Results of downtown design survey

Here is the press release sent out by the City of Fort Wayne this morning:

DOWNTOWN SURVEY RESULTS SHOW PUBLIC PREFERENCE FOR DURABLE DESIGN

Input from nearly 700 people to help create Downtown Design Manual

Fort Wayne, Ind. – Fort Wayne residents have once again expressed support for thoughtful design in downtown Fort Wayne through the downtown design survey earlier this fall. An internal team and an advisory group will use the survey’s information as they create a Downtown Design Manual by early next year.

“Engaging the public in the revision process is a critical element to ensure that we are planning with people, not for them,” Mayor Tom Henry said. “We received an outstanding response from the public and will use this information as we shape policy that will leave a lasting legacy for our downtown and entire community.”

Respondents expressed a decided preference for an appealing pedestrian experience in downtown, particularly for anything that includes landscaping, planters and greenery. Other preferences included the use of durable materials such as brick and stone, street-level windows, lower ground-mounted signage and wide, unobstructed sidewalks.

“Fort Wayne residents consistently tell us they care about how their city looks,” said Community Development Director John Urbahns. “Information from this survey as well as the input from the comprehensive plan process and the Downtown Blueprint points to how people value and appreciate the aesthetic experience of public spaces.”

The City will use the survey and information from the internal team and advisory group to create a Downtown Design Manual. The existing Downtown Design Guidelines is an advisory document that provides general recommendations. The new manual will continue to have recommendations but may include required elements that would be incorporated into a zoning ordinance amendment, which would need City Council approval. Required elements would need to be quantifiable and not based on a specific taste or style. Once complete, the draft design manual will be made available for public review and comment.

“One of the things that makes downtown Fort Wayne an interesting place is the variety of styles: the Allen County Courthouse, One Summit Square, the Lincoln Tower and the Grand Wayne Center for example. We want our design manual to maintain architectural diversity while encouraging features we know Fort Wayne residents appreciate and want to see more of,” Mayor Henry said.

The survey, taken by 693 people, had respondents evaluate building materials, signage, sidewalks, windows and other design elements of buildings and public spaces. Respondents could also indicate if the feature should be encouraged or required. A full summary of the responses is available at www.cityoffortwayne.org/designsurvey.

Slow down, you move too fast

A policy that encourages cars to keep moving privileges cars at the expense of pedestrians and bicyclists. Since drivers, for the most part, already believe that they have priority on the road, in places where there are many more walkers and bicyclists, drivers able to drive more quickly because of fewer impediments would likely feel more empowered to move more quickly and to drive faster, likely endangering non-drivers.

As long as roads are engineered to allow very high speeds, and cars are engineered to drive very fast (in the 1940s, the speed limit on residential streets in DC was 15 mph), reducing impediments on drivers is likely to be deleterious to pedestrians and bicyclists.

— From Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

Come, let us rezone together

I’m completely ripping off The News-Sentinel’s headline above, but it’s too good not to. (BTW: Great headline, Caleb!)

In his column today, Kevin Leininger comments on the proposed rezoning of 633 properties in a “downtown edge” zone.

On paper, perhaps, the proposed changes — intended to codify earlier downtown improvements plans — don’t seem all that consequential. It would limit the location and size of gas station/convenience stores, for example, establish guidelines for heights and setbacks, and would seek to limit common features deemed too “suburban,” such as surface parking lots and drive-through service lanes, while promoting so-called “mixed-use” projects combining housing, stores and other urban features.

But recent history shows how even seemingly benign guidelines can conflict with market decisions.

Consider planners’ preference for “pedestrian-friendly” development that eliminates parking lots between the sidewalk and door. When Subway Systems Inc. built a new restaurant on West Jefferson Boulevard earlier this year, it included a parking lot and drive-through — passing up a city grant in the process — because an earlier location had taught that foot traffic alone could not sustain the business. And when Woodson Motorsports moved to East Washington at Clay two years ago, it lost a city grant when it put a modern metallic façade on the historic brick building.

In each case, the owners decided to act in their own perceived best interest – even though those interests were not necessarily compatible with planners’ interests.

If their properties had been rezoned, however — and both are included in the proposed “downtown edge” area — those decisions could have been made more complicated.

Personally, I’d hope that such rezoning would not mandate urban-style development, but at least put it on even footing with “normal” suburban-style development. Because it seems to me that current zoning is not in any way “neutral,” despite Kevin’s perspective.

Suburban-style development, including minimum parking standards, is the only one codified, with everything else having to be submitted for “exceptional” approval. Unless I am wrong, the code the city is considering would only open a new urban-like avenue for development. Is that true?

‘Is America’s suburban dream collapsing into a nightmare?’

The above is the provocative headline on a story on cnn.com. After some description of the foreclosures in suburbia, the story focuses on the shifting attitudes of homeowners.

“The American dream is absolutely changing,” (Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning professor at the University of Michigan and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution,) told CNN.

This change can be witnessed in places like Atlanta, Georgia, Detroit, Michigan, and Dallas, Texas, said Leinberger, where once rundown downtowns are being revitalized by well-educated, young professionals who have no desire to live in a detached single family home typical of a suburbia where life is often centered around long commutes and cars.

Instead, they are looking for what Leinberger calls “walkable urbanism” — both small communities and big cities characterized by efficient mass transit systems and high density developments enabling residents to walk virtually everywhere for everything — from home to work to restaurants to movie theaters.

The so-called New Urbanism movement emerged in the mid-90s and has been steadily gaining momentum, especially with rising energy costs, environmental concerns and health problems associated with what Leinberger calls “drivable suburbanism” — a low-density built environment plan that emerged around the end of the World War II and has been the dominant design in the U.S. ever since.

We don’t want to wish ill on the suburban dweller, but times may get tougher out there before they get better.

Read the whole story here.

— photo by respres on Flickr

Bacteria that eat waste and poop petroleum

What in the world? We’re talking about

the genetic alteration of bugs — very, very small ones — so that when they feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw, they do something extraordinary. They excrete crude oil.

Unbelievably, this is not science fiction. Mr Pal holds up a small beaker of bug excretion that could, theoretically, be poured into the tank of the giant Lexus SUV next to us. Not that Mr Pal is willing to risk it just yet. He gives it a month before the first vehicle is filled up on what he calls “renewable petroleum”. After that, he grins, “it’s a brave new world”.

The story in The Times of London is a great read and may challenge some of your assumptions — Is oil really a non-renewable fossil fuel, or is formed by abiogenic processes? Also, the story notes plenty of hurdles that need to be cleared before you can pour bug excrement into your gas tank, especially the problem of large-scale production:

However, to substitute America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels, you would need a facility that covered about 205 square miles, an area roughly the size of Chicago.

The best byproduct of high fuel prices has been the opportunity to discuss issues like New Urbanism, sprawl and our nation’s exclusively automotive transportation network. But what if oil supplies suddenly blossom? If peak oil is a myth, or if it can be averted, will our hopes for renewed cities be in vain?

I hope not. Although it seems some New Urbanists are almost happy that oil prices have gone through the roof, we should not place all of our bets on that happening. Our arguments in favor of true, good cities should be able to exist even with dollar-a-gallon gas.

— Hat Tip: Douglas Wilson