No matter where you live, you are bound to hear about an urban redevelopment project aimed at improving your town, and in New Jersey that often involves a transit village.
“Over the past few decades, everything was focused on the average worker’s everyday commute, likely by car,” says John Fregonese. “Now that’s changing. People want to be able to walk to work, or to mass transportation, walk to shops and be able to do more things in their neighborhoods.”
Fregonese, 63, is president of Fregonese Associates, a Portland, Oregon, firm dedicated to urban and regional planning, who will be the keynote speaker at the New Jersey Future Redevelopment Forum on Friday, March 1, at 8 a.m at the Hyatt in New Brunswick. For more information go to forum.njfuture.org. Cost: $200.
A planner for 30 years, Fregonese has earned the reputation of being both able to create an energizing vision for communities and to develop concrete, workable solutions to urban problems. Fregonese believes that New Jersey, as the slogan of the New Brunswick conclave indicates, has a bright future in redevelopment.
“Looking at many of the towns and cities in New Jersey, I see what I call good bones,” he says. “What I mean by that is good planning and construction went into these areas and there is no reason why some of today’s planning can’t restore some of what may have been tarnished.”
“I plan to center my talk around two ideas,” he says. “I will explain how a city or neighborhood can experience positive change, and I will emphasize how everyone involved has to get behind an effort like this to form a strong public-private partnership that will succeed.”
Fregonese will also emphasize a third important key to success in this area. “Everyone has to communicate. Everyone involved in the town, city, or neighborhood has to know exactly what is going on and how it will affect them for any project like this to succeed,” he says.
Fregonese holds a degree in geography, with a minor in earth and marine science from California State University at Dominquez Hills and has done graduate work in resource geography and land use planning at Oregon State.
He became known for his work in Portland during a five-year period when he served as the planning director for the regional government and was the primary author of the regional growth concept known as Metro 2040.
Fregonese says he finds a plenty to draw his attention in New Jersey. “The state has a lot going for it,” he says. “New Jersey has an outstanding rail system few other regions can match. In planning, such a system, as you have seen with the transit villages proposed in the state, is an outstanding anchor.
“Then there are the cities with large, diverse populations and outstanding built-up areas — the ‘good bones’ I mentioned before, that serve as anchors. There certainly is much opportunity.”
Founding his firm in 1997, Fregonese has been involved with several of the most nationally significant regional plans undertaken, including Envision Utah and Chicago Metropolis 2020. He was a consultant for Compass Blueprint, which involved the vision for SCAG, the regional government of Southern California consisting of 38,000 square miles and 17 million people.
Fregonese also served as the key consultant for Louisiana Speaks, which was that state’s first regional plan for southern regions of the state, and was lead consultant to the Big Look Task Force, a committee mandated to review Oregon’s planning systems.
Urban planning in the northwest United States has taken on the vision Fregonese sees as the population shifting gears. In cities such as Portland and Seattle, there is an added emphasis on shopping within walkable distances, increased use of various forms of mass transportation, and the restoration of neighborhoods.
He feels New Jersey, with its attributes, can experience the same advances with planning. “How can we make a city, town, or neighborhood better for the general population, business, all are who involved, with what we do?” asks Fregonese. “That is our goal in all of this.”
Fregonese’s interest in his life’s work was formed at any early age, as his parents, actress Faith Domergue and film director Hugo Fregonese, both had long careers in the industry. The sound stage and studio lots of Hollywood were no stranger to him, as were Rome and other American and European cities he visited and lived in as a youngster.
His father, who directed such films as Man In The Attic (1950) and Black Tuesday (1954), was born in, and spent many years living in Argentina. His mother, a California native, appeared not only in a myriad of movies, but also in several popular television series such as The Rifleman and Perry Mason.
“It was quite an experience with my parents’ involvement in that industry,” he says. “It’s amazing to me that, with today’s technology, what used to take my dad 5,000 feet of film can easily be put on a video today, but that made me realize how important communication is.”
Growing up in so many cities, where his parents were working, also piqued his curiosity. “I was interested in how everything was set up, both in the movies and in all the cities and how it all worked,” says Fregonese. “So much has to come together to assure success. Planning is just like that.”