More than development. Norwalk redevelopment.

Comparable: Hoboken?

I’m souring on the notion of community “comparables.”  I challenge anyone out there to find two communities that are identical in enough ways that any given planning initiative achieved in one can be achieved with certainty in the other.  Even if one succeeds in identifying a community that closely fits the demographic profile of your own, if it is located in a different region, attendant differences in climate or the particular circumstances of its regional transportation and economics will inevitably raise questions as to its suitability as a comparable.  Perhaps you find a community in the same region with the same demographic profile, but they are across state lines.  Now, the statutory frameworks and funding programs are different.  Maybe you find one in the same state that fits the bill in terms of demographics, climate, transportation, and economy — but, for whatever reason, the political culture is different (Westport vs. Darien come to mind).  What the city council likes there may very well not go over here.  Put simply: every community is unique, and no comparison is invulnerable to attack.

With that disclaimer, consider Hoboken, NJ as a community with similarities to downtown Norwalk in the context of connectivity.

Unlike most other cities that have implemented the types of programs discussed in Norwalk’s Connectivity initiative (circulators, bike lanes, wayfinding, etc.), Hoboken is not a large city, like New York (or even Portland), nor is it of a different climate (pedestrian-focused planning initiatives are often dismissed for being inappropriate for northern climes where people don’t go outdoors unless they have to), nor is it in a significantly different region from a transportation and regional economics standpoint, being within the same sphere of New York’s economic influence as Fairfield County, and connected via similar transportation infrastructure.  At roughly 50,000 people, Hoboken is actually smaller than Norwalk.

They are, however, more dense.  Norwalk’s 80,000 person population is spread across 23 square miles, while their 50,000 is squeezed into just one square mile.  But consider this: applying the average household size in Norwalk’s downtown to Hoboken’s population yields a population density of 29.7 dwelling units per acre (d.u./acre), which is precisely midway between the anticipated corridor-wide density in Norwalk once the projects are built (10 d.u./acre), and the average expected density of the projects themselves (46 d.u./acre).  In other words, while the city overall is much denser than Norwalk, even on this metric, the comparable would seem a good one taken in the context of the Connectivity plan area.

And look what they’ve done.

Built a high-frequency streetcar that has raised the value of surrounding properties and stimulated investment; incorporated bike lanes and sharrows through 80% of their street network, calming traffic and increasing safety; and implemented a city-wide car-sharing system (often said to be infeasible outside of large cities).  And that is just a sampling.

Again, I’m so. done. coming up with comparable communities to win over skeptical minds that since “they did it there, we can do it here.”  But if we must play that game, I’d like to know what is so different about Hoboken that Norwalk couldn’t match or exceed some of the connectivity improvements they have achieved over the last couple decades.