How to add green space to infill

By Chelsea Maude Avirett | Dec 22, 2016

When Councilor Valli Geiger first introduced infill, she noted one drawback was potentially decreased green space in a community. At the last City Council meeting, she amended the ordinance draft to decrease the lot size in the Residential B zone from 6,400 to 5,000 square feet. This change, more than the decreased lot sizes in Residential A, is likely to create a noticeable change to how residents perceive the quality of their neighborhoods, because existing open space will become sharply compacted.

In addition, as a few speakers at the initial workshop mentioned, increased density will always divert water flow, likely affecting already overstressed areas of town, such as houses along the Lindsey Brook watershed, which frequently flood during periods of heavy rain.

Various studies of best practices for infill offer practical solutions to mitigate these potentially undesirable effects by carefully incorporating green space into community design.

These conversations are not new to the city. The Comprehensive Plan recommends purchasing land along Lindsey Brook in order to create a “green belt” in the city, linking various other trails to the city’s interior, as well as helping to control storm water runoff. Terry Pinto, the director of the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, spoke to City Council in August, encouraging the city to enforce the requirement for trees in parking lots. And the Parks Commission is exploring ways to preserve the MacDougal Street lot as consciously planned open space.

But these conversations should be explicitly connected to the proposed infill ordinance, pairing the potential limitations of the ordinance with solutions that directly address such problems. Without this careful planning — and, yes, city investment — the city runs the risk of abandoning some of residents’ values (preserving view corridors to the harbor and green space more generally) in order to address other values (increasing the affordable housing stock and allowing residents to age in place).

The way to balance these values is to explicitly plan for open space alongside infill, incorporating the work that the city has already done and actualizing existing plans.

Some studies of infill recommend that 30 to 50 percent of neighborhood space be set aside to create an "open space system." While this sounds like a lot of "empty" (and untaxed) space, it includes design elements that we might not associate with open space.

This open space is often described as community centers, parks, a strip of public space in front of houses that is planted with a canopy of trees. In other words, it is space that creates transitions between public and private spaces and establishes a clear pause, an explicit rest, from architectural and concrete structures.

The infill studies I looked at were primarily directed toward infill that is developed from scratch, but the zoning change that Rockland is currently considering is more directed toward increasing the density in already developed neighborhoods. It is relatively easy to set aside land for parks when the land is a blank slate, but how can that be done in existing neighborhoods?

There are a few practical solutions:

Increase the amount of city-owned and -managed land, including community centers and parks. There are pockets of town where parks are plentiful — namely, along the waterfront. As the city contemplates building in-town density, the city should determine how to situate pocket parks throughout the affected zones. The Maine State Planning Office recommends including open space at small and regular intervals every 300 to 500 feet.

This latter recommendation can be accomplished by lining sidewalks with trees to create shaded walks and developing larger trail networks through the community that connect to parks and shopping/recreation centers. It is vital not just to consider the overall amount of open space in a community, but to pay attention to how it is distributed (and accessed) throughout town.

Encourage simple landscaping, both on private and public land. This can happen by planting trees in the public right-of-way or adapting the zoning to require tree and bush plantings in front yards, which are quasi-public spaces even if privately owned.

One recurring theme in such planning is planting trees. Trees are an economic powerhouse, improving air quality, reducing storm water runoff, conserving energy and absorbing carbon dioxide. They also have a social benefit, providing aesthetic comfort and encouraging healthy habits like walking.

What this shows is that some of the biggest drawbacks to infill — the loss of open space — can be easily mitigated with little public investment. But more conscious effort to add benches and tiny park spaces (or even plantings in median strips) can boost those effects even further.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Dec 23, 2016 09:01

Excellent article Chelsea, why not create a walking trail along Lindsey brook? Starting at maine and Lindsey street and follow up to Broadway many towns have river walks with trees and benches lining a widened brook to ease flooding issues. Hope others are listening

Posted by: Maggie Trout | Dec 22, 2016 18:11

Trees.  The City hates trees.  Backstory:  any number of city-wise folk have advised that the city allowed a substantial number of trees given to it not that many years ago to, basically, fry where they were delivered.  When a damaged tree was removed from Harbor Park several years ago, a city official assured me that it would be replaced.  It wasn't. 


I do not think that the proposed infill ordinance should be explicitly connected to the "conversations," but rather the opposite.  However.  It is pointless to present the most rational of arguments, as, as others rightly assess, individual agendas are allowed to rule.  Those in power have the power.  Period.

Posted by: David E Myslabodski | Dec 22, 2016 14:48

And who exactly requested such an infill ordinance???


More of the same; councilors chasing their own personal agendas and the hell with the stinking peasants . . . .


The way things are going the working people will not be able to afford housing.


Alas, this is not news but council keeps chasing their 1% dreams.


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