Just Big Enough
Just Big Enough-- small lots | small units | BIG IDEAS is the City's effort to encourage development in the most sustainable areas of the city, the places where people can walk to live, work, shop, and play, increase affordable housing, and preserve critical open space. This effort was enshrined is the City's Sustainable Northampton Comprehensive Plan and our most recent zoning amendments.
Part of sustainable development is to encourage development in existing neighborhoods, including the downtown, not in greenfield suburban areas. Denser development encourages more walking and makes transportation and infrastructure more efficient. We do hear from residents who are concerned that encouraging development can change the character of their neighborhood. Interestingly, as family size has dropped in Northampton and the amount of space per person has gone up, we have found that even when new housing units are added to a neighborhood, overall population in existing neighborhoods continues to decline.
Many neighborhoods with high density in Northampton are highly desired by the market. Design is more important than density in determining what makes a neighborhood great. The Density poster (PDF) is a 11 inches x 17 inches sampler of Northampton existing density conditions. The Northampton Density (PDF) is a sample of Northampton development at different densities.
Other communities have had similar efforts: Single Family Home on narrow lot in dense neighborhood (Vargas Greenham Architects, with permission, PDF); Single Family Home (Charles Miller, Fine Homebuildng, with permission, PDF); Santa Cruz Accessory Dwelling Unit; and Small House Cottage Design Options (PDF).
As part of that discussion of density and good design, the city and Western Mass AIA sponsored the small lots | BIG IDEAS design competition, which had 23 entries on showing great designs on small lots. As part of the design competition, the city sold a lot it owned at 1 Garfield Avenue for a small house on a small lot.
At some point, Smith College will be selling the Lyman Estate, probably retaining only their preschool on the site. The entire site is 31+/- acres, of which 15 +/- acres, including the preschool and existing buildings, can support development. Even subtracting the Smith preschool, this site has more development potential than any other property in easy walking distance (less than 1/2 mile) of downtown than any other site. We began a community discussion with possible approaches for the site (PDF 2/3/2014). Many of the neighbors contributed their thoughts of what should be required and/or incentivized in any redevelopment (PDF).
The Just Big Enough-Green Housing for ALL (2018) design competition helped us highlight how we can create very small very green housing that is affordable to people left out of the green housing market, and find a design solution to some surplus city-owned lots.Just Big Enough-Green Housing
The competition was sponsored by the City of Northampton, co-sponsored by American Institute of Architects Western Massachusetts, and supported by the Boston Society of Architects Foundation and the Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity. Prizes for first and second place winners sponsored by Kent Hicks Construction, PV Squared, rkMiles.
Entries (16 in all)
Crosskey Architects- SECOND PRIZE WINNER (high marks for clarity of concept, floor plan is zoned well, set the tone with public-private-service, good way to look at clustered housing, great outdoor spaces) (PDF)
Simple City Studio- FIRST PRIZE WINNER (Great strong plans, has a little edge to it, best energy performance data, outdoor spaces built into homes, appreciated inclusion of utility room and bicycle storage, best wall section) (PDF)
Thank you to our Just Big Enough-Green Housing for ALL jury: Michael Davis, FAIA, President, Bergmeyer Associates, Boston; Li Ling Young, Senior Energy Manager, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, Burlington, VT; and Brian Mac, AIA, Principal Architect, Birdseye, Richmond, VT