Like many towns and urban neighborhoods in New England, most of those in Connecticut are built around a central green. Simply having homes facing what is essentially a big open lawn or park, however, does not make a neighborhood green. It takes more than that, and there are a number of towns and cities in the state that have embraced the idea of going green, and not just in the traditional sense of the word. After all, what is more “green” than recycling an entire neighborhood, especially by incorporating green initiatives and making better use of public transportation to encourage economic growth?
Town of Mansfield
The little town of Mansfield is not just green – it has an award from the federal government to prove it. One of only two towns in the state (and less than 100 in the nation) to win the Sustainable Communities Award from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2011, Mansfield has been working to go green since the town council adopted its Green Building Resolution in 2004. It has received numerous grants to pursue that goal, including over $600,000 from HUD that came with the 2011 award.
Mansfield’s strategic plan is to be fully sustainable by 2020. About one-fifth of the power used by the town comes from clean, renewable energy, and the community center meets one-third of its particular electric needs through a rooftop solar array. New subdivision zoning and building regulations require “solar orientation” guidelines be met, and more than 400 households in the town have signed up for Connecticut Light and Power’s clean energy plan, part of which has been met by a large photovoltaic system.
Mansfield is green in more than just energy; it has a “pay-as-you-throw” trash service which encourages recycling – and that has increased the rate of recycling by as much as 40 percent according to the town council. The town has also passed new regulations to protect wetlands, curb water consumption and better deal with storm water and waste water. New standards on light pollution, site disturbance and even the types of materials used in new construction have helped the town move toward its goal, and has earned Mansfield praise from Friends of Connecticut, the nearby Storrs Center and other groups and organizations that support green and sustainable community planning.
A neighborhood can be located all under one roof – and what better example of a green neighborhood than one where that shared roof is green? Such is the story of The Hollander, a rescued historic and commercial property turned residential neighborhood with the first green roof in Hartford.
The refurbished Hollander overlooks the capital city’s Bushnell Park, but it is not just being near so many trees and open areas that make it green, nor is its “only steps away” access to the city’s bus and train station. With 70 apartments for mixed-income housing, the building is a neighborhood within a neighborhood, a sustainable green community that is “a model for what ought to be done in Hartford,” as well as other distressed urban areas, says a top official at the Partnership for Strong Communities. More than a mere urban “rescue,” The Hollander is an example of how a grand old historic building can be preserved, revitalized with green technology and turned from an unsightly, crumbling ruin into a beautiful, thriving and sustainable community.
The once majestic commercial building at the corner of Asylum and High Streets in downtown Hartford had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it was to be leveled and replaced with a parking lot. The Hollander family, however, purchased it and donated it to an affordable and sustainable housing project run by two local non-profit groups, Common Ground and Community Solutions. Funded in part by federal and state grants and credits, The Hollander was rebuilt to be green. A planted green roof and high-performance insulated glazing on the windows reduces heating and cooling costs. Efficient lighting systems and Energy Star appliances further reduce electric consumption, and the low-flow plumbing fixtures reduce water use. These and other sustainable design technologies, materials and systems have earned The Hollander praise from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The Hollander wears its green with pride. It proudly proclaims that it is the “first mixed-use, mixed-income, historic preservation, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, residential building in Connecticut.”
Green neighborhoods come in many shapes, sizes and varieties, as New Neighborhoods, Inc. of Stamford knows all too well. Recipient of a grant from The Citi Foundation to create “more affordable housing with green initiatives,” the non-profit housing development company New Neighborhoods builds in, renovates and refurbishes urban neighborhoods located near commuter rail and bus lines. One such area is Marshall Commons, which on October 26 marked the first anniversary of its dedication ceremony.
Marshall Commons is situated on Ludlow Street in Stamford and offers moderate income rental housing in both apartment and duplex homes around a renovated park and playground. The New Neighborhoods, Inc. project is designed for working families, and has helped bring people, businesses and jobs back into a previously distressed part of Stamford. Marshall Commons is one of a number of neighborhood revitalization projects by the non-profit firm that focus on offering “more affordable, green housing” along public transportation routes, and which by doing so helps spur economic growth and restore old neighborhoods.
New Neighborhoods, Inc. has been doing this kind of thing since 1967. Some of its many projects are devoted to seniors while others, like Marshall Commons, are geared more toward working families. Based in some of the most affluent counties in Connecticut, this non-profit developer, as its website proclaims, remains “committed to improving the quality of life in our towns and cities with housing that provides a safety net and springboard to economic self-sufficiency.” Marshall Commons is but the newest in a long line of such self-sufficient communities created by this group.
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Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.