Good links

Be sure to check these links:

Melborne: A Pedestrian Paradise

In preparation of Wednesday’s talk about walkable communities, take a 10-minute stroll through Melbourne. Go here to watch the video. Here’s a paragraph about Melbourne:

There is an invaluable lesson here. In the early 90s, Melbourne was hardly a haven for pedestrian life until Jan Gehl was invited there to undertake a study and publish recommendations on street improvements and public space. Ten years after the survey’s findings, Melbourne was a remarkably different place thanks to sidewalk widenings, copious tree plantings, a burgeoning cafe culture, and various types of car restrictions on some streets. Public space and art abound. And all of this is an economic boom for business.

Check out StreetFilms, the producer of this and many other short films about cities.

photo of Melbourne courtesy of surfergirl143

What does it cost to live in your neighborhood?

The Spaulding brothers do a great service by pointing us to the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index, which shows the affordability of your Fort Wayne neighborhood based on housing and transportation costs. As you can guess, everything’s cheaper the closer you get to the core of the city.

As the Spauldings say over on their Web site, be sure to click the Advanced link for more data.

And you can go to the home page and examine the other metro areas the index covers. Chicago is among those included, but not Indianapolis.

Traditional neighborhoods and modern architecture

Scott Greider, over on his personal blog, quotes a portion of the San Jose historic design guidelines that addresses the role of modern architecture in older neighborhoods. (If you’re adventurous, you can download the entire 95-page PDF.)

What does San Jose say? It says, “Bring it on”:

Rather than imitating older buildings, a new design should relate to the traditional design characteristics of a neighborhood while also conveying the stylistic trends of today. New construction may do so by drawing upon some basic building features — such as the way in which a building is located on its site, the manner in which it relates to the street and its basic mass, form and materials — rather than applying detailing which may or may not have been historically appropriate. When these design variables are arranged in a new building to be similar to those seen traditionally in the area, visual compatibility results. Therefore, it is possible to be compatible with the historic context while also producing a design that is distinguishable as being newer.

A modern-style home can be a wonderfully contrasting complement to a historic neighborhood. It certainly beats decay and vacant lots, and it also beats a hundred suburban neo-Colonials with three-car garages in front.

I can’t say the modern home above is my style, but frankly, plenty of older, classical homes aren’t my style, either.

The style of the structure is not the main point. Urbanism is site plan more than architecture. If you bring the house close to the sidewalk, put the parking or garage in the back and make the front wall permeable (that is, not a blank wall), you are strengthening a neighborhood, no matter the style of architecture.

— photo of modern townhouse in Lincoln Park, Ill., by Scott Greider on Flickr

Breaking the Three Rules of urban design

Above is an artist’s rendering of what a developer hopes will be The Shoppes on Broadway, near the corner of Broadway and Taylor Street.

Leaving aside the fact that it looks like every other suburban strip mall built in Fort Wayne over the past five years, is it a good building for a city street?

The real answer is in the site plan:

Look at the distance between the buildings and the sidewalk, very unlike real urban development. Pedestrians should not be forced to traverse yet another parking lot to reach a destination.

As David Sucher, author of “City Comforts,” said in regards to a different development:

The problem is not a matter of insufficient adherence to particular abstractions, the problem is a rather mundane one of, as I like to put it in the most banal way possible, putting the parking lot in the wrong spot. (emphasis his)

What’s the more interesting side of Broadway: the side with George’s International Market in a shopping plaza, or the side with Munchies and a block of buildings that meet the sidewalk? What side is more urban?

I am an enormous fan of Sucher’s Three Rules of urban design, which have little to do with architecture and everything to do with site plan. The proposed Shoppes of Broadway (and can we please return to American spelling someday?) breaks two of the rules that help create a walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood:

  • Build to the sidewalk
  • Prohibit parking lots in front of the building

Why? Because neighborhoods are not only for cars. They are for people, too. As Sucher says:

If you question this, consider the places that most people like to go on vacation: New York, Paris, London, Aspen, Carmel, Nantucket, Park City, Friday Harbor, and even Disneyland. Every last one of them is built so that the building walls are right next to the sidewalk.

New businesses should be encouraged to add to the strengths of Broadway’s existing urban site plans. If the shopping center merely moved the parking lot to the side and back, and brought the building to the sidewalk, the Shoppes would be a welcome addition to an urban neighborhood that can use some good news.

— Hat tip: The Around Fort Wayne blog