Apparently it’s not a unique challenge to Northfield. According to Jim Segedy and Tom Daniels in “Small Town Design: Getting it Right”, communities all across America are working to accomodate and even encourage growth without losing their unique character.
The characteristics often cited as representing this much-valued character include tree-lined streets and sidewalks, well-kept homes and businesses, “slow, easy moving traffic” and “a town square where residents can shop and socialize”. Perhaps most interesting to me, the authors suggest that the ideal town “functions well as a place, both to live and make a living”. Finally, it has “a sense of identity, a sense of history, and its own special character”.
Preserving existing assets, cherished buildings, well-loved spaces, and successful neighborhoods is the first step in encouraging growth without losing character. As the new is added to the old, fitting it together through choices regarding the facade, size, style, color and materials, as well as connecting with existing patterns of development, is the next step. The final piece of the strategy is strengthening the existing assets with additional investments, such as signage, benches, streetlights, and planters. According to the authors, the leverage of these investments is increased when they are in the context of a pedestrian scale small town.
Attracting new development will only pay off if you protect and enhance your existing assets. Doing growth right benefits both the old and the new.