Mixed Use: Too Many Eggs in One Basket?

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Normally, this article would be rotated in and out of the Current News & Events section. However, given the growing focus on urbanism, urban redevelopment and form-based codes, events such as the tragic occurrence in Brattleboro, Vermont need to remain with us as reminders whenever we perform our duties as responsible professionals.

Can “pedestrian friendly” mixed-use communities, where people want to live where they can work and play with streetscapes that invite them to walk instead of drive, present logistical problems for fire and EMS response teams? Should fire engineering consultancy be considered on certain projects where large, open spaces often impose a serious threat in case of fire, due to the rapid spread of smoke and fire?

From BuildingGreen Sounds Off:

Making the right choices about where and how to build is a big responsibility, and every choice, it seems, involves tradeoffs. Sustainable design, by definition, plans for the long term. Most of the time, it works great–but some outcomes are out of our hands.

Brattleboro, Vermont is still in shock over the sudden and complete loss of one of its Main Street buildings early yesterday morning, apparently because of an electrical fire. Brooks House, a former hotel with a distinctive mansard roof, was built in 1871 on the ashes of an even older building also destroyed by fire. It was listed on the National Historic Register, but its historic status means nothing compared with its significance to our town. This is like a cigarette burn on the bodice of a silk gown. 

The aesthetics are shocking, but the economics are a profound jolt. This was the pinnacle of sustainable building–mixed-use urban real estate and an adaptive reuse project housing a number of thriving retail establishments and 50 families. These business owners and residents have a long row to hoe. 

The whole town has a long row to hoe. Main Street is literally shut down while structural damage to the building is assessed. The fire has completely disrupted the lives of hundreds of people who have lost their homes and jobs. If you are an advocate of multi-family housing, mixed use, and smart growth, this level of utter devastation gives you pause. Denser development means more concentrated damage. One bad wire, and poof.

To read the complete BuildingGreen Sounds Off story,  follow me »

Related links:

Brattleboro Reformer

boston.com (via AP)

vtdigger.org

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