Before trolleys and trains (let alone cars), communities were built within walking distance of where the jobs were. This meant that traditional communities were mixed-income, with rich and poor living within walking distance of each other, if not on the same block. It also meant that industries that required extraordinary numbers of workers required nearby housing with extremely high densities (and before modern steel and concrete). In Holyoke, Massachusetts, the Connecticut River plunges 57 feet and led to the world’s largest concentration of water-powered mills. At the time, this required a dense assemblage of SIX story “walk-up” apartments within an easy walk of the mills, and the large population that was housed supported a wide range of shops and services.
As milling declined, so did the role of these walk-up apartments and many were torn down. Barrack-style public housing was put up to house those left unemployed by industrial decline. Ten blocks in the pre-War neighborhood were assembled into a superblock where front doors with no street address faced open spaces with no purpose. In 2000, The Community Builders and local partners acquired federal “Hope VI” funding and implemented Churchill Neighborhood, the masterplan for which was designed by the author while a Principal at Calthorpe Associates.
One notable aspect of this masterplan is the mixing of four housing types to meet different housing needs and create a visually interesting mixed-income neighborhood. Each type was used to its advantage, with townhouses shaping a small park, larger triplexes mediating the scale of the historic walk-ups, and single-family homes transitioning with the surrounding neighborhood.