Planners like the word “workforce”. Neighborhood groups don’t.



“Not in my back yard.”
The term NIMBY (or the derivative Nimbyism) is used pejoratively to describe opposition by residents to a proposal for a new development close to them. Use the word “workforce” for a proposed development and there could be stampede of nervous neighbors afraid of what may be moving into their surroundings.

“Workforce” is a term Planners are fond of using to refer to housing – mainly, but not necessarily, ownership – targeting families with relatively good-paying jobs, but left out of the private market by rising house prices, such as the young adult offspring of Nimbyists that are just entering the workforce at entry-level salaries.

There is a relatively famous “Workforce” housing development in the Hampton Roads area, in Newport News, Virginia. Called Hilton Village, it was named among TEN GREAT NEIGHBORHOODS in the country by the American Planning Association in 2009.

Hilton Village was originally planned as an English-village-style neighborhood. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood was built between 1918 and 1921 in response to the need for housing during World War I for employees of Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. It even received a federal subsidy for a portion of its development cost.

Hilton Village is a quality project, true. It was designed by some of the best planning minds of the time. The nimbyists did not muster for this one. It was well conceived and survives today as a neighborhood of very small homes on small lots, occupied by residents of modest means and moderate lifestyles. There also remains, to this day, the original a street of small retail establishments that borders the residences.

“Hilton was the first of about 100 housing projects federally financed and built during World War I. Many of its features — tree-lined streets, pedestrian-friendly mix of homes and businesses, walkability — can be found in newer mixed-use developments such as Port Warwick, said acting City Manager Neil Morgan.” Newport News.

The point is that the “workforce” housing initiatives can be done successfully. On the website of Virginia Beach Community Development Corporation it reads: The Workforce Housing Program was created to improve affordable housing opportunities for vital members of our community – our teachers, police officers, firefighters, nurses, medical technicians, military personnel, retail workers, recent college graduates and young families.

Virginia Beach has instituted an ordinance program that offers a “bonus density” to developers who voluntarily build workforce housing units in combination with the development of market-rate units. By allowing developers to build more units with no additional land cost, rental units are more affordable and “for-sale” units are sold with special financing that allows for more affordable monthly mortgage payments.

Workforce is really not a bad word. I contend that the most neighborly neighborhoods are socially diverse, as well as walkable, centralized, sustainable and above all PLANNED. The end result can have such an obvious character and identity that they can even become listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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  • GREGORY M. FRECH

    Urban Underbelly is a blog that seeks to share the back stories of successes and struggles in achieving the visions of New Urbanism, especially in Hampton Roads, Virginia

    New Urbanism: is a city planning and architecture movement directed at the creation and restoration of vibrant neighborhood places: centralized, sustainable, walkable and socially diverse.
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