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Affordable Housing , Community Development

Back to the Future: Connecticut Towns Rediscover Mixed Use Development

12 March 2013

Over the past sixty years, development trends moved away from mixed use to a single use, automobile oriented pattern of development.  But somewhere along the way many people began to realize that they missed walking places, meeting people on the street and getting to know their neighbors.  They missed being part of a community.

Today, more towns are turning back to mixed use development but they are encountering stumbling blocks including regulatory impediments, infrastructure issues and costs of redevelopment.  Some communities have overcome these challenges and are implementing tools to promote new mixed use and infill development, often around a robust community engagement process.  Simsbury and Hamden held multi-day charrettes (intensive community planning sessions) to develop new visions for their centers.  The University of Connecticut and the Town of Mansfield developed a partnership with local business leaders to guide the development of a new downtown.

Many older downtowns are also struggling with redeveloping their cores.  Even with “good bones” in place, communities have trouble reimagining a new future for downtown.  Re-creating places with a mix of residential opportunities, commercial uses, public spaces and transportation alternatives is critical.  Recognizing this the Connecticut Main Street Center (CMSC) partnered with the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority to develop a new program, Come Home to Downtown, that will result in new models for mixed use development focusing on redevelopment for residential uses upstairs.  The lessons learned through this program in Waterbury, Torrington and Middletown -- three very different communities -- will be shared throughout the state. 

In the future, CMSC hopes to tackle mixed use development in more rural communities with smaller downtowns and village centers.  Lack of sewer and water infrastructure in rural centers often makes developing at any increased density almost impossible.  If we are striving for a more sustainable future in Connecticut, we must help our communities find new solutions that encourage compact mixed use development.

The Partnership will host an IForum -- “Mixing Uses, Income, Vitality: Case Studies from Neighboring States” -- on March 22. You can learn more here.

*Susan Westa is the Community Engagement Director for CT Main Street Center.

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