“Really Narrow Streets” project in the planning stages in Maine

In Maine, a group of residents are hoping to start a new community based on the principles of urban design advocated by Nathan Lewis at New World Economics and J.H. Crawford at Carfree.com. The group, led by Tracy Gayton, is hoping to attract enough individual investors to buy 125 acres of land which will be home to Piscataquis Village, a community of narrow streets.

They’re using a Kickstarter-like investment model, in which individuals pledge to buy land contingent upon the group reaching the critical mass needed to get the project underway. The development would use covenants to limit building to require attached buildings, arcade sidewalks, and a building height limited to four stories based on the Really Narrow Streets model of dense low- to mid-rise buildings.

On a previous post, some commenters came out strongly against covenants as a means for determining land use restrictions. What do you all think of them here? To me, this case illustrates the effectiveness that covenants have for shaping land use over an area broader than individual lots without the coercion of zoning.

Tracy has created a presentation on the preliminary objectives for Piscataquis Village. He writes:

We envision a settlement evolving organically and growing incrementally. Those people or groups of people that wish to pursue their own, various versions of the Good Life within the bounds of the Village are welcome.

This project reminds me a bit of seasteading, the libertarian vision of a bottom-up society living on a water vessel to escape government coercion and violence. While I believe that most of the initial Piscataquis Village investors are from Maine and wish to continue living there, the projects’ rural location draws attention to the impossibility of a similar village emerging in the open space of, say, Howard County or Loudoun County because the realities of the political planning process would make it impossible to escape street width, parking, and setback requirements.

Best of luck to the Piscataquis Village investors in achieving the freedom to build an urbanist community.

  • Anon256

    Just like government regulation, covenants can be more or less onerous, and can even be net positive if for example they help compensate for the effects of an existing market distortion (as e.g. parking maximums currently seem to).  This doesn’t change the fact that they are create an unreasonable amount of ‘deadhand control’ and restrictions on the rights of current property owners, and should not be part of any proposal for long-term optimal policy.

  • Anon256

    Just like government regulation, covenants can be more or less onerous, and can even be net positive if for example they help compensate for the effects of an existing market distortion (as e.g. parking maximums currently seem to).  This doesn’t change the fact that they are create an unreasonable amount of ‘deadhand control’ and restrictions on the rights of current property owners, and should not be part of any proposal for long-term optimal policy.

  • anon

    I’ve kicked around ideas like this for a long time and I find this to be very exciting!

  • http://profiles.google.com/joseph.eisenberg Joseph Eisenberg

    This is an interesting idea. But what is the economic justification for a new town in Maine?

    Where will the jobs be? If the village is car-free, will everyone just be walking to the parking lots at the edge of town and driving to work?I wish them well, but there are many challenges.

  • Anonymous

    I read the whole thing, and I must say I’m impressed. Good presentation.

    As far as jobs go, they can market to retirees, who have no jobs but would be happy to patronize local cafes or shops, which would provide at least some jobs for other residents. Other residents would surely drive to work, but a local elementary school, for example, would still reduce their need for cars significantly.

    Of course, one thing which would make it even better would be a train station nearby with good service into a major city center, but that’s politically difficult since most areas suitable for this sort of thing are zoned for low-density or occupied by parking lots.

  • http://northernnewenglandvillages.com/ Northern New England Villages

    Maine has a booming population of empty-nesters and retirees to market something like this to . . . they will need creative ideas to overcome these demographic challenges.  http://northernnewenglandvillages.com/2011/12/07/northern-new-englands-demographic-woes/

  • Anonymous

    While in a remote location, this might have the impact that Seaside did for New Urbanism – while it may be primarily a retirement/self-employed/commuter/second-home village like Seaside, it may prove the concept and showing that this can be a nice place to live and a model for the U.S.  As Baklazhan says, add a train or BRT station rather that parking lots ringing it, and you have a great TOD.  We have yet to do something truly European-style in the U.S.

    OK, now lets wait for the so-called environmentalists and residents of Boulder, Colorado, along with the Virginia Tea Party, to come screaming that density and row houses are not to be allowed!  We need models to show folks what this way of living can look like.

    And why not? Millions of people in Denmark, Netherlands, Germany live like this and get around by bicycle.

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  • kishore joshi

    In many ways, a good idea reminiscent of ancient developments, but just wait until fire departments refuse to service the areas, or ADA-compliant buses require the sidewalks to be torn up…

  • Anonymous

    One presumes that these issues will be considered in advance. Building sprinkler systems, firewalls, and other fire-prevention methods into the buildings themselves will certainly reduce the risk to well below that of many existing structures. Fire hydrant coverage will be relatively easy to achieve due to the smaller land area.

    As far as buses go: buses do not run on every street straight through the town. In all likelihood, they would stop at the edge of the town.

    I’m sure if you look abroad, you can find many examples of how people make it work.

  • Emily Washington

    This is an interesting issue that I hope to explore more in the future. I know that some US cities (at least Baltimore) once had more narrow streets until neighborhoods burned down. In rebuilding the streets were widened for improved safety. How did so many European cities survive so long with so many narrow streets? Is there a historical difference in construction methods?

    I would think baklazhan is correct that given more recent innovations in fire safety, these risks could be mitigated today.

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