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

A better Barr Street, or a barren one?

We at The Good City are all for downtown development, but I wonder if the improvements happening on Barr Street will have anything more than a cosmetic effect.

Above is the artist’s rendition of what the area will look like. The Journal Gazette said this:

Over the next three months, the city will fulfill a plan to make Barr Street more attractive with new trees, sidewalks, streetlights and curbs.

The streetscape project is part of downtown improvement plans and will enhance the Cultural District on the east side of downtown.

The city of Fort Wayne says this was a good street to develop:

City officials selected this area for investment because of the buildings already in place — Fourth Wave, the History Center and Barr Street Market, Renaissance Square and the First Source building.

“We don’t want to put in new trees and sidewalks in an area that could soon be under construction,” said Redevelopment Director Greg Leatherman. “Since this section of Barr Street is already developed, it was a perfect place for us to put these ideas into action.”

The street is developed, but consider how it’s developed. Below is a photo:

The street is not much more than parking lots and blank walls. On one side, the First Source building offers the street enormous garage doors. On the other side is a blank brick wall.

A block south, the Renaissance Plaza building is no better with its mirrored windows.

As David Sucher writes in City Comforts, a pedestrian friendly street is lined with buildings with permeable walls — this connects the inside of the building to the sidewalk.

In the artist’s rendition at the top, the white pavilion with tables and people is now a parking lot — but there are no real plans for anything but a parking lot.

And without on-street parking, Barr Street remains very wide. That encourages drivers to speed and discourages pedestrian traffic.

Hopefully, the trees and curbs will help. But with buildings and parking lots that discourage pedestrians, the Barr Street experiment won’t bring a lot of pedestrians to the street.

The four elements of great coffeehouses

The article is aimed at the college student, but it’s wonderfully applicable to everyone who craves community.

The article in Comment magazine is titled “Great coffeehouses, great conversations, and the college experience” and written by Larry Bourgeois, who has been starting coffeehouses and bookstores since the 1970s. As his bio says:

Larry believes that effective young adult ministry requires using more untraditional places and spaces than are found in common institutional church settings. Quality coffeehouses conveniently located can provide essential hospitality and common ground where “conversations of consequence” can naturally/supernaturally regularly occur.

What makes a great coffeehouse?

Great coffeehouses embody four elements. First is Creation, a relationship more about the earth, stewardship, and accountability than about “products.” Great coffeehouses are places of Calling, where, as Frederick Buechner said, “your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” As individual callings meet, they develop Community, where divisive issues become shared concerns, and through which we find Communion, the celebration of the mystery and majesty of the cosmos in each other and the world. This is the cultural potential of the third place.

What local coffeehouses best fulfill these four qualities?

Read the article online at Comment magazine.

— Photo by qwrrty on Flickr

A conservative case for urbanism

I plan on posting information and news about Philip Bess in advance of his lecture on April 16 at the downtown library.

In that spirit, I found this review at Campus Magazine Online of Bess’ book, “Till We Have Found Jerusalem.”

Those who are politically conservative are rightly suspicious of new-fangled sounding ideas about city planning — in fact, the phrase “city planning” sounds utopian and liberal. But in an excerpt from his book, Bess makes the conservative case for urbanism. Here’s a small quote:

(T)he essential New Urbanist argument is simply that the physical form of cities matters to human wellbeing, that there are observable and repeatable physical patterns of traditional human settlement-making that have served human beings well over long periods of time, and that therefore these physical patterns of human settlement ought to be studied, extended, and improved rather than abandoned to the current legal and cultural regime of sprawl that often prohibits and almost always discourages good urban design.

Then he proposes “an unofficial New Urbanist creed for cultural conservatives”:

  • We believe that individuals have both rights and obligations, that individual well-being requires good communities, and that liberty is not license.
  • We believe that individuals should have as much freedom as justice allows.
  • We affirm the political principle of subsidiarity, which holds that political decisions for the common good should be made at and through the smallest and most local institutional levels possible.
  • We believe that the Urban Transect as a principle both promotes and accounts for the widest possible variety of free, just, and environmentally sustainable human settlements.
  • We contend that traditional towns and urban neighborhoods demonstrate historically that they both support and are supported by the free exchange of material goods and ideas, including private property.
  • We profess traditional urbanism in all its manifestations through the Urban Transect as the best way for human beings to organize and make human settlements.
  • We fight for those who desire to live in compact, diverse, walkable communities, in the proximity of open landscape and a public realm of plazas, squares, and pedestrian-friendly streets.
  • We fight for the legal right to build traditional towns and neighborhoods. We hope and believe that the merits of traditional towns and neighborhoods, manifest in various specific local forms, will cause traditional urbanism to once again someday prevail as a cultural norm.
  • We work for the common good now, and for the common good of future generations.

I’ve ordered the book — it’s sadly not available at the county library, although his book on baseball stadiums is — and I hope to be able to comment on it before his lecture.

Mark your calendars: His lecture is 6 p.m. April 16 at the downtown library.

Urban design professor to speak in Fort Wayne

If you are interested in city, culture and church, then this lecture later this month is essential listening.

Here’s a shortened version of the press release:

Notre Dame professor Philip Bess will present a lecture and panel discussion about urban design and sustainable development in Fort Wayne.

The event will be 6 p.m. April 16 in the auditorium of the downtown branch of the Allen County Public Library. It is sponsored by Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana.

Bess is an expert in neighborhood ballpark design and his expertise will help the citizens of Fort Wayne determine for themselves what is needed to accomplish a walkable, livable and dynamic downtown.

Bess is the director of graduate studies at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. He teaches graduate urban design and theory, and continues his professional work as a design consultant for municipalities, architects and community development corporations working through the office of Thursday Associates. His most recent book is “Till We Have Build Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred.

Following the lecture, a Q&A panel will field questions from the attendees. Joining him on the panel will be the founding members of multi-discipline design firm Studio Three:

  • Joseph Blalock: ASLA, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning, Founder of Blalock Design Studio
  • Lohren Deeg: ASAI, Instructor of Architecture at Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning, Founder of Lohren Deeg Design and Illustration, and Assistant Director of Community Based Projects
  • Brian Hollars: AIA, Instructor of Architecture at Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning, Founder of handHEWN Design and Construction

Questions for the panel can be submitted that evening or beforehand by emailing downtown@ylni.org.

The event is hosted by Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana’s Downtown Development Committee and is sponsored by the Downtown Improvement District, Invent Tomorrow, Notre Dame Club of Fort Wayne, AIA Fort Wayne, Ottenweller Co. Inc., Hylant Group, and CB Richard Ellis/Sturges.

Related: Book review of “Till We Have Built Jerusalem”