Saturday, April 25, 2009

Suburban Experiments II: Newfields

Sycamore State Park. You may have seen it on a map sitting there between Brookville and Trotwood. And you may have wondered why put a state park out there in the farm country?

Or you may have wondered why Dayton decided to annex west, taking in the empty farmland south and east of Trotwood.

The state park and annexations are related. These moves are results of the greatest suburban development failure of the postwar era, which was also the most ambitious suburban experiment: Newfields New Town.

The development was by Don Huber, the brother of the developer of Huber Heights. In one way this was Don's idea to do a better Huber Heights (Don was quoted as they were "just building shelter" in Huber Heights).

But it this was not to be merely "Huber Heights II". Newfields was one of many, one of 16 New Towns supported by the Federal government. This was a suburban experiment on a grand scale, an ambitious program to develop model communities outside of cities as demonstrations on how to do suburbia different.

The New Towns: A Response To Sprawl

Current day concerns about sprawl and smart growth are not new.

These were issues in the 1960s as well. Suburban sprawl resulted in a lot of articles and books on the subject (God's Own Junkyard by Peter Blake was probably the best known to general readers). Attempts to do things different eventully led to two privately financed developements outside of Washington DC: Columbia MD, by the Rouse Corporation, (developer of the Salem Mall) and Reston VA (which was an early model for Newfields). The concern about suburban sprawl, the two DC-area examples (and perhaps Irvine out in California), plus the UK New Towns program, led to the US to embark on a demonstration program of New Towns.

This was one of the last initiatives arising from the Great Society policy era. Lobbying started in 1968 via the National Committee on Urban Growth Policy (one of their publications, The New City, is still available in local libraries). The relevant legistlation was enacted first in 1969 (Title IV) and again in 1970 (Title VII of the Housing & Urban Development act). The Title VII program was a public/private partnership between the Feds and local private developers, with the Feds fronting development money plus preferential access to various programs. Newfields was a Title VII new community.

A big undertaking, mostly forgotten because it mostly failed.

A New Town for Suburban Dayton

Don Huber was a local member of the Great Society via his work in urban renewal, as a developer partner in Madden Hills. But he apparently was aware of the larger debate on suburbia and the DC new towns, which led to his attempt to repeat to do a new and improved Huber Heights. Apparently Huber started planning for a new town around 1970 and made application to participate in Title VII in 1971/72.

The original plan was to build this near Bellbrook. But land south was already too expensive, so Huber looked northwest, to the area in the vicinity of Brookville and Trotwood, hence the working title of Brookwood on the early drawings. Land aquisition began in 1971.

This was later renamed Newfields, and the famous graphic designer Ivan Chermayeff was brought on board to develop the corporate identity plan, logo, and to name the streets and neighborhoods. This apparently was going to be a top-shelf project as Chermayeff was a leading graphic designer of his era. Chermayeff himself apparently thought enough of his work here to include the logo in his book TM: Trademarks Designed by Chermayeff & Geismar.

(colors in earthtones, shades of brown).

The new town was integrated with the highway planning of the era, relying on accessibility via the proposed Wolf Creek Expressway extending west of downtown, and the western leg of the proposed interstate beltway.

Yet the drawings demostrate design thinking beyond a generic interstate highway right-of-way.

The cross-section shown below has a light rail line running down the center of the proposed Wolf Creek Expressway, connecting the new town with Dayton. This isn't as far fetched as it seems as light-rail was seriously being proposed for the metro area during this time.

What's even better is the use of a depressed right-of-way with flanking landscaping, frontage roads, and bike/walking paths. So no ugly soundwalls. The plan was to build the frontage roads first, then the expressway, the way they do it in Texas.

The planning documents available at the DPL history room show additional road cross sections, demonsrating that this was going to be a well-thought out plan in terms of providing pedestrian and bike access. This thinking would've been well ahead of its time for Dayton.
The Wolf Creek Expressway was reportedly killed by neighborhood opposition arising from yet another Great Society effort, the Model Cities program for inner city revitalization. Model Cities had a neighborhood organizing component (called "community action") which tended to take on a life of its own (dicussed by the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his book Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding), becoming less planning steering groups and more about "fighting the Man". In this case the result was apparently an early freeway revolt.

After the death of the Wolf Creek Expressay highway construction on the west side stalled until the late 1980s/early 1990s.

So Newfields planning was reoriented around the western I-675 bypass as the focal point. Planning was at first around a Town Center/Village Center concept. The Town Center would probably have been a much better planned version of a suburban Edge City off off an interstate exit.

The planning here shows the influence of Reston, VA. This privately developed new town of the early/mid 1960s (a project of the Gulf Oil corporation) would later become part of the Federal new town program. Reston was planned as a group of villages and village centers.

Lake Anne Village as a model for Newfields

During the 1960s the first part of Reston to be built was Lake Anne Village (designed by James Rossant of Conklin and Rossant). It's known that this development was an influence on Don Hubers' thinking as he used to fly local officials to DC to give them a tour of this place, telling them this is what he had in mind. So, worth a look:

Lake Anne Village was developed around a man-made lake. This is basically a mixed use shopping center, townhouses and other multifamily, and offices, with a high-rise apartment or condo tower as a verticle accent.

A notable aspect is how this breaks the suburban strip development model. The four lane highway is sheilded from the developement by forest, and the parking is set back off the highway. The parking is also integrated into the development by that linear walkway feature (?) which arcs into the development, becoming a boardwalk along the lake (which has boating, one can take a boat and dock right at the shopping center).

A close-up of the shopping center and some multifamily stuff on the lake, and the plan. The interesting thing here is that this isn't too far off from the New Urbanism. It has all the features of New Urbanism..mixed use, human scale, walkability, green space....except it's done in a late-modern style (a softned version of the masonry/concrete style known as The New Brutalism, which was popular in the US in the 1960s)

Some ground level pix. A good architectural demonstration of the optimism of the 1960s, that it would be possible to build a better modern world. We're more cynical today, and more nostaglic.

Lake Anne Village eventually was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and won awarded various design awards from the architectural profession.

Pretty darn good. And it was Don Huber's intent to building something similar in Dayton.

But the plans changed. And these changes illustrate yet another suburban experiment; ecological planning and land use suitability.


Bruce Kettelle said...

Jeff you have written a little about this before and I learn a little more each time. (Could you add links to the earlier works?)

As you know the Newfields area is all part of Trotwood. There are many undeveloped lots still available In fact the city has been exploring ways to interest developers to build out some of these. One recent attempt resulted in a partially complete homesite as the developer was crushed by the economic slowdown and declared bankruptcy.
When are we going to have that hot dog?

Jefferey said...

Yes, I've written about Newfields at UO, & I'll link to that post at the end of the Newfields blogging.

Could you give me a bit more intel on the what Trotwood is planning on doing out there? That would be a good conclusion to this set of posts

Bruce Kettelle said...

The city used REAP to acquire a large number of lots that they were having to mow anyway. Their idea is to give them to a developer in return for putting homes on them.

The commercial buildings that were completed around the lake were intended to be the start of the town center. Taht never happened. Moto Phot ended up owning one building for their corporate headquarters and the other became a rec center for the city. In 2000 the city needed more space in the government center and moved their city council chamber to the facility.
In 2008 a group of investors bought the former MotoPhoto headquarters (Moto downsized when digital overtook film processing) and have an option to buy the city's building there. Their plan is to develop an senior independent living community around the lake with single family and multi-family housing. They also want to encourage a multi use environment and have been rening out single offices in the first building to small companies. Their progress has been slowed by the economy.

For more info you could contact Trotwood's zoning administrator, he seems to be the point person.