Hamburg Helpers

Like many communities, Hamburg, New York needed to resurrect its downtown.

One suggestion was to add a traffic lane to Main Street.

Nothing doing, said a number of Hamburgers.

Instead, a committee designed an alternative. They added 4 roundabouts — a deliberate attempt to slow traffic. They planted trees on sidewalks, and increased on-street parking. And they built “safety lanes,” where drivers could open doors without banging the new bike riders who also used them.

Crosswalks were built mid-block. Sidewalks were extended into the road.

Main Street in Hamburg, New York. New features include roundabouts, mid-block crosswalks, and sidewalks extending  into the street. (Photo/Brendan Bannon for New York Times)

Main Street in Hamburg, New York. New features include roundabouts, mid-block crosswalks, and sidewalks extending into the street. (Photo/Brendan Bannon for New York Times)

“If you build a place for cars, it will be a gathering place for cars,” a village trustee (and ladies boutique owner) told The New York Times“If it’s built for people, it will be a gathering place for people.”

Also important: inviting facades. Most storefronts now have large windows — “once a mainstay of Main Streets,” the Times says. Hamburg’s architectural design guidelines encourage 2-story buildings, “with stores at street level and housing above.”

At the same time, Hamburg focused on “doing small things for small businesses,” the town’s special-projects coordinator said. There are few national chain stores in town.

In five years, building permits rose fivefold. Property values more than doubled.

And there’s been a “burst of civic activity, including a movie-in-the-park night, a village-garden walk, a street-music festival, a progressive dinner called Hamburg Bites, and a soapbox derby.”

Main Street, Westport, CT

Main Street, Westport, CT

Westport is not Hamburg. We’re an affluent New York suburb. Hamburg is — in the New York Times‘ words — a Buffalo-area “Rust Belt village of 10,000 people (needing to) resurrect itself from a 30-year slide.”

Still, like Hamburg, Westport has a Main Street.

Like Hamburg, we’ve spent time talking about the past, present and future of that Main Street.

Pretty soon, we’ll come to a fork in our planning road.

It won’t hurt to have as many road maps to follow as we can.

14 responses to “Hamburg Helpers

  1. This must include no more decimation and taking of Green space for proposed projects that have a multitude of other options available.

  2. A. David Wunsch

    Keene, NH which is closer to Westport than Hamburg has an inviting Main Street. It too has a divider in the middle . The shops are varied and include a movie theatre. Westporters visiting southern NH should give it a look.
    A. David Wunsch

  3. Mary Lynn Halland

    Doing “small things for small businesses” can really make a difference. Another great post, Dan, with great ideas.

  4. Fantastic ideas. The saddest part is that (I think) your photo of Westport’s Main Street is now outdated, as most of those trees were taken down this spring. Already a huge step backwards.

  5. Christopher Ryan

    Westport, compared to many surrounding towns has a very tired downtown area and is too forced.

  6. Sharon Paulsen

    I like the point on how Hamburg has very little national chains in their town. I grew up in the Westport of the 70’s and 80’s and miss the locally owned vibe. Remember these:
    Town Squire Diner, The Selective Eye, Fine Arts Theatres, Gristidie’s (sp ?), The Ships, the old library at the corner of main and post, Kleins, Dorain’s, and countless others?
    If I recall, The Gap was the first chain to come into the downtown Westport area, but it was a small store, located in the Sconsett Square area, and had more of a Levi Strauss vibe to it. Anyone else remember? I may be fuzzy on the facts!

  7. Bart Shuldman

    Westport had such a plan. The developer that bought the Y wanted to turn Church Street into a pedestrian walkway with shops and restaurants if my memory is correct. Please if someone knows, let me know if I am right.

    Just look at all the difficulty he ran into.

  8. Alison J. B. Patton

    I am a fan of intentional neighborhood planning. Before Westport, I lived in Simsbury, CT, which organized a community-wide ‘charrette’ or design process a few years back, to create guidelines for future development of the main town corridor. It was fun, creative, energizing and generated some of these same guidelines (pedestrian friendly, bump-out crosswalks, greening, windows near the street, etc.).

  9. Eric William Buchroeder

    Westport’s downtown would be just fine if it hadn’t succumbed to the lure of the chain stores (or vice versa). There are two “malls” one in Trumbull and one in Stamford within 15 miles of Westport. They’ve been there for 40 years and are easily visited.

  10. Whatever plans are being looked at, I hope there is careful consideration about what can be done to better capitalize on the river setting to help make downtown Westport even more of a destination.

  11. Lou Gagliano

    I read with interest the article/posting on Hamburg, NY. While Westport is unique there are parallels between the posting, the town of Hamburg, and Downtown 2020 Committee’s work with respect to developing a Master Plan for our downtown community. .

    Defining community priorities for the downtown, and solving some of the defined structural issues is important including traffic flow, making the streets more walk able and improving access to the river.
    The rational for doing this type of comprehensive plan has increased, as we will be dealing with a number of planned projects including the Bedford Square, Downtown Cinema initiative, Library expansion, and the newly announced sale of the Save the Children facility.

    Time is critical as Dan Woog points out, yes we are at a critical fork, and we need to take the path of planning and solving problems like those identified and dealt with by Hamburg, and create a more vibrant and livable downtown that protects our tax base without changing the character of what we have had for a long time in our town.

    It is for the latter reason that we have collaborated with the Historic District Commission in its funding request, recently awarded, for the planning and creation of a Village District in the downtown area. We are committed to the same level of cooperation in working with the P&Z Commission in terms of the award and execution of a contract and work plan with the RBA Group to perform this downtown master planning process.

    We look forward to working to involve all the citizens of Westport in a planning effort that will conserve what is good about our downtown and improve what is problematic.

    Our year and a half commitment as a Committee, meeting with over 34 stakeholder groups, and holding 50 public meetings is a measure to our belief in this effort.

    Louis J. Gagliano
    Chairman of Downtown 2020

  12. Werner Liepolt

    It isn’t just downtown that needs attention. The several tragic deaths on the eastern leg of the Post Road, the constant traffic jams on all roads parallel to I-95, the daily Saugatuck gridlock, the downgrading of the I-95 Saugatuck River bridge. are all signs of a poorly thought out and rapidly degrading infrastructure.

  13. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    I feel your pain! I live in an identical place, a district with history and beauty beside the sea (not to mention $ and very strong opinions!). Our Council works patiently with citizens who oppose change of any kind (I used to go to the meetings just for the entertainment!). Today, the argument is about whether carriage houses should be allowed, what type of fence can one build, or what trees can be cut down (seriously, in the rainforest, people worry about trees?). Certainly, Heritage should be maintained (unless one is an hereditary owner of the land, i.e. First Nation, whereby the “mall” grows bigger every year), but change takes patience, it’s good and necessary. Please, just replace those trees on Main!

  14. Dewey Loselle

    Dan – Thank you for this timely and provocative posting. It may seem hard to believe, but Westport has developed over the years without ever having a plan for how we want our Downtown to look and feel. The result is that we now have a downtown with many of the issues cited by the previous writers. Things have happened in a haphazard manner over time based on the perspectives of individual developers and with no one looking at the whole picture and asking questions like: How can things work together better? How can we have better public spaces? How can the public be better served? How can we have a more walkable Town? How can traffic and parking be improved? How can there be better access to the river and why do cars have the best river views? Why can’t we have decent and attractive streetscapes? Why are there no trees? What can we do to mitigate flooding?

    Westport’s Downtown is good compared to many other towns for sure, but it could be far, far better and we all know it. We now have one last chance before us right now to get it right and address some of these issues and the many more that will be facing the Town with the multiple new projects coming soon. The Downtown 2020 Committee (as previously discussed by Lou Gagliano) has been working for almost two years to move forward an effort to have Westport for the first time develop a master plan for Downtown. All of the issues discussed and more can be addressed in such a plan and then the Town can work on implementing the recommended actions. Westporter’s need to pay attention and provide support as the project will soon be seeking approval and funding from the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Finance. As the saying goes, “if you fail to plan you plan to fail”