Green Living

"In so many things green, Montclair has been there first"

I don't know about you, but I've certainly noticed a pattern and apparently, so has the mayor of Montclair. In yesterday's Montclair Times, mayor Jerry Fried observes "In so many things green, Montclair has been there first".  What is it about this town that fosters green innovation and attracts so many like minds? Fried attributes the phenomenon to two factors: The shared values and the physical characteristics of the town.

Perhaps the desire for diversity, education and tolerance attracts people with a certain mindset - according to Fried it's the key to evolutionary and biological resilience as well as sustainability.  These same people seem also to appreciate Montclair's layout - a sensible, tree-lined grid of streets with neighborhood commercial zones that evolved around the 6 train stations.  The walkable streets of Montclair, where housing is integrated in many areas with shops, restaurants, parks and public gathering places makes it a model for vibrant community living.

In honor of Earth Day, here now, a partial list of Montclair's green accomplishments:

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      2011: Healthy Homes and More Walking

      I wanted to share this link to home design trends for 2011, which I found on the "Greenhouse" blog on usatoday.com.  This Montclair Realtor is happy to report that among the trends listed is a growing interest in urbanism, and correspondingly, walkable suburbs.

      The New Urbanism movement originated back in the early 1980s as a reaction to suburban sprawl; now it appears to be going mainstream.  According to Jenny Sullivan, a senior editor at  Builder (a construction industry publication), "suburbs are starting to feel more like little cities as planners and developers find ways to weave density and walkability into existing hot spots."  Obviously I'm a huge proponent of walkability, so I find this development very encouraging. A walkable suburb provides more opportunities for exercise and interaction with one's neighbors, not to mention less air pollution from car exhaust fumes.

      Another major trend is a push for environmentally friendly homes. According to Sullivan, today's homebuyers want to "extend their wellness equation to where they live." As a result, they are increasingly demanding low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, stains and sealants, as well as cabinets and furniture made of  sustainable natural materials such as bamboo and eucalyptus. For more on 2011 home design trends go to the Greenhouse blog on the USA Today website.

      Wishing you a happy and healthy 2011.

      Axing the Arc Commuter Rail Tunnel is Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

      I had a lovely client who along with her partner wanted to rent a house on a big property so their dogs could run.   We found her a great place, and the lease was signed.  She paid all the fees and deposits. And then days before the move in date, she had to back out of the deal because she lost her job.  She was a project manager on the ARC tunnel project planned to link NJ to NY with an additional rail tube across the Hudson river.  She had been working on it for eleven years. And then it was over. Her job was just one small casualty of the Christie administration's cancellation of a major project that would have provided a vital additional link between New Jersey and New York.

      As any commuter knows, our single tunnel just isn't enough.   And the easy access of our state to one of the biggest economic center's in the western world has always created enormous opportunities for New Jersey's own economy and its citizens.   As reported by The New York Times,  the tunnel would have shortened commute times and linked additional communities.

      As any New Jersey Realtor will tell you, one of the single most effective ways to boost property values is to offer a quick commute to Manhattan.  Bigger property values equals bigger tax revenues for the state.   One non-profit research group estimated that home values within two miles of the rail station would have risen by $19,000 and by $29,000 for homes within half a mile.  Given the estimated $18 billion increase in property values, NJ would have immediately started raking in an additional  $375 million in tax receipts per year.

      Consider too the additional jobs that would have resulted directly from the tunnel project and indirectly from easier access to other business markets. And let us not forget the benefits to our environment and to our communities that always follow from better public transit and increased walkability.  We all know that Governor Christie inherited one of the most difficult fiscal situations since World War II.  And we know that the budget needs to be balanced. No one would deny that these are tough economic times, but axing the ARC midtown direct tunnel project was penny wise, pound foolish.

      Victory Gardens In Montclair, Verona, and Glen Ridge

      After closing on their bank-owned Colonial in Verona, one of the first "improvements" Bil and Ashli made was to add a vegetable garden to their backyard. They are predicting a prolific harvest of beans, onions, tomatoes, and Chinese sweet potatoes, of which they only eat the greens.

      With 40,000 shade trees in Montclair, some gardeners have found that the backyard is just too shady to grow vegetables. A front yard flower and vegetable patch, however, is always an option, and can even replace the entire front lawn, giving the house a verdant and functional appeal. Robin of Glen Ridge has replaced her front lawn with a beautiful and bountiful combination of flowers and edibles. In her garden of Eden she grows rhubarb, cucumbers, beets, lettuce, squash, and herbs.

      Montclair resident and food writer Laura has a front yard garden that is bordered by stones and integrates flowers and vegetables in the European fashion. This design, which runs along the path to her front door, works especially well because it welcomes visitors into her pleasant home and busy kitchen.

      As for me, I have also established my raised-bed garden in the front yard, the only place that gets consistent sun.

      When You Move to Montclair, Claim Your Cash For Your Old Fridge!

      The NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection has begun a new program in which old refrigerators or freezers that are not energy-efficient can be traded in for a $50 rebate. NJ residents must meet the criteria (listed here), which includes being a customer of a commercial, not municipal, electric utility company (Most Essex County residents use PSE&G). A new, more energy-efficient fridge or freezer can save you more than $100 a year on your electric bill, and is better for the environment. This handy little calculator tells you how much your current fridge or freezer costs to operate now, and how much you could save with one that qualified for Energy Star. Trading in your fridge or freezer is better for you and better for your town, and now comes with a $50 bonus! Why not?

      Find Your Community Walkability Rating

      What Is Your Community Walkability Score?

       

      walking in Montclair neighborhood

      walking in Montclair neighborhood

       

      I'm a big fan of the rating website, www.walkscore.com, but its algorithm relies mostly on the proximity of a house to stores and community resources.  But to find walkability rating, it's not just about distance -- it's also about the quality and ease of the walk.  Factors like wide sidewalks, shade trees, good lighting and flat topography matter a great deal in determining a walkability rating.  I downloaded this walkability checklist from www.walkinginfo.org and walked through my own Watchung Plaza neighborhood in Montclair.

      Here's what I found, both good and bad.

      What makes Montclair a Walkable Community?

       

      Montclair NJ

      walking in Montclair neighborhood

       

      • Lot's of large trees to keep the sun off your back
      • Most streets not to wide to cross
      • Most streets have sidewalks
      • Streets and sidewalks are free of litter and debris
      • No loose dogs
      • Curb cuts in many sidewalks (for strollers and wheelchairs)
      • Flat heading East toward the train station

      Things to Improve...

      • Many sidewalks uneven and cracked from tree roots
      • Spotty lighting - some areas well lit, others not so much.
      • Steep hill heading West toward the "Mont" of Montclair
      • Tricky intersection at Park St. and Watchung Ave

      How walkable is your neighborhood?  Download the checklist and let me know.

      Think Twice Before Buying a House Next to a Gas Station

      Mixed use neighborhoodI'm a fan of mixed use.  Mixed use is the practice of allowing different types of buildings to coexist in a single neighborhood - for example, residential space next to/on top of restaurants and businesses.   By adding vitality and activity to a neighborhood, mixed use benefits a community because residents are able to walk to things that they need, like stores, work, church and transit. But there are certain land uses that are best kept away from the rest of the neighborhood - gas stations among them.  In Montclair, two former gas station sites continue to undergo remediation for chemical contamination twenty years after they were first tested.   Both of the locations, in Upper Montclair on Valley Road and on Orange Road in the South End are near houses, condominiums and small businesses. Who needs to walk to a gas station anyway?

      Living on the grid - not the cul-de-sac

      When I walk to Watchung Plaza from my Montclair home, I take a short route  through an interconnected grid of streets and through a small park.  I wave to my neighbor on the way.  I stop for a brief minute in the park to chat with a friend who's on her way home from work (she's just gotten off the 5:31 train from Manhattan).  It's social.  It's interactive.  It's exercise.  It's green.

      On the other hand, it's very difficult to walk to the train station, or the corner store to get milk in a town that is laid out in a branching street pattern with a series of dead-ends -aka cul-de-sacs- feeding in to a main artery. In these configurations, you can be a stone's throw from your destination, but have to travel a mile to get there.  This may be a satisfactory layout for the car but not for the pedestrian or bike rider.

      Watch this very clever video from the Congress for New Urbanism and you'll see what I mean...

      httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGJt_YXIoJI

      Top 10 Walkable Places in Montclair

      1. The train station (any one of the six)

      2.Watchung Plaza for a dozen bagels on Sunday morning

      3.The farmer's market on a Saturday in June for local rhubarb and asparagus

      4.Tierney's Tavern on the way home from work for a retro burger and beer (no phone, no credit cards!)

      5.The Wellmont Theater on a Saturday night to see David Byrne, Kathy Griffith or Rosie O'Donnell

      6.Tinga Tacqueria on Monday and Tuesday nights when kids eat for $2

      7.The "all children" playground in Edgemont Park on a weekday afternoon in spring

      8.Anderson Park on the way to work for early morning Tai Chi

      9.American Royal Hardware (aka Mr. Charlie's) for that whatchamadoohickey that you'll never find at Home Depot

      10. Van Vleck House and Garden for a leafy respite