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 June 4, 1999

City Plan pulls good things from the past New Urbanism

FORT COLLINS — I have been a landscape architect for 27 years. Unknowingly, I had my first lesson in the profession in my hometown — Goodland, Ind.

The small Indiana town I grew up in could have been the model for the movie “Hoosiers.” With 1,200 people, you didn’t need a turn signal; you pretty much knew where folks were headed. And across town was a 10-minute walk or until you got to the next cornfield, whichever came first. Our town had its own post office, A&P, five and dime, butcher shop, drugstore, soda fountain, two bars, three churches, two cemeteries (one for us Catholics and one for everybody else), a motel, a doctor, a lawyer, Realtors (several of these, of course), a policeman — you get the idea.

In the middle of town sat a beautiful limestone library and city park. Across the street from the park was a three-story brick schoolhouse, just like the one in the movie. I lived 12 years in town, and I pretty much knew all of those 1,199 other people by the time I graduated. Crime wasn’t much of a problem in Goodland, Ind.

That was in the ’50s and early ’60s. Times have changed. The schoolhouse was razed when the new consolidated high school was built five miles from town — so much for walking to school. Most of the stores closed when the larger and “cheaper” chain store opened 10 miles away — so much for walking to the store. Worst of all, people don’t know each other like they used to because they don’t spend time together. Television and the Internet have taken the place of one-on-one basketball, and yes, we sure do drive a lot more.

As a teenager, I never thought I would say this, but I really miss those times.

A couple of years ago, I attended the second Annual Congress for New Urbanism in Charleston, S.C. On my way back to Fort Collins, I realized that the little town I grew up in was an ideal example of what is now being labeled New Urbanism. Several national consulting firms that participated in that conference assisted in crafting Fort Collins’ City Plan.

We can’t turn back the clock and probably don’t want to: Who could imagine life without Starbucks? But it is possible to have some of the good things from the past, such as friendlier, safer and more enjoyable neighborhoods with more diversity and with their own unique character and a few services and necessities close enough to walk to.

Some say City Plan is social engineering — probably it is. No one likes to be told what to do, and City Plan sure does that! Is it perfect? Hardly, but it is a great start.

City Plan positives:

n Higher densities adjacent to neighborhood commercial centers:

n Better pedestrian access to shopping and services.

n More pedestrian-friendly streetscapes: Narrower pavement slows traffic.

n Landscaped parkways that provide traffic calming and a more aesthetic streetscape.

n Sidewalks separated from the curb to improve safety and proximity to adjacent houses.

n Parks located within easy walking distance from our homes.

n More diversity in housing types in order to create more culturally diverse and stable neighborhoods.

n It may become less likely that you would have to leave your neighborhood as your housing needs change.

n Neighborhood stability and security is enhanced the better we know our neighbors.

n A great overall vision for Fort Collins.

City Plan negatives:

n High front-end cost in planning and engineering without vested rights.

n Proscriptive nature may reduce creativity.

n Higher densities mandated have influenced growth into outlying areas.

n Requirement that new development have one-sixth contiguity to existing urban-level development artificially inflates land values.

The first large project to be designed under City Plan is Rigden Farm. Located at the southeast corner of Drake and Timberline, Rigden’s Overall Development Plan covers 308 acres, it has four zoning districts, including 32 acres of Neighborhood Commercial. The Planning and Zoning Board, on April 15, unanimously approved it.

I give tremendous credit to city staff for their effort and willingness to work together resolving issues related to City Plan. They have demonstrated that they are willing and able to change the things that don’t work and make improvements that increase individual creativity and reduce prescription whenever possible.

And kudos to the Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Board for approving a modification to the new Structure Plan (the backbone of City Plan which directs growth for the city) during the annexation and zoning process. And let’s not forget the developers who are risking both their time and money to venture into unfamiliar and locally untested concepts.

Maybe someday our neighborhoods will have a Starbucks and the charm and security of a small Midwestern town of the past.

Jim Sell is president of Jim Sell Design Inc. in Fort Collins.

FORT COLLINS — I have been a landscape architect for 27 years. Unknowingly, I had my first lesson in the profession in my hometown — Goodland, Ind.

The small Indiana town I grew up in could have been the model for the movie “Hoosiers.” With 1,200 people, you didn’t need a turn signal; you pretty much knew where folks were headed. And across town was a 10-minute walk or until you got to the next cornfield, whichever came first. Our town had its own post office, A&P, five and dime, butcher shop, drugstore, soda fountain, two bars, three churches, two cemeteries…

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