of cars can make a city less liveable, adding to traffic congestion, and air pollution - among other problems.
Transit-oriented DevelopmentTransit-oriented development is a type of urban planning that creates compact, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use (commercial and residential) communities within walking distance of high quality public transit systems. This kind of development incorporates living, working, retail and recreational spaces close together, and in close proximity to transportation systems. It is intrinsically built around the needs of people and neighborhoods. TOD fosters many benefits including increased economic activity, job opportunities, walkability and a sense of community.
Public TransportationA key component of TOD is good, accessible public transportation that is centered around the needs of residents and visitors. Making trips into and between city neighborhoods easy and making high quality modes of transportation efficient, should be key goals of a city. Ensuring that there are easy connections between various methods of public transportation, making clear up-to-date route information available, and providing dedicated lanes on city streets for public transportation can make public transportation more accessible for City residents and visitors.
Policies to Encourage Less Car UsageIn addition to making it easier and more compelling to take public transportation, cities can reduce the use of cars with a few strategies, as well. One method is congestion pricing, which is charging vehicles a fee for going into specific areas at certain times of the day. Parking restrictions can also be put into place. In terms of design, cities can narrow lanes, add bike lanes as well as add bike-share docking stations, put in more pedestrian crossings, temporarily replace parking spaces with parklets, and even set up car free zones. These strategies don’t take cars away from the equation entirely, but they prioritize people over cars.
Designing Walkable, Bikeable NeighborhoodsWe already mentioned some of the ways to make a city more walkable and bikeable such as car-free or car-reduced streets. Other ways to encourage pedestrians can be implemented via sidewalk design strategies. Making sidewalks wider, with no obstructions, makes them easier to walk on and can encourage their use as public spaces. Clear, wide sidewalks can be used for commercial activity, recreational uses, or public art. A city can better accommodate bikers with designated bike lanes that are separated from other vehicle street traffic and parked cars, as well as convenient and secure bike racks in public spaces.
Public Space ManagementPublic spaces are important to making a city people-friendly. Ensuring residents and visitors access to open public spaces to rest, exercise and congregate is essential for densely populated neighborhoods. The benefits are many, including both physical and mental health, along with fostering a sense of community. ocia Public spaces can be used for people to meet, play, and socialize! People-oriented city design is all about putting people and communities first, ahead of vehicles, streets, and other city infrastructure. In short, improving overall quality of life. By encouraging and supporting mixed use building, investing in quality public transportation options, making cities more walkable and bikeable, and providing inviting public spaces, cities can improve the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.
Initial Recommendations for Norwalk’s Industrial Zones
“Industry” in the 21st century has come to have a different meaning than in the last century. For some, 2021-03-10 Steering Committee Meeting - Draft Recommendations (2)industrial zones may conjure up images of belching smoke stacks. But now, the modern industrial zone is something quite different. The manufacturing sector is seen more and more as including a variety of businesses that can be vital to creating vibrant local neighborhoods, offering a range of benefits from creative placemaking to employment opportunities.
The Changing Face of IndustryIn many ways the new image of industry stems from the fact that manufacturing firms have changed radically over time. Across the United States, we are moving from a manufacturing sector dominated by mass producers with hundreds of employees to small and medium-sized businesses that are celebrated for keeping it local. Because of this, cities are redefining what industrial usage is as they take a look at their industrial zones. Today, not all industrial uses are the same. They can be small-scale, less intensive uses such as small-batch manufacturing, woodworking, metalworking, machining, product design, printing, apparel and textiles, brewery and bakeries. Industrial uses can also include “light industries” including smaller-scale R&D, industrial services, distribution, building materials sale & storage and warehousing. Heavy industrial uses may include vehicle sale/service, storage/junkyards, asphalt and concrete plants, industrial processing, oil/petroleum/propane gas storage, solid waste transfer, recycling and composting.
Zones In NorwalkNorwalk has three defined industrial zones: industrial 1, industrial 2 and restricted industrial. In addition, industrial uses are also allowed in certain other business zones. The kinds of activities that are allowed in these zones include manufacturing and processing, research and development, printing, warehousing, storage and wholesale distribution. These zones also allow for other uses that are not industrial, but accompany industrial uses such as offices and retail, artist workspaces, and even multifamily and single family housing. Norwalk is setting out to reclassify and simplify its industrial zones. Recently, the committee studying this, presented the following recommendations:
- Simplify zoning into three new types of zones:
- Mixed Use Commercial/Industrial
- Mixed Use Residential/Commercial/Industrial
- In the Mixed Use Residential/Commercial/Industrial district, encourage ground floor boutique manufacturing and live/work spaces by allowing building height increases. For example, in neighborhoods such as the East Norwalk or Wall and West Avenue areas, the City could look to create incentives for light industry such as allowing property owners to maintain and grow businesses while allowing for residential spaces above them.
- In the Mixed Use Commercial/Industrial Zones, allow for hybrid building types such as in South Norwalk along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Wilson and Woodward Avenues or North Norwalk along Perry Avenue.
- Distinguish the difference between the types and intensity of contractor yards from each other and from other industrial uses and identify more suitable locations and sites. Contractor yards pose problems when they are located along narrow residential streets or when they are near road networks and intersections which can cause conflict with their truck traffic. Currently, contractor yards are permitted by right in Norwalk in industrial zones in South and East Norwalk, but they are also permitted by special permit in other business zones in the City.
- Develop separate plans for the Norden site and the waterfront. The Norden Site is a large parcel (37 acres) but truck traffic now must move to and from the site through roads with no direct access to I-95. The committee’s recommendations are that this site should be considered for other suitable land uses such as industrial/commercial with passenger traffic only. Industrial uses around waterfront areas should promote access to the waterfront and be in compliance with and under the guidance of the City’s Harbor Management Plan.
Surveying Norwalkers on Industrial Zones
Industrial zones have been integral parts of cities for decades, allowing certain areas to be designated for industrial and commercial use. Following the 2019-2029 Citywide Plan, Norwalk is assessing its industrial zones to see if these areas are still appropriate for industrial uses, as well as taking a look at how to better use these zones for economic diversification and growth. As part of this effort, the City recently conducted a survey for stakeholders across the City, including residents and business owners, to gauge their opinions about Norwalk’s industrial zones.
Industrial Zone Survey ResultsOut of a total of 434 respondents, two major opinion groups emerged, based on their votes and statements submitted. One group of about one-third of those who responded had generally a pro-industry stance, with strong support for additional industrial development across the City, as well as a healthy mix of both commercial and industrial uses. Their opinions were generally:
- More supportive of industrial growth, especially for job creation
- Support for a balance of land use
- Sensitive to the location of industrial uses and their relationship to residential neighborhoods
- Less support for industrial growth
- Norwalk should not bear the regional burden of industrial development
- Industry in Norwalk is not well located and should not be near residential areas
- Industry should respect the needs of its residential neighbors
- Traffic and infrastructure are serious issues in many of the zones
- There should be a clear distinction between heavy and light industry
- Waterfront is a valuable asset for the City that should be considered separately from the other industrial zones
Industrial Zone Planning - Next StepsBased on both the survey results and the above consensus points, the industrial zone planning team will look further into several questions that arose, including:
- While Norwalk is well positioned for a regional advantage with regard to industry, should it be the main industrial district for Fairfield County?
- What are emerging industrial trends and how should they inform the future of industrial development in Norwalk?
- How to balance the future of marine industrial and commercial uses with recreational uses such as boating and public access along the waterfront?
- How can Norwalk’s planning and policy mitigate conflicts between industrial uses and abutting residential and commercial areas?
30-Minute Cities: A New Urban Planning Trend?
The concept of “30-minute cities” was originally conceived for the city of Sydney, Australia as a way to make the city easily accessible to all. It is a concept that can be adopted in other parts of the world as a way to develop a city strategically so that people can reach important destinations around the city within a reasonable time using a variety of methods of transportation, including car, bus, train, even biking or on foot.
Access as a Driving Force in Urban DevelopmentWhen planning for urban development around 30-minute cities, access is the focal point, or improving connectivity within a city. The goal is to reduce the amount of time people need to travel to get to critical points around the city such as work, school, shopping, health and recreational activities. Access also includes opportunities for all people, regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity or physical or mental ability. One way to do this is to increase the number of available travel options close to where people live.
Ways to Create 30-Minute CitiesCreating 30-minute cities takes a number of steps. Some include giving people a variety of ways to get around the city, including public transportation, private cars, taxi, ride-shares as well as walking, bicycling, and scootering. Others include creating important destinations in close-proximity to each other and to transportation hubs. There are a few approaches that cities can take.
Urban TransportationCities can take both short-term and long-term steps to increase access to different types of transportation, as well as to improve the speed at which people can get from one place to another. Short-term actions can include retiming traffic signals, bike sharing programs, protected bike lanes, as well publishing public transportation timetables. Longer-term steps could include implementing rapid bus networks, and planning development around transit hubs.
Urban Density PlanningCities can promote and prioritize redevelopment that creates well-designed urban neighborhoods or centers where people can live, work and play within a 30-minute radius by foot, bike, car or public transportation. This is commonly known as transit-oriented development. This development should also offer a variety of housing options, including affordable housing, and different employment options to include access to a range of people.
Private/Public PartnershipsTo be successful, transit-oriented development needs both public and private input, support, and funding. Developing neighborhoods that include residences and businesses will need the participation and investment of private developers. Government participation is also key for infrastructure improvements to ensure a variety of transportation options and incentives to the private sector. The concept of 30-minute cities is certainly do-able for many urban areas. Better mobility, including integrated and varied transportation options, neighborhood planning, and public and private partnerships will all help to make our cities a better place to live, work and play.
Norwalk Recognized for Sustainability Initiatives
The City of Norwalk recently achieved a bronze certification from the group Sustainable CT in recognition of the community’s sustainability accomplishments. Sustainable CT is a statewide initiative that encourages and supports communities in becoming more resilient, inclusive and efficient. In the fall of 2020, seventeen municipalities qualified for certification, meeting the high standards in a broad range of sustainability accomplishments.