ABOUT CATHERINE JOHNSON

Catherine Johnson is an urban planner and architect with extensive experience in working with the public to create strategies for rebuilding their town centers and neighborhoods. Her projects include master plans and urban design strategies for small village centers, Main Street revitalization, storefront façade renovations, and small scale development proposals. Her work is then translated into easy to understand graphic, customized form-based codes. 

Catherine has 18 years experience working with every aspect of preparing master plans, at every scale, from the community down to individual buildings. She focuses on integrating new development into historic downtowns while maintaining their cultural and historic character, expanding transit and housing choice, and providing the best environment for attracting new development and business opportunities. She demonstrates that some of the best models for new and green development are historic, tried and true building types that are the backbone of most American towns. 

Ms. Johnson has directed several projects with public-planning workshops, varying in size from working with a steering committee to hundreds of participants. Among her strengths, Catherine Johnson is able to facilitate meetings and presentations, and explain technical, legal, and environmental issues to those with varying abilities. Her presentations and project summary booklets include clear illustrations of the ideas behind the proposal, time-lapsed sequence of development plans, bird’s eye views and photos of models of building types. 

 

DESCRIPTION OF APPROACH: TRADITIONAL NEIGHBORHOOD DESIGN

Catherine Johnson, Architect & Town Planner has worked on several form-based codes for CT neighborhoods, including those that can be called village districts. She created a set of design standards to guide new development in all these neighborhoods, based on planning principles typically found in New England towns, traditional development patterns. Over the past 25 years, these principles have been labeled Traditional Neighborhood Design, New Urbanism or Sustainable Design. These principles describe a set of ideal physical dimensions, connections and relationships of buildings and streets with the aim to reinforce the human scale, and make walkable, accessible places that support commerce and socializing. These places offer more choice for those who live and work there, because everything is located close together in comfortable walking distance. The opposite of this scale is what we today call “sprawl,” places sized mostly to accommodate the car instead of the human foot. 

Catherine is one of only a handful of practicing architect-planners in New England who studied code writing with the two leaders in this revolution, Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Catherine learned the art and discipline of producing illustrated design codes at the University of Miami, the epicenter of the movement toward walkable, livable neighborhoods. Catherine’s interest in the past 20 years has been focused on ways to protect the vulnerable local architecture in small towns, and promote and encourage its legacy. To that end, she has spent decades collecting ideas and photographs of beautiful New England buildings, streets and towns. She has worked with communities with a wide variety of challenges, from places with too much success to places with too little, and places with an abundance of history and places with very little local identity. In all assignments, Catherine strives for solutions that work best for that unique place. No two towns are alike, so the same design criteria should not apply to all. 

EXPERIENCE CREATING MASTER PLANS & PREPARING FORM-BASED CODES

In all these examples, the goal was to identify building types that would fit in seamlessly with the existing neighborhoods. Sadly, it is common practice today for developers to re- use building plans they have on hand, and they build the same building anywhere there’s an empty parcel for one. Whether or not that building fits into the neighborhood is rarely a concern to them.

The most fleshed-out code examples are the Elmwood and South Downtown codes. They were the first form-based codes in the state and the SoDo residents have two buildings built per the code since its adoption in 2002. Less formal but still prescriptive codes can be seen in the East Hampton and Beacon Falls codes. Asylum Hill asked Catherine for a code for only 2 streets, to protect their Victorian houses.

The models that Catherine Johnson recommended for these projects are building types found in those towns or region. In the case of East Hampton and Beacon Falls, towns that have not seen significant housing growth in decades. But close inspection revealed many clever building types not seen in other towns, not even a dozen miles to the east or south. These are apartment buildings built for compact, economical living, with great flexibility, variety, and amenities, however humble.

In all cases, the particular codes have been custom-written to describe the types and site plans intended for that town or that neighborhood. These are not borrowed from elsewhere, they are written specifically to guide development so it looks like it belongs there.

These regulations indicate both architectural and urban design requirements for the new development, street design and landscaping, building fenestration, location of entrances, placement of building on lot, etc .

MASTER PLANS AND CODES

Hartford, CT (Asylum Hill, South Downtown Neighborhoods)

West Hartford, CT (Elmwood Center)

Waveland, MS (Coleman Ave and downtown)

Beacon Falls, CT Housing Study, Housing Study, Home Economic Growth Program 

East Hampton Village Center Housing Study, Home Economic Growth Program

Middletown, CT (proposal for revising the Village District) 

Middletown, CT (revised Section 31, B-1 Downtown Zoning Code) 

New Haven Historic District Standards & Guidelines