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.

One Comment

  1. December 5, 2009

    Though I appreciate the City’s continued efforts to improve the quality of the built environment of downtown Fort Wayne, I’m not happy with the release of the survey results because I wasn’t happy with the survey itself. I strongly believe the surveys methodology was fundamentally flawed, which in turn invalidates any data gathered from it. I further question the survey being part of a process the intent of which I believe is to mandate not just a pedestrian-friendly downtown form, which would be good, but also a decidedly “historic” architectural style, which would be bad. I’ve argued this point already (here and here) and will continue to do so even though I have little faith it will change the inevitable outcome.

    You might respond by saying the press release suggests the exact opposite, that the Mayor himself seems to appreciate and even hopes to encourage a diversity of architectural styles. But I believe the mayor is either being disingenuous, or he is unaware of what the planners – and ultimately the City Council – are intending. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

    Being familiar with the existing guidelines, and having met with those responsible for drafting the revised ones, I am convinced that what they intend to propose – based on what they believe is being requested of them by Council – is nothing short of an homogenization of architectural style and an effective elimination of design creativity. As an example, here’s a quote from the current Downtown Design Guidelines: “Desirable facade materials for new or renovated facades include red brick and dressed limestone, granite, and marble.” Notwithstanding the obvious problems with this recommendation, when I asked Pat Feahy, Senior Planner for Allen County, whether the word “desirable” would remain in the revised guidelines, he honestly and rather bluntly replied, “probably not, but it would rather change to include some form of the word ‘required’”.

    Whoa!

    And even if that’s not their intent, that will be the outcome if certain materials and styles are encouraged or required while other forms of creativity are discouraged or even prohibited.

    Now back to my earlier point about a possible misunderstanding between the mayor and the planners. In his comments today, the mayor included One Summit Square and the Grand Wayne Center as examples of the kind of varied architectural styles that make downtown Fort Wayne an interesting place. But is the mayor aware that these two buildings have styles – or at least materials and compositions – that are explicitly discouraged in the very guidelines the revisions of which his comments are intended show support? On page 6 under the section “Architectural Design”, paragraph 1(a)(i) states that, “buildings should be designed to be small-scale and pedestrian- oriented at the street level,” and “blank walls on the ground floor of street frontages should be discouraged…” and on page 7, paragraph 2(a) states that, “the monolithic use of a single building material especially concrete, stucco or stone should be discouraged”. Can you say One Summit and the Grand Wayne? Anyone will tell you that the existence of these two buildings – among others – is precisely the reason this current recommendation exists, and precisely the reason it is likely to become more than a recommendation in the revised guidelines. Was the mayor aware this? That two of the buildings he praised shouldn’t exist according to our current guidelines, and most likely won’t be able to exist again under revised ones.

    How does all this relate to the survey? It relates because the planners will use the survey results as evidence of a community desire to see more of a certain type, material, and style of building downtown, and will use the revised guidelines to make it happen. But I maintain that because the survey itself was flawed, and data resulting from it is flawed, too, and should have no part in determining what design elements are or are not appropriate for downtown Fort Wayne.

    Reply

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