Alternative Uses for Amberly

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Alternative Uses for Amberly

Post by KennDodson on Fri Jan 14, 2011 5:13 pm

My first job in Landscape Architecture was at the studios of Jerry Turner. It was a wonderful experience. Perfect for establishing all future criteria I would have for what a design studio should be. While there I had the opportunity to work on several phases of the Amberly PDD. This was in a supporting role. A little here, a little there. Again, the perfect opportunity to grow and to learn about my new profession. Looking back at that experience I feel comfortable in saying that the general concensus is that it didn't turn out quite like expected.

As a result of Amberly's continuing growing pains its has become a topic of discussion among many of my colleagues these days. The big question that has emerged has been what to do with the significant unbuilt areas of the development. MI Homes has recently begun construction of a new residential phase on the northeast end and the last time I stopped by the age restricted units they appeared to be selling quite well (though the sales folks didn't want to talk to me since I too young - I reluctantly took it as a compliment and plan to return on my birthday for a little ego boost). But there are still significant financial issues dealing with the site, including its infrastructure ( Amberly Financial Woes in Cary News). However, there are also opportunities, especially related to agribusinesses located in nearby RTP. With heavy hitters like Bayer Cropscience, BASF and Biogen IDEC perhaps it is time for northwest Cary to look backwards in some respects to its future.

With significant vegetated and hydrological areas Amberly provides a unique opportunity to not only enhance but in some way restore the area's green infrastructure. While development has slowed the opportunity could be taken to take another look at the master plan. Perhaps now is the time to investigate alternatives for increasing the amount of preserved single-mass open space in lieu of the more fractured open space requirements future developers will face. This would allow creation of a significant wildlife and birdlife node vs. what could someday be a very suburban, even urban area otherwise. Combined with enhancements to the adjacent American Tobacco Trail a significant migratory corridor could be developed leading into the heart of northwest Cary. While an abstract concept to many today, 50 years down the road it might prove quite a blessing.

The large tracts of land remaining in Amberly may also be well suited for agricultural research. This could provide numerous office and research buildings, and the staff housed in them, which in turn could support further commercial growth in the area as well as provide potential homebuyers for MI and other builders. Facilities could include test fields for genetically modified seed, more sustainable fertilizers and even experimental plants currently grown at NC State's Raulston Arboretum as part of USDA sponsored research. A potential theme of agribusiness would also tie well into the site's history and merge almost seamlessly with the nearby American Tobacco Trail and more rural uses in adjacent Chatham County.

Institutional use of the site could also benefit nearby Panther Creek High School by providing educational resources and the talent to teach them. And, with proper site design, any such use could provide a unique way station for users of the Tobacco Trail. This could be expanded to include exhibits and interpretative education opportunities.

When it comes to master planning on the scale of Amberly, it is critical that we ensure any design retains some portion of its former self, the community's history and its collective culture while planting seeds that can grow, be pruned as needed, and bear fruit for our use in the future. Perhaps Amberly lacked this, driven as it was by the culture of its time. And, perhaps, now is the time to prune its branches so they may ultimately grow stronger and bring forth a sweeter fruit for future generations to enjoy.

-Kenn Dodson, RLA
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Re: Alternative Uses for Amberly

Post by MAdams on Sat Jan 15, 2011 5:09 pm

Very interesting thoughts. The satellite campus concept you are proposing has strong merit. It is critical for the area to grow more on-site high paying jobs to fuel neighborhood commercial development. That in turn will have the most long lasting effect on Amberly.

The site is a difficult creature to comprehend at times. While many aspects of it have been a success I still have concerns about its relationship to surrounding green infrastructure. There seems to be a lack of true integration. This has become more notable as the economy has declined and builders have had to scale back on the elements that are least damaging to their budgets. This needs to be corrected while it still can.

But who knows, the "Great Recession" may end up being Amberly's saving grace. In tough times true leaders and innovative thinkers tend to take risk and thrive as a result while the pack tends to withdraw and rely on tried and true solutions. Hopefully tough times are pushing the risk takers to the top of the pile where they can have a true impact on projects like this.
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Re: Alternative Uses for Amberly

Post by Administrator on Wed Jan 19, 2011 3:07 pm

On occassion, Administrator has opinions. In this case Administrator would suggest the "Earth after Humans" approach to Amberly. Let those big wide streetscapes and greenways begin to revert back to their natural state.

In 50 years time you'd have a cool network of linear prairies and forests containing numerous narrow access paths restricted to small motorized bikes, pedel bikes and foot traffic. Administrator thinks it would be just like the nice big hippie comun he visited a few decades back north of San Jose.

This would be a great approach in Detroit. Forget the urban farms they are promoting there and just let all those old roads turn into naturalized greenway and small motor ways. In a centuries time, combined with some creative redevelopment in downtown, you could have a wonderfully dense urban core surrounded by an equally dense greenbelt 10 miles wide with those nasty 'burbs safely isolated on the perimeter. All connected with minimal roads and a significant numbers of trails. Just think of it as Detroit National Park and Greenbelt. Administrator is confident this idea could breath life into dead Detroit and maybe someday a declining Raleigh.
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Re: Alternative Uses for Amberly

Post by MAdams on Thu Jan 20, 2011 11:25 am

Hmmm....intriguing thoughts. A bit drastic for my taste but it would certainly get a page or two in National Geographic (and hopefully erase from memory their earlier article about Cary's suburbs).

But I would especially like to hear more about this commune. Smile
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Re: Alternative Uses for Amberly

Post by SilenceDogwood on Sat Jan 22, 2011 11:43 pm

Having spent time at the pool complex at Amberly I can say with some authority that it is already suffering from Earth After Humans syndrome. Every Saturday morning during the summer the chaos of nature rears its head as the wild species Youngus childrenous run rampant, howling and growling, jumping and bumping, splashing and generally destroying my attempt to enjoy the fruits of my rather exhaustive labor.

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Re: Alternative Uses for Amberly

Post by SSmith on Thu Jan 27, 2011 11:07 pm

The idea of trading off very fragmented strips of buffer or open space in favor of larger more contiguous pieces is very logical. While it is beneficial to have a lot of scattered islands of canopy they do need to be of a certain critical mass. Creating one larger space can provide more dense habitat for larger mammals and can create nodes - perfect destinations for large families of life. Nodes can also provide easier targets for connectivity by multiple landowners/municipalities and are an easier argument when it comes to financing/stakeholder buyin. If people can see a large preserved area up and in person they can better understand its value. But small islands are still critical. In Amberly's case the chance to set aside a large space now in tradeoff could provide strong long term benefits.
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