DesignWeek is an annual, studio-based project hosted by NC State University’s Department of Landscape Architecture. DesignWeek 2018 focused on the Neuse River Watershed, broken into three sub regions: the Upper Neuse, the Middle Neuse, and the Lower Neuse. The goal was to develop a project that would envision the future of the sub-region of the river basin, with an emphasis on the impact of the climate change and the projections of increased repetitive flood events. Each sub-region was assigned four project teams. I was on a project team with five other students, all of whom were Masters students in NC State’s Landscape Architecture program, assigned to the Upper Neuse region. Our project won an honorable mention as the best project in that region.
Like many cities in the United States, Durham is facing multiple trends that deter sustainable development, which risks the stability and vitality of the future to meet the demands of the present. On one hand, Durham is experiencing a population boom. In the decade from 2000-2010, the population increased 22%, and the City anticipates that it will continue to increase steadily for the foreseeable future (Durham City-County 2017). On the other hand, many decisions made in the City’s past have led to existing conditions that hinder resiliency and places citizens at risk. Fortunately, the County has produced a proactive Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Goals Map to guide future development (Durham City-County Planning Department 2017a). Our proposal, the Five Parks District Plan, will help Durham meet its goals and increase its resiliency while ameliorating some of the problems experienced in existing neighborhoods.
The development of the Five Parks District Plan began with a parallel, two-pronged analysis from ecological, social, and economic perspectives: one aimed at identifying civic and community aspirations, and one aimed at identifying concerns. We reviewed the City of Durham’s plans and current priorities, so that our concept would complement Durham’s long-term goals.
Durham’s Future Land Use Map, projecting desired development patterns for the City and County, shows that the target area primarily consists of land coded as Recreation / Open Space, particularly along the Eno River, Teer Quarry, and the undeveloped land directly east of the quarry (Durham City-County Planning Department 2017b), which is within the 100-year floodplain (North Carolina Floodplain Mapping Program (NCFMP), n.d.). The majority of the remaining area is coded as Low-Medium Density (defined as 4-8 Dwelling Units per acre) (Durham City-County Planning Department 2017b), which is denser than existing conditions (City of Durham 2018). This indicates a preference for ‘Smart Densification’ to support the growing population without risking valuable public resources.
Our analysis continued with a comprehensive review of the existing natural features. The Eno River watershed is relatively healthy, however, a number of creeks feeding it have ‘degraded water quality.’ Additionally, the City of Durham Stormwater Services has identified a number of methods to ensure its continued integrity and future health (City of Durham and City of Durham Stormwater Services 2017). These areas are noted as Natural Heritage sites by the NC Natural Heritage Program for their high level of biodiversity (NC Natural Heritage Program 2018).
The Eno River is not without its risks. Due to the proximity of past development, a number of homes exist within the 100-year floodplain (North Carolina Floodplain Mapping Program (NCFMP), n.d.). To ethically ameliorate this issue, we reviewed buy-outs initiated in other municipalities. These show that participants in such programs are at risk of increased social vulnerability, and that they often move to equally vulnerable areas (McGhee, Albright, and Binder 2017, 42–44). More successful methods combine buyouts with land swaps to direct the resettlement process (Nelson 2014, 428–29).
Finally, we reviewed the physical condition of the adjacent neighborhoods. Most are composed of single-family homes within cul-de-sac developments that lack sidewalks. While they are physically close to some of the best green space within the county, there are few points of access.
Goals and Objectives
The Five Park District proposal design proposes Smart Densification that would support neighborhood and community ties and increase the economic prospects while protecting the natural environment. We emphasized interventions that leveraged existing amenities, allowing simple changes to have an outsized impact with far-reaching benefits. We also focused on design choices that would create more intensive use of underutilized resources, creating economic benefits. Goals include:
- Use land swaps and tax incentives to relocate 100% of households in the floodplain to safe lots within their neighborhood, protecting community ties.
- Improve walkability by introducing sidewalks to existing neighborhoods and increase access opportunities into the park system. Street widths would support sidewalks along one side without changing traffic patterns.
- Connect the largely disjointed parks by expanding and programming nearly 400 acres of underutilized green spaces to reduce fragmentation and isolation with a double loop of low-impact trails.
- Introduce water retention and water quality mitigation methods to improve water quality and protect the Eno River and associated park areas against the pressures of future development. Provide tax incentives for homes to add raingardens; introduce bioswales at roadways to handle runoff; repair the riparian barrier and extend the bottomland hardwood forest to clean water contamination from tributary creeks (City of Durham and City of Durham Stormwater Services 2017).
- Create partnerships with local investors to introduce mixed-use developments with 15% of housing reserved for households at or below 30% AMI (Area Median Income).
- Build a magnet school focused on ecology, sustainability, and student health. Reduce childhood obesity through early intervention activities and resources (Spratt et al. 2015).
The Five Park District would be implemented in three phases. The first stage is a 2-year land acquisition and partnership phase. The county would begin discussions with households at-risk for flooding, though their relocation may be phased for later.
We would also begin to build partnerships beyond the area of design intervention. Lots owned by investment companies but not yet developed and zoned as low-density would be identified. The County would work with the companies to up-zone the lots to higher-density and mixed-use in exchange for the provision of affordable housing units (Calavita and Mallach 2009). Increasing the allowed density increases possible revenues and therefore the land-value, while the development of the park system will increase interest in investment in the surrounding areas, making affordable housing cost-neutral (Calavita and Wolfe 2014). Further tax-incentives, such as LIHTC (Low-Income Housing Tax Credit), will provide additional encouragement (Ellen, Horn, and O’Regan 2016; Nedwick and Burnett 2015).
The 5-year phase will focus on the physical connections of the Five Park District system. The plan will connect the West Point on the Eno, the River Forest Park, and Penny’s Bend, increase neighborhood access and program the land within the floodplain to develop further parkland. The largest land acquisition includes parcels zoned Industrial / Mining around the now defunct Teery Quarry. Five of these lots comprising nearly 250 acres, are owned by just two engineering and aggregate production companies. This land would be developed into the Teery Quarry park. A double-looped trail, featuring two additional bridges crossing the Eno River and multiple connections back to the community allows for a variety of experiences (NC Natural Heritage Program 2018). Ecological restoration activities would also occur in this phase, protecting the natural features and ameliorating any existing pollution concerns (City of Durham and City of Durham Stormwater Services 2017).
The final 10-year phase would see the development of community buildings. A simple park building will be placed at the center of the Five Parks District for recreational equipment rentals and summer camps. The lot housing the Kroger Grocery store, currently built too close to the river, will be acquired once the lease runs out. A land swap will ensure that the grocery remains within the area. In its place, a magnet school will be carefully built in respect to the Eno River, and its program will capitalize on the new amenities by focusing on STEM education with an ecological and sustainable focus.
The Five Park District focuses on the goals and interests of the City of Durham and finds innovative ways to achieve them to improve the Ecological condition of the Neuse Watershed, strengthen the existing Communities, and increase the Economic prospects within and beyond the target area. By emphasizing careful interventions that develops connectivity at key areas, this project leverages existing amenities and is able to have an outsized impact with far-reaching benefits. The beautiful park system that this project would develop would become a point of pride for the City as a whole.
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Nedwick, Todd, and Kimberly Burnett. “How Can the LIHTC Program Most Effectively Be Used to Provide Affordable Rental Housing Near Transit?” Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research 17, no. 2 (2015): 113–37. http://www.huduser.org/periodicals/cityscpe/prev_iss/cspast.html%5Cnhttp://login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eoh&AN=1544813&site=ehost-live&scope=site
Nelson, Marla. “Using Land Swaps to Concentrate Redevelopment and Expand Resettlement Options in Post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.” Journal of the American Planning Association 80, no. 4 (2014): 426–37. https://doi.org/10.1080/01944363.2014.988167
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USGS. “Gage Height: 02085070 Eno River Near Durham, NC,” 2018