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Zameer Basrai was Architectural Intern at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, Oak Bluffs from June-November 2009. ‘The Tisbury Urban Design Study of Two Prototype Areas’ was a project undertaken by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in collaboration with the Tisbury Planning Board.

Project Heads:

Mark London, Executive Director, Martha’s Vineyard Commission

Henry Stephenson, Co-chair, Tisbury Planning Board

Bruce Macnelly, Architect

Project Team: Bill Veno and Chris Seidel at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission

The Tisbury Urban Design Study was part research and part design. It presented an analysis of two areas in the town of Tisbury and outlined possible urban design guidelines for their future development based on their history and significant defining characteristics at the time of the study. The methodology developed for this study was prepared such that it may also be used as a prototype for possible adaptation in other towns.

The two areas, indicated on the map below, are:
1. Main/Water Streets Area: from downtown to the harbor
2. Upper State Road Area: at the fringes of the town


Map of Tisbury indicating two study areas

The entire study was compiled into a report presented to the Tisbury Planning Board for comment and further deliberation. The aim of this report was to identify the character of the distinct neighborhoods in Tisbury so as to maintain and enhance their individual values and those of the entire town. It is likely that Tisbury, and especially these two areas, will experience considerable growth and change in the next twenty years. The MVC and the Tisbury Planning Board are committed to carefully manage growth so that the Vineyard’s unique environment, character, social fabric and sustainable economy are maintained as development takes place. This study built on previous efforts of the Tisbury Planning Board to provide a comprehensive view of the future of these two areas in Tisbury. Completing this effort to come up with definitive plans for these two areas will result in a clear framework for public and private efforts in decades to come. This will ensure that new development is sensitive and contextual to the existing built and natural environment, so as to ease the impact of growth in areas of historical, cultural, environmental or architectural significance.

General Concerns

There has been considerable amount of development in Tisbury in the past forty years. Though it has been largely well handled, it has not been without its negative impacts:

1. There has been considerable sprawl of residential and commercial areas into the countryside, resulting in destruction of natural areas.

2. There has been demolition of historic buildings and deterioration of traditional neighborhoods.

3. Existing zoning regulations would allow buildings much larger and quite different from the existing buildings; this threatens to drastically change the character of both areas. A single building out of context with its surroundings can be disruptive to the neighborhood character.

4. There has been a focus on accommodating the automobile, often to the detriment of pedestrians. Sidewalks in older areas are often in poor condition. Newer development such as along Upper State Road is car oriented with large parking lots facing the street so that it is not friendly to walkers.

5. With the exception of the William Street Historic District, existing regulations generally do not require individual project review including any review of building or landscaping design. Zoning regulations provide only minimum or maximum dimensional requirements for buildings within a zone. Often these measures allow, or even require designs that run contrary to traditional patterns of their respective contexts.

General Aims for the Study

1. Maintain and enhance the character of the built and natural heritage of each area by preparing comprehensive plans for their preservation.

2. Structure the development of the public realm of each area including public open spaces, the road network, bus and bike routes, and especially the restoration of a pedestrian-friendly experience integrating pedestrian movement and access to public open spaces including the waterfront, beach, and wooded areas.

3. Prepare detailed design guidelines for future private development reflecting neighborhood’s historical, architectural or cultural significance. The guidelines would include design considerations in order to ensure contextual, appropriately-scaled, and sensitive development in keeping with the character of the town buildings and

4. Favor smart growth, namely developing available land with greater efficiency to reinforce or to create compact, mixed-use, walkable, vibrant, and sustainable neighborhoods and communities, instead of developing in environmentally sensitive outlying areas.

5. Recommend changes to zoning regulations.

Below are a few selected pages from the report that summarize the study for the Main/Water Streets Area: from downtown to the harbor.


Pedestrian movement and Open space study

Historical Analysis

Historical Analysis

Character Areas defined

Illustrating possible scenarios

Illustrating possible scenarios



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