Calling Sag Harbor to Action on ‘Place Making’

Ethan Kent answers a question during the Express Sessions - "Parking in Sag Harbor" at the American Hotel on Friday, 3/23/18. Michael Heller photo

More than two decades ago, The Sag Harbor Express engaged Fred Kent, founder of Project for Public Spaces, in a community discussion about traffic and transportation in Sag Harbor. On Friday, his son Ethan, now the senior vice president of Project for Public Spaces (PPS), made his own trip to Sag Harbor as a panelist for the Express Sessions conversation on parking in the village.

A lot has changed in 20-plus years — more people, fancier restaurants, bigger houses and perhaps a renewed focus on preservation — but based on what seems to have remained the same is the residents’ passion for their community, as evidenced by coverage of Fred Kent’s 1997 visit in The Express. During Friday’s conversation, Ethan Kent offered some input, not unlike what his father did years ago, to inspire locals to act on creating not just parking solutions but creating a sense of place.

“The places that people most love in the world have the biggest parking problems,” he said. “…It can be an indicator that a community doesn’t have a broader vision for itself. When you focus on place, we’ve found you can actually create a more efficient parking system. You need to lead with making sure you’re preserving and drawing out the elements of a community that make you want to live here, but also make people want to come here, and make them come here on your terms.”

STORY: Full coverage of our Express Sessions conversation on parking here

He drew a comparison to the town of Littleton, New Hampshire, a riverfront town of about 6,000 people with a downtown that has been named among the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Great American Main Streets.”

“They realized that 100 years ago it was a lot more walkable,” Mr. Kent said. “It was because they had slowly degraded the walkable feel of the downtown by making it more friendly to parking, making more curb cuts. … They realized the way to turn that around was looking at small assets. Your favorite places — your library, your waterfront? How do you enhance them, give them more of a purpose, and realize for those destinations you don’t mind walking around from them or to them and you don’t mind parking a few blocks out because you want to have the whole experience.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Kent said he felt honored to participate in the ongoing conversation, and said the Express Sessions “sets a great model for other communities to tackle their challenges.”

“Project for Public Spaces supports many communities on an ongoing basis coming in at key junctures to support local leaders,” he said.

Asked his thoughts on the overall conversation, Mr. Kent he felt inspired by the passion and constructiveness of the panel discussion.

“I do think the conversation needs to keep evolving from being about parking to be about place-making,” he said. “You can then become a village defined by locally defined places. Parking further out, spending a longer amount of time there, becomes part of the attractive experience for locals and tourists. Parking needs to become more difficult for Sag Harbor to become a better place.”