Location: Montgomery, Alabama. located within the first neighborhood of a 416 acre community designed with three neighborhood ped-sheds
The submission for the project’s Town Center design & implementation is comprised of 2 mixed-use buildings, civic spaces & civic buildings, a “placeholder” commercial building, and community farm. These completed town center elements form the early stage of the project’s overall master plan. The project is the first in the city to be zoned, permitted, and constructed under an existing form-based & transect-based code. The mixed-use buildings are oriented around the civic spaces and connected directly to the agricultural component and residential dwellings.
The town center area is located within the first neighborhood of a 416 acre community designed with three neighborhood ped-sheds. The infrastructure and over 80% construction of the submitted town center area is complete, while the infrastructure for approximately 50% of the first ped-shed is complete. Forty residences are constructed and inhabited in the neighborhood directly adjacent to the town center.
The project serves as a stark contrast to the suburban residential developments adjacent to it. As the city’s first mixed-use development “by-right,” the town center area combines work, civic, residential, retail & recreational in one location. An aerial overview illustrates the contrast between this project with its centralized town center and the nearby suburban cul-de-sac neighborhoods. The town center area provides an alternative to suburban sprawl by offering an example of a more sustainable way of living.
Purpose & Goals
The developer & designers sought to create a sustainable, varied community as a contrast to the conventional suburban development in the city. To accomplish this goal, a design charrette was held that invited public input & access to all segments of the process. City officials, public utilities, and municipal & community leaders were invited to participate at all levels in order to help educate them with the concepts intrinsic to the project’s goals. By educating the public and officials & making them feel part of the decision making process, the project was vigorously accepted on a conceptual level. The developer then pushed for change in policy, using the public support of the project as the momentum for convincing municipal bodies to adopt a city-wide form-based & transect-based zoning code. This public policy change ensured the project could be permitted and constructed “by-right” rather than subjectively, and could have a lasting impact in the area.
In response to the desired program and local context, the design of the project establishes a closed-loop system as one of the developer’s criteria. The town center features restaurants for visitors & residents, and places of work for over 200 people each day. The restaurants use produce grown on-site at the community farm, as do residents who have gardening plots at the farm. The farm is irrigated by a windmill & well system, which then drains back into the soil to be recycled. The farm consists of community composting, recycling, & bio-diesel components, all of which create usable material from on-site waste. For example, the bio-diesel business collects grease from the neighborhood restaurants and converts to clean fuel at Hampstead. Finally, the town center civic space provides an area for a weekly state farmer’s market selling community produce in conjunction with other local farm products.
The scale of the project has created considerable impact within the city and region. Beyond the overall scale and economic impact of a 416 acre community of this type, the completed town center, residential construction, and infrastructure for the first neighborhood phase has been a strong statement of commitment to new urban planning since 2005. The project, which opened in October 2008 during the most difficult economic period in decades, is an investment over $51 million to date in the local economy. As a result of constructing the town center area with heavy focus on work places, community retail, and public civic space, the city and visitors have been able to better understand the concept of new urban living and find it very appealing. Additionally, such significant investment up-front signaled the developer’s commitment to the project and the longevity of this type of community despite a difficult economy. The project has become the fastest growing community in the city, with residential sales outpacing all other new construction in the area. This is a strong sign of changing behavioral patterns in a city where suburban pods were the only option for decades.
The investment in the town center is specifically unique in the quantity and quality of the community civic space. Significant planning & design were put into the creation of a range of public gathering spaces, including a formal town fountain area, recreational areas adjacent to work places, and the community farm. Not directly related to selling real estate, the developer insisted on civic space that would enhance the long-term sustainability and livability of the project.
Another interesting aspect of the town center component is that it consists of local retail and true market rate. Rather than subsidized retail as often seen, the businesses are paying the same market rate as in nearby lifestyle centers and new strip centers, proving well-designed community centers can offer valuable returns to both developers & business owners. Additionally, many of those who work here actually live here. The residential products are varied enough that both staff and owners of the local businesses have found homes that suit their financial needs in the neighborhood.
The most significant effect of the project to date has been its effect city-wide from a policy standpoint. After seeing this support for new urbanist planning by one of the city’s most effective developers, the city planning department used the momentum to establish the form-based & transect-based zoning code as an optional overlay throughout the municipality in 2006. Using this project as the reason for adoption, the city planning department got the new code adopted and uses all required design submissions as public examples of how to develop under the new code. The city then went on to hire a well-known new urbanist firm to create a master plan for its downtown area which was adopted in 2007 as a mandatory zoning code for the district and has also seen significant public and private investment. Under the form-based & transect-based code, this project has been 99% compliant with its submissions ranging from its community plan to civic space, retail buildings, and residential layout.
Response to Charter Principles
A primary task of all urban architecture and landscape design is the physical definition of streets and public spaces as places of shared use. Streets and squares should be safe, comfortable, and interesting to the pedestrian. Properly configured, they encourage walking and enable neighbors to know each other and protect their communities.
The project carefully promotes streets as public spaces through the use of an interconnected street grid with sidewalks & street trees along every street and a reduced street speed. The street network is designed to create terminating vistas that create interest and reduce automobile speed. Some streets are constructed of specialized pavers and bollards, which signal significance to drivers & pedestrians. These areas alternate between pedestrianized public space and street as needed by the community. The town center streets are designed to engage the pedestrian through the proper use of commercial design & building placement and civic space, preventing pedestrian “boredom” as visitors walk through the community.
Architecture and landscape design should grow from local climate, topography, history, and building practice.
The architectural character & elements are formed from precedents set throughout the city’s historic neighborhoods. The town center buildings provide a striking symbol of architectural style based on the local heritage of English- influenced architecture, while the local materials add elements of practicality and sustainability. From locally produced brick and metalwork to pine-shingled roofs, the architectural components are both interesting and carefully considered. Native landscaping materials and insistence on preserving each existing tree within the town center enhances the civic space.
Civic buildings and public gathering places require important sites to reinforce community identity and the culture of democracy. They deserve distinctive form, because their role is different from that of other buildings and places that constitute the fabric of the city.
The project created civic buildings & civic space ranging from a formal town fountain area to community farm and recreational park areas within the town center. The built civic uses include both a YMCA and a City / County Public Library. These civic buildings are important as they bring a variety of visitors into the community on a daily basis, and can be connected via public transit to the completed Bus Stop within the town center when the city initiates the route from the nearby bus stop only 1.5 miles away.
Response to Canons of Sustainable Architecture & Urbanism Principles
The balance of jobs, shopping, schools, recreation, civic uses, institutions, housing, areas of food production and natural places shall occur at the neighborhood scale, with these uses being within easy walking distances or easy access to transit.
The diversity of uses within the project is complex, with most elements already constructed within the first phase. The community farm adds a distinct and critical component of agricultural urbanism to the project that is utilized by residents & businesses each day.
Lessons learned: • Break the rules. When existing codes do not promote, much less allow, good urbanism to exist, it’s time to change the laws. Work with elected officials, municipal departments’ staff, and community leaders to instigate positive, lasting changes to city regulations including zoning codes and guidelines for development. In this instance, the developer had the simple option to permit the project as a PUD, but chose the more complicated and time- consuming option of using the form-based & transect-based code (and therefore instigating its adoption by the City Council) in order to achieve the more precise regulatory tool and obtain a better outcome for the project. Future development influenced by such changes will benefit both the city and your own project in the long term. • Next step, make the municipality follow the rules. Stand your ground when dealing with city departments such as traffic or fire on new codes. Don’t allow them to demand more than what is required by the new code as a way to show their power or merely because “that’s what has always been done.” Following the letter of the law will help you with battles over right-of-way widths, street lighting and signage, and other issues. • People respond emotionally to good architecture and design. Even in a market where both are uncommon, and many cannot articulate the technical reasons why they are drawn to a place, people respond on a basic emotional level to good urbanism. The project offers both thoughtful, sophisticated architecture and attention to detail in the public realm which people appreciate. Don’t dumb down the design to cut costs. • Communication is critical. Efforts must be made at the very beginning of a project to communicate to the public what you are trying to achieve and why. Explain how what you are advocating is better for them and for the community. As an example, the project established a 501(c)3 non-profit institute to help communicate the sustainability and educational objectives of the community. The energy and effort expended on the front end is well invested - a knowledgeable and involved public is your best tool to help achieve your goals long term. • Civic space is vital. It must be created and used to its full potential. More than just a landscaping feature, civic space must be engaged: invest in public & private activities at these sites to engage the community. The project includes a variety of civic spaces including the existing old-growth trees and new native landscaping, as well as civic buildings & institutions ranging from a public library to YMCA. Such diverse civic offerings brings a crowd diverse in age & income, including the farmer’s market voucher program aimed at helping senior and low-income citizens purchase fresh produce at the project’s weekly markets. • Respond to your environment. Adapting to changes in the economic climate and market demand is crucial for success. It also shows how well new urban plans can adapt and respond over time. Don’t be afraid to try new things as long as new alternatives enhance rather than detract from the overall vision and livability of the place. The project’s town center illustrates the importance of adapting within the worst economic conditions in seven decades. For example, by constructing small attached live-work units, new residents were able to find affordable options that were not legal in any other neighborhood. Additionally, the project responded to the terrible economic conditions by designing “place-holder buildings,” re-usable temporary buildings that can be relocated throughout the community. This typology allows local start-up businesses such as a coffee shop or retail store to get into the community at below market rate terms, then move into a permanent building once their business is established. This fills the town center at an early stage with well designed buildings which still embrace good urbanism. The new commercial building for the new economy.
Transect Zone(s): T4 general, T5 center.
Status: 76-99% Built
Project or Plan's Scale: Region
Features: Transit oriented development.
Land area (in acres): 12
Total built area (in sq. ft.):
Total project cost (in local currency): 4.2e+07
Retail area (in sq. ft.):
Office area (in sq. ft.):
Industrial area (in sq. ft.):
Number of hotel units:
Number of residential units (include live/work):
Parks & green space (in acres):
Project team designers: City Loft Corporation
Project team developers: N/A
Previous site status:
Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: -