Meet the Planning & Sustainability Department (Plus Broad Brook, and the Parklets Tour)

Want to know what we do in the Professional Fellowship Program? ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s been a week since we got to Northampton, so let me tell you about our host: The Planning and Sustainability Office of the City of Northampton.

(Check out their very resourceful website here.)

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Meet Joe.

Joe Rogers is a consultant for the Planning Office, and his work scope is really wide: Taking care of conservation areas, talking to private owners about land and possible trails, manually installing and removing elements in a space (such as hammering conservation signs and removing bike stands)–and pretty much a lot of things that go into nature: Trees, new growing plants, water and water animals, he’s into all of those things. Fai and I get to tag along with him on the field work.

This is Joe Rogers–such a funny guy. ๐Ÿ™‚

Joe told us how the city has increased at least 30% in having more open spaces, including parks and parklets, conservation areas, community gardens, recreation and sports areas, bike trails, river buffers, and the like. Joe shared something very important on working on connectivity about “underserved communities:” “We don’t want parks which are only accessible to affluent people.”

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Meet Carolyn.

She’s a certified planner and part of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).

Carolyn gets to work with Boards and Committees, and is hands-on for planning, zoning, and the central business architecture. She also gives advice to neighbourhoods and communities on what could and couldn’t be done, and she also helps draft legislation after new plans are created.

Let me tell you a little more about her work with the different Boards:

  • Planning – people present projects (ie. site development for planting, open space preservation, access areas, building use) which are reviewed by this Board to see if the projects are in sync with policies and regulations. Public hearings are held for the projects to be heard out. The Planning Board meetings are televised, and are available on YouTube for reference of the general public. Check it out the proceedings archive here.
  • Zoning – pretty much like planning, but deals with projects that require the review of the zoning code, because they don’t meet specifications
  • Central business architecture – helps with the policy of maintaining historic structures, and seeing that facades fit with the current architecture

Here’s the Q&A we gave Carolyn:

Q: The city planning office has a number of plans: Sustainability, Conservation, and Rails to Trails, but is it mandatory to have a bigger, comprehensive plan?

A: While laws vary from state to state, Massachusetts does not require a larger comprehensive plan. However, implementing regulation should be based on a plan, and grant funds for communities should be based on plan.

Q: How did Northampton implement the Bike Trail network, since it is connected with other cities? (Click here for reference.)

A: Northampton worked closely with neighbouring cities, for example, in Easthampton, they also already had trails. Coordinating on how to connect the existing paths and extending to areas without accessibility was the challenge. The bike path was funded by transportation dollars (taxes).

Here’s Carolyn teaching us more about the trails:


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Meet James.

James is the GIS Specialist for the city, and has a reputation of staying behind his desk the entire day (he also has a puppy fence around his work station). He showed us a lot of cool data, both at the local level and those sourced from higher levels.

One valuable lesson from James is how he explained the concept of wards and precincts, which are updated every ten years for the US census. The city population is re-divied into new wards and precincts so that every unit will have the same number of people, equally distributing needed resources, and accounting for fairness in the bottom-up processes.

Here are several videos with James:




~ ~ ~

Field Work and Broad Brook

So Joe took us for field work. Here are just two videos where we grabbed lunch and rode his truck and to the site areas (so you can also see some more of downtown):



We went to the Connecticut River Greenway, where Joe talked to a certain Jippy on his proposal to make a short walk trail near the greenway.

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The Connecticut River Greenway Riverfront Park allows fishing and motor boating for citizens.


Afterwards, we went to Broad Brook to see more of Joe’s work on the Conservation Areas. We walked a few kilometres from the entrance to the dam, learned about flora and fauna (poison ivy, birch, pines, and the like), and had the best time fathoming how a lone beaver could breach his own dam and create an entire swamp. We anticipated rain to pass by ( is accurate here, in a non-tropical area) so we didn’t bring our phones during the trek.

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We took the trail along the Broad Brook, and unfortunately left our phones in the truck because of the rain. But we did get to walk all the way to the dam, the shelter, and enjoy the conservation area.ย 


~ ~ ~

Touring with Wayne.

Wayne is the Director of Planning and Sustainability in Northampton.ย After the Pride Parade, Wayne was very kind enough to tour us around the parklets of downtown, and to tell us techniques on how theses spaces where developed.

Wayne, me, and Fai. ๐Ÿ™‚


Learning about Parklets

Here is a video series of our tour with Wayne. It was really a privilege to learn so much.






And here are some lessons:

Using the stones to line the shrub areas doubles as a seat for anyone who wants to rest.
This is a very small green space–designing it and putting a few elements can transform it into a mini park.ย 
Someone put a bench on the green space, showing how people are helping out with parklet development.
A volunteer group spray painted this, crossing art with public equipment.
The Help Yourself! volunteer group also plants edible flora for people who need food. This is an example of a free fruit station.ย 
Here’s a bicycle repair station, ready for anyone who passes by. Notice the direction board? This was move to this area, away from a shaded place nearby. It used to be spray-painted by a lot of people; since it was moved to this place it hasn’t been tagged at all.
Take a closer look. People only added the “Pleasant St. attractions” and the arrow going to the left, taking improvements upon themselves.


Chilling at Pulaski Park

Pulaski Park at the downtown is the biggest park in Northampton, and probably my and Fai’s favourite hangout so far.

Lesson on park design, which can be seen in this photo: (Right) There is a space for people who are comfortable to “be in the middle of it all,” and (left) there is also a space for people who prefer to watch, and to have more private moments. Designing with the people in mind matters.


The place is so vibrant. Just look at kids running around, couples and families playing or sitting on the benches, and this athlete working it out.
And for the most memorable photo, ever: Yep, Wayne took a photo of us like this: Fai fell asleep in the park, shoes off and all, after the Pride Parade. ๐Ÿ™‚


Read my other posts on the YSEALI Professional Fellowship:

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