For one week in late October, more than a third of RPA's staff joined a team of fellow planners, architects, designers and engineers and took over the second-floor lounge of a local Long Island recreation center. Before you become concerned, RPA has not "gone rogue" and joined a local smart-growth militia. Instead we were co-leading a six-day workshop to gather ideas and develop a master plan for the center of the Village of Freeport, located just east of Rockville Center. For a week, our team of nearly 30 experts from RPA, Moule & Polyzoides and Sustainable Long Island worked intensively with representatives from government agencies, local stakeholders and more than 200 residents of Freeport. The lounge of the town's Recreation Center turned into the "one-stop planning" center of our effort.
Just like a well planned community, the lounge offered a mix of individual "uses" that complemented and benefited each other. On one side of the room — let's call it the "Creative District" — illustrators and designers brought to life the various planning concepts that were being developed at the centrally located planning, architecture and landscape architecture "Hub." The nearby scanning and printing "Station" provided all the necessary maps, CAD drawings and hand illustrations for initial and final presentation of the concepts. The "Conferencing Quarter" was where team members met with technical experts from the Village, Nassau County and New York State; and where the team hosted focus groups of local developers, builders and architects, business owners and landlords as well as social service and clergy representatives. Finally, the "Speakers Corner" provided a space where interested stakeholders could engage over daily lectures on essential planning principles — such as Transit-Oriented Development and Form Based Codes — and where the team regularly presented its progress and received the vital community feedback necessary to ensure a successful and implementable plan. Fueling the entire effort was the room's "Restaurant Row" where team members and participants alike sampled some of Freeport's finest gastronomic delights.
By the final public presentation, the team had harnessed the community's vision for a safer, more walkable community that provides places for younger people and empty nesters to live, work and play, and outlined a three-phase plan for redevelopment. In a first phase, the focus would be on making North Main Street a place that serves the community and attracts investment, not just speeding motorists, and encouraging around Freeport's train station the development of new apartments, offices and stores, as well as a new public green and improved parking. After the train station area becomes a successful and active "place," not just where commuters park their car and make a dash for the train station, the second phase of the plan would expand the station area core to the east and encourage the development of a family-entertainment complex. Finally, the third phase would expand residential and mixed-use opportunities to the west of the station along a calmer Sunrise Highway. RPA and Moule & Polyzoides are drafting a Master Plan and a Form Based Code that can be adopted by the Village to help implement this plan. These will be released in the spring.
The six-day workshop was, by no means, the only forum to have brought together planning experts and Freeport's stakeholders — months of research and two prior public workshops helped lay the groundwork for the workshop. Nevertheless, the workshop was the most critical component of the planning process: its structure and condensed timescale allowed for an accelerated exchange of ideas, immediate production of the concepts and a continuous feedback loop from residents and stakeholders. In the end the "one-stop planning" approach to community planning and design left stakeholders and residents with the fulfillment of investing their efforts and ideas in the process along with the visual outputs — illustrative maps and inspiring renderings — that help them to peek into the future of their community.