From January 16 to March 23, the Virginia Center for Architecture, in partnership with the Virginia Society AIA, is hosting an exhibition called "Livable Communities for Virginia." Celebrated for its story of transformation and hope, Baskervill-designed Winchester Greens is among more than 15 communities featured in the exhibit, which examines the effects of well-designed and planned communities on the overall health, safety, and well-being of their residents.
The story of Winchester Greens is a story of transformation—of hope, possibility, and community.
It's a story of how to create a truly livable community, a place residents—no matter their income, race, gender, or age—can feel proud to call home.
Revitalizing a Community's Identity
The revitalization of Winchester Greens began in 1996, when the Better Housing Coalition of Richmond, Virginia, and Baskervill joined forces to revitalize a 1960s housing development in Chesterfield County that was suffering from disinvestment.
The residents had few housing options since their average annual income was less than $6,000. The 420 apartments were so dilapidated that residents could only occupy a handful of the buildings within the community. Crime ran rampant—the police were responding to 1,200 calls annually. Many residents stayed inside of their homes, afraid to interact.
"There wasn't much of a community identity to be found at all," said Mark Larson, AIA, principal and lead architect on the Winchester Greens community.
When the Better Housing Coalition took over the neighborhood in 1996, it teamed with Baskervill to implement a plan that would bring the area back to life and give the neighborhood a real community identity.
For a year, the Better Housing Coalition worked with existing residents, seeking input on the redevelopment and understanding what they needed.
"Residents wanted a place they could feel proud to call home," said Lynn McAteer, vice president of planning and special projects for the Better Housing Coalition. "Many single moms who were living on public assistance wanted to work, but they needed childcare and transportation to do so. They also wanted a mixed-income community so that their children could have more exposure to good role models."
Taking this mission to heart, Baskervill architects turned to the New Urban design philosophy, which takes inspiration from the small, localized communities widely found throughout the 1800s and 1900s. New Urban Design celebrates small clusters of tight-knit, mixed-used developments that enrich residents' lives.
"The goal was to recreate a vibrant urban neighborhood," said McAteer.
Community-Driven Design Features
When choosing an architectural feel for the 240 two-story townhomes at Winchester Greens, the architects decided on a combination of styles, designing Victorian, Colonial, and Arts and Crafts-style homes built in a variety of materials.
The homes and front yards in this 30-acre site are raised up off of the street to give residents a sense of privacy and a semblance of home ownership.
"Feeling like you have your own home gives you a sense of pride," said Larson. "And when you are proud of your home, you take care of it."
One of the most popular features of each townhome is a front porch, traditionally a place that promotes community engagement. The porches encourage Winchester Green residents to come out of their homes and talk to their neighbors.
"The more you know your neighbors, the more you look out for them," said Larson. "It creates a community."
Additionally, the front porches provide a way for residents to feel safe within the community.
"The physical design, specifically the front porches, puts more eyes on the street," McAteer said. "People are more willing to report suspicious activity. From their porch, they can see their kids playing in the yard."
Mailboxes are placed in central locations for added resident engagement, and there are a collection of green spaces sprinkled throughout the community so that no resident is further than one block away from green space.
Winchester Greens also features an assortment of community resources for its residents. Senior citizens have a safe place to live in one of three senior housing projects. The neighborhood center offers residents another place to mingle and chat. An outdoor pool provides recreational and social activities. Social workers are available to help residents during the job search and interviewing process. The center also offers residents access to computers—an especially important feature for residents looking for job security. Winchester Greens also boasts a childcare center with an active after-school program.
"If you expect residents to get out of poverty, they need a safe space to take their children when they go to work," Larson says.
The neighborhood itself is walkable, which gives residents the ability to move about freely and access nearby community resources, such as several retail options, including a Family Dollar, a community bank, a healthcare clinic, and several locally owned shops.
Each side of the road within Winchester Greens boasts a tree-lined sidewalk, and blocks were planned to be compact. To create a sense of safety, Baskervill architects created a buffer between pedestrians and the road using green space and trees. Sidewalks also feature extended corner curbs to shorten the distances between streets for pedestrians and corral parked cars into allotted parking areas.
Green space, including a variety of small parks, grassy front yards, and tree-lined sidewalks, is an important element to the transformation of Winchester Greens.
"Before, the area was a stripped-out Section 8 development made up of parking and housing," Larson said. "It was barren."
Winchester Greens is the result of realizing a community vision and giving it the time it needs to fully develop. The neighborhood was created organically and with a sense of flexibility—features were built as needed, Larson said.
The most positive outcome has been the impact of a well-designed community on its residents.
Children from the neighborhood performed better in school, with many becoming the first in their families to attend college. Residents of all ages began interacting with each other more—school children visited and read to the older residents who lived in the senior housing buildings. Adults learned additional skills and expanded their job opportunities. And of course, crime is not the problem it once was. Instead of receiving 100 calls a month, the police only receive a few now, said McAteer.
"A well-designed community with attractive, affordable housing is an incredible platform for transformation," said McAteer. "Residents have told us time and time again that they're proud to call Winchester Greens their home."
Both McAteer and Larson agree that what makes Winchester Greens a livable community is that it was designed and built as part of a concerted effort to work with the residents and really understand what they envisioned a successful community would look like.
"Everything that someone would want to happen in a community redevelopment project, did," said Larson.