America has paved 61,000 square miles to make the nation’s roads and highways, enough to cover the entire state of Georgia in asphalt.
“It’s a failed experiment,” said developer Max Reim (pictured), who shared that statistic Tuesday evening. “Let’s get over it.”
What the country needs now is development that focuses not on driving, but on walkable, bikeable urban centers, said Reim, the principal at Montreal-based LiveWorkLearnPlay.
Reim brought his development philosophy to the 19th floor of the Omni Hotel Tuesday afternoon, overlooking the former site of the New Haven Coliseum.
Reim’s LiveWorkLearnPlay plans to build a $395 million mixed-use development at the coliseum site, featuring apartments, stores, offices, a hotel, and a public plaza.
The developer showed up at Davenport’s, the Omni’s top floor bar, to present his plans to the Tocqueville Society, comprising donors who give $10,000 or more annually to the United Way. The society is named after Alexis de Tocqueville, the French aristocrat who wrote a seminal survey of democracy in America.
Members of the society gathered in a private room at the bar at 5 p.m. They sipped wine and liquor and nibbled on chocolate-covered strawberries and pineapple, and puff pastries circulated by hotel staff.
Former city traffic tsar Jim Travers, now a United Way vice-president, said he invited Reim to speak with the society because he sees an affinity between him and the group.
“There are common interests between philanthropy and development,” Travers said: They’re both concerned with jobs, housing, and creating community, on private initiatives that go toward the public good.
“I’m just Max,” Reim said, after an introduction by Tom Sansone, head of the Tocqueville society. “I’m just one of you in the room, trying to make New Haven a better place to live.”
As a developer, Reim said, he doesn’t do single-use projects — no shopping centers, no car dealerships or apartment buildings. In recent decades, developers have built endless suburban tract housing and strip malls. That’s led to longer commuting times, less walking and biking, and more public health problems, like obesity and diabetes
What people now want, Reim said, is to live in “mixed-use urban village,” in vibrant, dense mixed-use neighborhoods, where shops and restaurants and apartments coexist. People are moving back to cities, he said. People are looking for the kinds of neighborhoods LiveWorkLearnPlay is building at the Coliseum site.
Reim said construction should start next spring, and Phase 1 will be done by the summer of 2016.
Reim also laid out plans for a vegetable farm as part of the new neighborhood. “Our intent is to build a rooftop organic farm of fruits and vegetables that would supply the restaurants down below and ideally create an education program with some of the elementary schools.”
LiveWorkLearnPlay has included similar projects in other developments, Reim said. “We’ve been very successful in other northeastern cities.”
Reim said he’d like the rooftop farm to be a joint venture between New Haven farming programs like Yale’s sustainable food project and CitySeed farmers market organization and a Quebec rooftop greenhouse company. Reim declined to name the Quebec company; he called it a “very well-established company.”