Urban design, traditional architecture, form-based codes, teaching citizen planners
NEIGHBORHOOD MASTER PLANS
Catherine has prepared master plans for several cities, working closely with residents in the neighborhood.
GARDEN & LANDSCAPING PLAN, CT
This couple wanted to start growing more food and asked Catherine to find a place to locate a new 500 sf garden, patio and place for chickens. She illustrated how a patio would be the new focal point of the yard, flanked by vegetable and flower gardens. The patio space would also be framed by a future garage with area for chickens behind. The front yard is devoted to a shade garden with indigenous New England plantings.
TOWN OFFICES, ORCHARD LAKE, MI
Civic properties often do not realize their full potential, as few realize it could be more than a place to store vehicle or pay a parking ticket. Catherine (while at McKenna Assoc) illustrated how the town offices parcel could serve as a community focal point every day of the week, and a gathering place in warmer months. The buildings form a little campus, with connections to the surrounding neighborhood and the lake across the street. Landscaping forms a series of outdoor rooms, creating a variety of spaces for ceremonies and daily events. Parking lots are gravel (pervious) and shielded from view, to decrease the visual impact when empty.
Often Comprehensive Plans and Plans of Conservation & Development are produced by companies that do this kind of work full-time - they use a template and fill in the particulars for that town, update the demographics and the town zoning map, and they're done. For this, these firms get paid a great deal of money.
The trouble with this approach is, there is very little detailed planning to help guide growth for that town. Updating statistics shows some changes, but what is missing is THE PLAN itself. How and where should this town grow?
Without a clear path forward for the next 20-30 years, a town never really knows if they are moving in the right direction. It would be better to show a time-lapsed sequence of development, how the town has changed from its inception to present.
In 1998, Catherine led a team of talented planners from the Congress for New Urbanism to study the challenges facing Nantucket Island. We re-configured the Comprehensive Plan template to instead focus on the 4 areas they felt were the highest priorities: creating more housing options, transit connections, economic development and conserving land. Statistics updating were handled by the town staff.
The team asked 3 questions: Where should the town grow? What should it look like? What areas of the Island should be protected? We asked people to draw, on maps, exactly where new growth should go. They all drew the same map: add onto the existing historic downtown, and preserve the countryside.
This served as the basis for the studies that followed. We identified locations for neighborhood centers, locations that are or could developers the focal point of a neighborhood and also serve as a central point for transit.
We demonstrated ways to link the neighborhoods to schools with new street connections between existing streets. We showed how o increase the affordable housing stock. We shared building types on the Island that historically provided affordable housing. Instead of needing to buy parcels of land and building only affordable units in one place, we showed how workforce housing could be built quietly and invisibly within existing neighborhoods, at a natural pace.
We also showed that areas that had been built with conventional development - often sprawl - could be reversed to follow Nantucket's traditional pattern. We showed residents and the town that newer streets could be as handsome and friendly as those 200 years old. The existing zoning rules were either improperly setting building too far back, and parking location wasn't being carefully regulated. So the result was streets with little curb appeal, fast-moving cars, and loss of economic opportunity for small businesses. We showed solutions to these challenges.
Land use regulations are going through a life-changing conversion from a "one-size fits all" to "let's build the place we really want." Catherine Johnson is one of the the few architects in the US trained to create a form-based code that supports the goals of a town's Plan of Development.
TRADITIONAL NEIGHBORHOOD DESIGN
What is Traditional Neighborhood Design?
Catherine Johnson has designed and renovated over three dozen storefronts including many of those on Broad Street New Britain, CT, Queen Street, Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Main Street, Middletown, CT.
Illiano's owner Vinny Scillepi asked Catherine to re-do his South Main Street restaurant. He just wanted her to choose paint colors - "like the red and green of Chili's." But Catherine saw other potential. She thought the brick building with faded white paint was a lot classier than Chili's. This inspired the black, white and gray brown color scheme. They repainted the existing lettering and lights, and installed a striped black & white canvas awning. Vinny was really getting this - he called her one day to say he thought the "scalloped edge" was a good idea for the awning. When Catherine suggested cafe seating in the front, Vinny had a new retaining wall and patio installed within a week. He even strung holiday lights, giving the cafe the feel of being outside an Italian cafe.
A couple years later, he invited her to select a new roof color for his Washington St restaurant - see the "Before" photo to see the mansard roof from the old Bess Eaton Donuts. He drove her over there and opened up the roof shingle sample chart, but she said, "Forget it- it would be a waste of shingles. You have to rip that hideous roof off." But he didn't own the building. Yet.
About 2 years pass, and he calls her again and says, "I had the roof ripped off and it's being stuccoed right now! What color should it be?" Always Mr Speedy, she hurried to keep up - she selected the finishes, trim, colors, and lighting. The canvas awning and lettering matches the first restaurant, and Vinny added the strings of lights to the picnic area on the side. More work remains, but he says, "Baby steps."
Images provided by Catherine Johnson, Architect & Town Planner. All rights reserved.
Catherine Johnson has two decades of experience renovations historic buildings, especially buildings between 1830- 1970. Projects have ranged from simply re-organizing spaces or improving curb appeal in order to sell a property, to matching exact vintage tile, balusters or windows in historic houses. Catherine brings with her a team of talented and dedicated carpenters and contractors to advise and work on these projects, whose decades of experience help find thoughtful solutions to fit everyday budgets.