Planning Cities With People-oriented Design

people-oriented city planningWe’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 Cities

Many 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 Development

Transit-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 Transportation

A 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 Usage  

In 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 Neighborhoods

We 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 Management

Public 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.  

East Norwalk Neighborhood Tod Plan

View Draft Plan

East Norwalk TOD Study Draft Recommendations

Transit-Oriented Development Plan Moving Forward in East Norwalk

East Norwalk Transit-Oriented DevelopmentNorwalk has been undergoing  planning for East Norwalk to guide growth and development in and around the East Norwalk train station.   The plan is being developed with the help of stakeholders including the public, area businesses, and other city residents and representatives to create a vision for the future, and help guide recommendations for appropriate uses for the land and scale of development in the East Avenue  train station area.  Below we’ll take a look at some of the proposed recommendations

A New Village District for East Norwalk

One significant  recommendation is the creation of a new village district for the area, concentrated on East Avenue. This will require all development to adhere to design guidelines that control building architecture, streetscape, site layout, signage and landscaping . The city would also allow some buildings to have additional height and a moderate increase in the number of residential units, above ground floor commercial spaces, provided they include certain amenities that positively impact the community.   Benefits of this include additional revenue for property owners as well as promoting mixed-use development, so residents could live close to commercial and transportation options.   As part of developing the district, the plan proposes putting in place a street and facade improvement program in the areas of Charles Street & Osborne Avenue, north of Fort Point Street, similar to the program used in SoNo.  

What Could New Development Look Like?

So what could the new village district look like?  The study team put together a rendering  and buildout of  the corner of East Avenue and Winfield Street to illustrate what is possible.  The new regulations could allow slightly taller buildings (1 additional story than currently allowed) in exchange for a large pedestrian plaza with other features such as fountains, public arts, public WIFI and/or public seating, as well as a shared parking lot to the rear of the development.  In addition,  sidewalks around this parcel could be widened to encourage pedestrians and to make room for possible outdoor dining space. It is important to note that this plan has no mechanism or recommendation to take anyone’s property or force them to change their current use.  The Plan is meant to guide development, if and when change occurs.  

Improvements Toward the Norwalk River

In East Norwalk, as you go closer to the Norwalk River, one possible improvement would be to explore the relocation of the DPW garage elsewhere in the City. This site could be used for a variety of other uses, ranging from marine commercial use to open space. Closer to South Norwalk, the study team suggested the creation of a promenade along Seaview Avenue, connecting the Cove Avenue area to SoNo. The promenade would be another great resource for Norwalkers, with amenities that could be used for recreational and entertainment purposes. 

Next Steps

These recommendations will be posted in full in a draft plan and area residents, business owners and others with an interest in the area will have the opportunity to give their feedback to the City. Once put in place, the revitalization of the area around the East Avenue train station will be  yet another step toward ensuring that Norwalk is a great place to live, work and play.

Read Final Plan 

Plan Appendices

East Norwalk Transit Oriented Development Plan Draft Zoning & Land Use Recommendations

Stakeholders Weigh In On Transit-Oriented Development for East Norwalk

East Norwalk Transit Oriented Development PlanThe public was given the opportunity to hear progress and give feedback on the East Norwalk Transit-Oriented Development Plan at a public forum in November 2019. The 50 + participants were updated on the progress to-date following two community workshops, one on what people envisioned for the area held in March 2019, and the other on the different kind of transit-oriented development options available, held in July 2019. The public also heard about the key drivers of the Plan and the broad recommendations that address these key drivers. The final in-depth recommendations being developed in collaboration with the Oversight Committee are based on these broad recommendations. Additionally, attendees were taken through a market analysis of the project from an outside consultant that looked at the feasibility of development in East Norwalk and Norwalk as a whole.

Public Priorities

During the public open house, participants were asked to vote on their priorities for various recommendations for development in East Norwalk. This was done via interactive boards on which attendees were asked to put stickers on the recommendations they preferred. Below are the results.

Highest Priority Recommendations:

  1. Enhance leisure opportunities with wider sidewalks, mid-block crossings, pocket parks, plazas, community gardens, and publicly accessible open spaces.
  2. Improve mobility for everyone with traffic calming tools and methods to slow traffic and discourage cut-through traffic.
  3. Preserve and enhance existing residential neighborhoods.

Lowest Priority Recommendations:

  1. Examine two-way traffic circulation options around the cemetery.
  2. Add road signage to increase driver awareness.
  3. Increase turnover of prime on-street parking.

Next Steps

The draft report, including recommended zoning and design changes, is expected to be completed in early 2020, and with Committee feedback, will be available for public comment. Ultimately, the Planning Commission will amend the recently adopted Citywide Plan (POCD) to incorporate the recommendations within the East Norwalk TOD plan. As part of that process the Planning Commission will hold two public hearings and will also refer the plan to the Common Council.
Click Here To View The Presentation

November 2019 Open House Presentation

East Norwalk Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Public Meeting Presentation

East Norwalkers Lend Their Vision to Transit-Oriented Development Plan

More than 70 people attended a workshop on July 25 at Norwalk City Hall to gather the public’s ideas and visions for the East Norwalk Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Plan. The TOD Plan will be a future guide for appropriate uses for the land and the scale of market-supportable and development in the East Avenue area surrounding the train station.

Who Participated

The majority (70%) of the 73 people who attended and filled out a questionnaire were residents of East Norwalk while 48% were East Norwalk business or property owners. Also among the participants, 26% commuted from East Norwalk and 35% worked in or were patrons of East Norwalk retail and restaurants. Just over 30% were a resident or business or property owner in Norwalk (or the surrounding region). The largest age representation at the workshop were those 56-65 (33%); and the second largest group represented were those 46-55, at 26%. Just 9% of attendees were between the ages of 18 and 35, while 15% were 66-80. Four percent of participants were over 80 years old.

Survey Preferences

Workshop attendees participated in several different exercises to get their thoughts and opinions about the East Norwalk TOD area. The first exercise invited attendees to evaluate images within four categories: Housing; Commercial and Mixed Uses; Connectivity and Access; and Public Space. Participants were asked to rank their enthusiasm toward each image, from highly desirable to neutral, down to highly undesirable, based on its suitability with regards to East Norwalk. To gauge the development goals and vision of the community for the East Norwalk TOD area, attendees were shown different types of development that could be encouraged via incentives and controls. The alternatives included developing the area around East Avenue/Main Street based on Side Street Villages or smaller Community Nodes or Centers.    East Norwalk Transit-Oriented Dev

Focus Groups

After completing the preference surveys, workshop participants broke up into small focus groups to explore the opportunities and challenges they might foresee with each of the three development types surveyed above (East Avenue/Main Street, Side Street Villages, and Community Nodes/Centers). Participants were asked to provide their opinion on which of these types would be most appropriate for different areas within the larger TOD study area.

Next Steps

Whether discussing housing, commerce, connectivity, or public space, it is clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for all of East Norwalk. However, the results of this public workshop, combined with an online survey, will help planners to better understand the community’s preferences in regard to building densities, land use mix, improvements to the pedestrian environment, and open spaces within the East Norwalk TOD area. Additional surveys, such as a commuter survey, is also coming soon. The community feedback will also provide a clear direction for moving forward among the three choices of development in East Norwalk, or a hybrid of the alternatives.

View Public Workshop Presentation

Take Our Preference Survey

Watch Video Of The Workshop


East Norwalk Transit Oriented Development Plan Choices and Priorities Workshop