Mill Village -- Existing Conditions Before Development
Mill Village - Introduction to the Site
The village of Shannock straddles the Pawcatuck river, which
once powered the mills that employed its people. Now the village
is quieter, the mills are no longer in operation, and residents
go elsewhere to work. It remains a nice place to live, in part
because of the rich legacy of buildings, the sense of moving
water nearby, and the feeling of community inherent in a place
that's a little bit off the beaten track. One of the attractive
things about the village is that it's surrounded by hundreds
of acres of undeveloped open space --though all of that is zoned
for residential development.
Like many mill villages, this one is split between two towns,
Richmond and Charlestown, and the presence of a high-speed Amtrak
line further complicates the situation. The potential for future
commuter rail service, however, holds out some intriguing possibilities.
Recent upgrades to the rail line and simultaneous work on roads
and bridges has improved the physical structure of the village,
it remains to be seen whether new homes and businesses can or
should be persuaded to move in.
Shannock was built around the mills and the river; roads and
houses came after, giving it the complex, organic quality that
always makes mill villages interesting places.
||Houses are close together and close to the
street in the village; porches, fences, hedges, and changes in
elevation help to preserve privacy even in a compact center.
||Houses close to the road enclose the space
of the street -- when you arrive you know it. Twists and turns
in the road divide the street into a series of outdoor rooms.
Mill Village -- After Conventional Development
| Mill Village -- Conventional Development
Zoning requirements for half-acre lots and constraints on septic
systems and parking make it difficult to develop new residences
in the village center. Development continues in the countryside,
however, where large parcels with good soils and easy access
are subdivided first. On the commercial side the same pressures
force businesses to expand outside the village center; most of
the activity will be in the highway commercial zone. The cycle
of disinvestment in the village center gets worse as people have
fewer reasons to be there. The best that can be hoped for is
that existing residents will be able to keep up their houses
and the village remains a pleasant place to live -- but they
will have to work, shop and seek entertainment elsewhere. Meanwhile,
historic mill buildings and commercial structures are abandoned
and eventually disintegrate.
||Since it's easier and quicker to develop large
parcels outside of older village centers it is little wonder
that developers do it; but everyone loses when forests are cut
up by house lots.
||Public facilities are not immune to sprawl
pressures; with the need for parking and expansion, officials
often seek larger sites. How long will Shannock have its own
||Commercial development in small towns has
been dominated by a pattern that maximizes parking and floor
area at the expense of visual quality and town character.
Mill Village -- After Creative Development
Mill Village -- Implementation Techniques and Examples
Revitalization of the mill village begins with a detailed planning
and consensus-building process for the village and its surrounding
landscape. Residents would be actively involved in developing
a vision for the future of the village wherein they would decide
which historic resources within the village or natural landscapes
in the surrounding area should be protected. Alternatives for
future development would be drawn up and thought through as part
of the planning process, which would ideally continue to the
point where new streets and building locations are drawn up on
a map, at least conceptually, as a clear physical plan for future
Once a consensus is reached as to the ideal future for the
village, a Planned Village Development District is
created, with standards designed to promote adaptive reuse
of old buildings and infill of the village core with complementary
new structures. Large parcels on the edge of town can still be
developed, but clustering is used to ensure that new development
will serve as a seamless extension of the existing village. One
cluster strategy, conservation subdivision design, is
used when the concern is for preserving large contiguous areas
of open space in the village greenbelt; flexible design
is employed for those parcels where road layout, streetscape
and architectural design are paramount.
Regardless of the planning techniques or zoning ordinances
designed to implement the village revitalization plan, the hardest
part is convincing developers and landowners that compact development
in the village is better in the long run for all concerned. Like
the familiar argument against clustering in the countryside,
people just can't believe that dense development in the village
center will produce the same returns as large lot development
outside it. Increasingly, however, successful examples of compact,
mixed-use development are showing up to counter these worries
-- some, like Wickford Point in North Kingstown, are already
proving that small lots can bring high prices exactly because
of the amenities that living in a village provides.
||Details like brick sidewalks, stone walls,
picket fences, landscaped parks, buried utilities, and recreational
amenities are all made possible by the cost savings that come
with more compact development. These features create the visual
character and quality of life that make up for smaller lots and
nearby neighbors, and lots sell for as much as larger lots in
a development lacking these amenities.
in North Kingstown, demonstrates the attention to streetscape
design and public amenities that keeps market values high even
when lots are quite small. In the aerial view (top) the general
layout can be seen, with a road looping through several distinct
neighborhoods, each with a separate density and character of
development. The neighborhoods are linked together by comfortable
sidewalks along the streets, and paths through protected open
space on the water side. These lead to public parks and water
access shared by the residents.