When a group of Conway staff, faculty, alumni, and friends of the school developed criteria for a new, permanent home for the program, qualities associated with location quickly rose to the top of the list, including:
- Access to alternative modes of transportation (walk, bike, bus, train)
- Proximity to amenities desired by students (grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.)
- Balance between visible “storefront” (within an urban area) and close to undeveloped landscapes (access to nature)
The Coach House, located in the Village Hill neighborhood of Northampton, Massachusetts, meets these criteria. Our new home is:
- Within 300 feet of an electric-assist bike share station
- 0.2 miles from a bus stop for the local public bus network (PVTA)
- 0.4 miles from a separated bike path, part of a network of rail trails extending into Amherst and Easthampton
- 1 mile from downtown Northampton, which contains grocery stores, shops, weekly farmers markets, pharmacies, and other amenities
- 1 mile from a regional bus hub connecting Northampton to Boston, New York City, and other metropolitan areas
- 1.5 miles from a train station providing access to Amtrak trains (bringing passengers to New Haven [CT], New York City, and Burlington [VT])
At the same time, a trail leads from the Coach House down to the Mill River Greenway, and a conservation area with multiple trails is a short walk away. The building is within walking and biking distance of residential neighborhoods and of the downtown.
The Coach House is embedded within a vibrant community. The City of Northampton is home to around 30,000 people, and its population is known for social and environmental advocacy. As Conway School board member board member Bill Dwight, who is Councilor at-Large in Northampton, says, “The Conway School’s ethos conforms with the City of Northampton’s vision for a sustainable, livable and vital city.”
The downtown area, located just east of the Coach House, forms the heart of the city; historic “Main Street” buildings are home to restaurants, stores, churches, apartments, and offices. The newly redesigned Pulaski Park symbolizes the city’s character, with sustainable stormwater features (bioswales), industrial materials (a nod to the city’s history as a mill town), and movable chairs accommodating spontaneous interactions among residents and visitors. The city also recently redesigned a major vehicular corridor, Pleasant Street, using Complete Streets principles, making it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Beyond the downtown, residential Northampton neighborhoods expand along streets, interspersed with smaller village centers, parks, and conservation areas. The Village Hill neighborhood occupies the former site of the Northampton State Hospital, and has been designed as a mixed-use village. The Smith College arboretum and botanic gardens abut the village to the east, the Mill River winds behind the village to the north, and community gardens and a conservation area are easily accessible to the west. In a relatively dense mixed-use residential and commercial neighborhood with distinct sustainability criteria (on-street parking is encouraged by City ordinance, for example), and with a substantial number of affordable housing units nearby and an active Village Hill Residents Association, the school will be well positioned to engage with the public and to serve as a model for sustainable design strategies.
This rich ecological and social context provides Conway with a living laboratory. From the new campus, students and faculty can easily access, by foot or by a short drive, a diversity of designed and natural spaces for educational purposes: riparian corridors and wetlands, public parks with green infrastructure, both traditional and urban agriculture, suburban residential settlements, rail-trail bike path conversions, and conserved wild lands. In addition, the campus, while small, has grounds visible to passersby; demonstration gardens, stormwater capture and infiltration basins, and innovative use of materials in the landscape will serve our educational needs well.
Conway acknowledges that Northampton is not as diverse as other cities the school explored as potential locations; according to the 2010 census, only 12.6% of Northampton residents were people of the global majority, compared with 6.4% in Easthampton and 34% of Holyoke residents. However, between college students from the five colleges, attendees of cultural festivals, and new immigrants settling down in the sanctuary city, Northampton brings together people with many backgrounds, of different ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The school could not pass on the Coach House: the location and facility met all of the school’s critical criteria, and additionally provided a rare financial opportunity. Just as the Northampton community does not shy away from conflict, engaging in debates from police surveillance of public spaces, to stormwater utility fees, to how to accommodate homeless populations and immigrants, the Conway School too will continue to encourage students to engage in discussions about land use, environment, and equity.
No matter the location, Conway School’s design process remains a consistent hallmark of the program and of its graduates.
Read more about our new home:
- Post one: Follow the contours: 45 years of learning to make an ecological design school.
- Post two: The Coach House: A New Home for the Conway School
- Post three: The Coach House: The Backstory
- Post four: The Coach House: Social + Ecological Context
> Stay tuned for our additional blog posts about our new home, including a sneak peek of construction progress.