Planning Cities With People-oriented Design
Surveying Norwalkers on 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?
Reassessing Industrial Zones In Norwalk
What is an Industrial Zone?Industrial zones are important components of city planning. An industrial zone is an area of a municipality that is designated to be used for industrial uses. These zones can benefit a city by boosting economic development, providing employment and investment in the area, and generating city revenues. For industrial zones to be beneficial, a city should have space for manufacturing that is suitable and affordable. This can be challenging in places where land values are high and there is significant demand for space for other uses such as residential or office buildings. Industrial zones also need to be located in areas that are accessible to transportation links, allowing employees to come and go and goods to be shipped. Having zones where manufacturing is clustered allows these businesses to operate freely without worrying about disturbing neighboring businesses or residents. Some schools of thought argue that having a diversity of industry near one another promotes both more industrial economic growth as well as development of the city’s surrounding area. The theory is that diversity provides opportunities for technological inter-fertilization of industries as well as innovation and entrepreneurship.
Industrial Zones in NorwalkAccording to Norwalk’s Zoning Regulations, the “primary purpose of industrial zones is to provide areas which permit manufacturing and related uses”. Heavy industrial uses are allowed by special permit. Examples of businesses in this area are any manufacturing that doesn’t involve noxious waste or overly loud noises. They can also include warehouses, package distribution facilities and places that sell or store building materials. The city also recognizes that while there’s a need for manufacturing space it needs to ensure that industrial zones are compatible with nearby residential neighborhoods and with the capacity of available infrastructure. Therefore, city regulations state that any plans for building a structure more than 20,000 square feet or with more than 50 parking spaces must include special permits. In keeping with the coexistence of residents and businesses, industrial zones in Norwalk can also include retail stores, offices, including medical offices, banks and financial institutions, other service establishments such as restaurants and taverns, as well as single- and two-family housing.
Examining Norwalk’s Industrial ZonesNorwalk’s study of its industrial zones will help it to make decisions about the city when planning for development. A goal of the study is to determine what Norwalk can do to foster industrial growth, including craft industries, and ensure that thriving businesses expand and/or remain in Norwalk. Among the key issues the study will look at is if all the areas that are zoned industrial currently are still appropriate for the neighborhoods. The study will also examine what other similar communities in the Northeast are doing to attract commercial and manufacturing companies, including new tech and green manufacturing. Conversely, the study will evaluate what might discourage industrial growth in Norwalk, including limitations or issues with regard to infrastructure (e.g. roadways, sanitation, energy, etc.). For industrial development to thrive, governments and private developers need to create sustainable, profitable conditions. Designated industrial zones with the infrastructure (both physical as well as technical), convenient location, and municipal and residential support can deliver jobs and economic growth. Norwalk’s reassessment of its industrial zones is a step in that direction.
The Importance of Anchor Institutions to a City
What Are Anchor Institutions?Anchor institutions are organizations that are established in communities and tied to them via place. Examples are libraries, hospitals, local community foundations, colleges and universities, and cultural organizations such as museums or arts centers. Anchor institutions can also be major employers in certain niches like science and design. Because of their longstanding establishment in a town or city, these places have an interest and investment in keeping their community vibrant. They contribute to their community via their employees, businesses they use as vendors, and relationships with neighbors and other organizations in the area. Because of their ties to their neighborhoods, towns, and regions, they are seen as key to its economic development, wellbeing, and cultural growth. The thinking is that they can be even more beneficial to their towns and cities via their intellectual resources, and economic and cultural power.
Economic PartnersAs some of the largest regional employers in a city, anchor institutions can benefit a city or town through its hiring and workforce development programs. Hiring local residents at decent, living wages and offering career building opportunities for local residents and employees can keep the area’s economy healthy. Working with and hiring locally-owned vendors promotes small and local businesses. Other ways anchor institutions can promote business development in the area include colleges and universities making use of their resources, such as faculty and students. By creating small business development centers to work in their regions they can help to build the capacity of local businesses. Area foundations and nonprofits too can create programs to work with local individuals and businesses to build their professional capacity. Colleges for example can also work with local school districts to create viable pipelines and pathways to skilled, high-paying jobs.
Promoting A Healthy CommunityInstitutions can do a number of things to impact the health of their neighborhoods and regions. They can work directly with the community via public health interventions. They can also make investments in factors that affect good health such as access to health care and health care information, access to healthy food and physical activity in local public schools, workforce wellness initiatives with local businesses, investment in safe and affordable housing, and by providing employment to local residents.
Community EngagementAnchor institutions need to engage with their local communities to maintain a partnership relationship. Universities can foster civic participation via discussions, lectures, workshops around adult education, politics, and the economy. Art institutions can support building a thriving arts and culture hub by supporting local artists and businesses, and partnering with local schools. Anchor Institutions can bring important benefits to local communities in which they are located by creating decent-paying jobs for residents, supporting local businesses and community-based entrepreneurship, promoting the arts, culture and health, and engaging residents in a variety of productive ways. In Norwalk, we have a number of anchor institutions, including Norwalk Hospital, Norwalk Community College and The Maritime Aquarium, for example. Anchor institutions are central to the implementation of the current Wall Street-West Avenue Redevelopment Plan. Because there are only a few traditional institutions in the area – Norwalk Hospital, Norwalk Public Library, Stepping Stones – non-traditional anchor institutions such as major employers like King Industries and Devine Brothers are also involved. These community strongholds continue to contribute to making Norwalk and surrounding towns a dynamic place to live and work.
What Are Artistic Crosswalks?Artistic crosswalks are exactly as the term implies, crosswalks that are not your run-of-the-mill white lines, but include color, patterns, and even textures. They can be designed to reflect the special character of a neighborhood, mark the gateway to a district, or create local identity and pride.
Pros and Cons of Artistic CrosswalksIn addition to promoting art and being fun, these crosswalks raise awareness of pedestrian safety. They are more noticeable to pedestrians and drivers, often having the side effect of slowing down traffic in the area. Some proponents also say artistic crosswalks offer public health benefits making roads more pedestrian-friendly. By creating more welcoming spaces, they encourage people to get out and walk or bike. Critics offer caution, however, saying that the artwork can be distracting or confusing to motorists. In fact, federal guidelines for crosswalks are very specific, with exact specifications for white line size and spacing, even the type of reflective paint to be used. Some cities have removed colorful crosswalks after the Federal Highway Administration deemed them distracting to drivers.
Norwalk, CT and Artistic CrosswalksThe City of Norwalk has a relatively new artistic crosswalk program developed by the Transportation, Mobility and Parking Department with stated guidelines. The city recently approved one at West Avenue and Connecticut Avenue in front of Mathews Park that will be painted in rainbow colors. The idea was proposed by the Triangle Community Center. The crosswalk not only represents the LGBTQ community but also Norwalk’s diversity and inclusivity as it is located across from Heritage Wall which celebrates Norwalk’s diversity, representing the gateway to Norwalk. Norwalk’s Artistic Crosswalk program ties into the efforts of the Citywide Plan by creating neighborhood identity and placemaking as part of the investment into economic and community development. This installation was a true community collaboration, bringing together the City, The Triangle Community Center, the Norwalk Green Association, the Norwalk Bike Walk Commission, the Norwalk Historical Commission and the Norwalk Historical Society. If you or your organization would like to propose one for Norwalk, Click Here for more information.
The Benefits of Mixed-Use Development
New development to update and renew buildings and parcels are a part of life in a city that wants to remain vital. In the last few decades, cities have put emphasis on encouraging mixed-use development, combining many types of uses in a space, from residential to cultural and commercial. But what exactly is mixed-use development and what are the benefits for a city and its residents?At its core, mixed-use development is just that: urban development that includes a number of different uses. When developing a piece of land, cities no longer want a large parcel of just offices or a large apartment building.The goal is more pedestrian-friendly development that combines residential/multifamily, retail, office and restaurant components. The idea is that this kind of development produces synergies in the use of the land, creating more of a walkable community that not only is good for the economy but also for residents and employees, as well as a destination for visitors to the neighborhood.
How Mixed-Use Development Benefits Residents and TenantsPeople who live in cities want to have amenities close by. In a mixed-use development, they’re able to walk from their apartments and go to a restaurant, cafe or retail store, right at the bottom of their building or next door. Being able to walk to the things they want to purchase or experience saves them the costs of having a car to go everywhere, and with fewer cars on the road, the environment benefits. Public spaces are also incorporated into these developments, encouraging people to get outside and interact with other residents - fostering a sense of community. Similarly for people that work in office buildings in a mixed-use space, there are convenient places to eat, shop and relax during their lunch hour or after work.
Benefits of Mixed-Use to Developers and InvestorsFor developers and investors, mixed-use development because there are a variety of uses and tenants to these developments, this provides investors with diversification with regards to risk. There is no single, large tenant whose vacancy could negatively impact them. Certainly, there are a number of concerns that must be worked through such as parking and density regulations, so it’s important for developers to work with city planners as well as neighborhood groups early, as well. But by integrating a number of types of products, investors and developers will create destinations that will attract tenants of many kinds.
Mixed Use Development In NorwalkHere in Norwalk, CT, the Waypointe development on West Avenue is a great example of mixed-use development. Included with apartments are dining and shopping establishments right downstairs. The development also has attractive public space and is within walking distance of the cultural attractions such as the Wall Street Theater, the Norwalk Public Library, the Lockwood Mathews Mansion, and Stepping Stones Museums, as well as other restaurants. For cities, mixed-use development, integrating corporate, retail, entertainment, restaurants and residential, can encourage private investment, support business, promote tourism and increase tax revenue given the increased density. But the ultimate benefit and goal for a city is to help transform neighborhoods into destinations that bring residents, tenants and visitors to an area to live, work, shop and play.
Transforming Retail in Norwalk
Location of the SoNo Collection MallBack in Norwalk, we can see the start of this mixed-use model in the SoNo Collection. As of spring 2019, the new mall is set to include Yard House sports bar, as well as Pinstripes, a dining and entertainment venue. Pinstripes includes bowling, a bistro and bocce courts all in one.The SoNo Collection Pinstripes will allow shoppers to view the bowling alleys, and the restaurant will include outdoor patio seating and bocce courts overlooking the water. Plans also include large areas devoted to public spaces such as a sculpture garden, a rooftop garden, and possibly museum and education space. There was a time when teenagers went to the mall and stayed for hours. Today, malls are working to encourage people to use the malls as destinations again - to come and stay, but not just for the shopping. The new SoNo Collection is following that trend.
What’s In The Wall Street-West Avenue Plan
Opportunity Sites for RedevelopmentCentral to realizing the vision for the future of the Wall Street-West Avenue neighborhood, is for the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency and the City of Norwalk to focus attention and resources on specific opportunity sites that can serve as catalysts for broader community development. These sites, identified by the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, were chosen based on several factors including development potential, land area (50,000 square feet or more), and location on one of the neighborhood’s primary commercial corridors of West Avenue or Wall Street. The sites include
- 370 West Avenue (former YMCA site)
- West Avenue between Merwin and Chapel Streets
- Wall Street, West Avenue, Leonard & Commerce Street site
- Wall Street between High & Main Streets
- Library and adjacent sites