Will Harrison Square hate pedestrians?

Will the Harrison Square retail development in downtown Fort Wayne make pedestrians more or less welcome? And why would I ask the question, seeing as how there are so many pedestrians drawn on the architectural renderings?

But there’s a potential problem with the above streetscape, and David Sucher’s Three Rules for urban design (PDF) addresses it directly. Allow me to quote from his book, “City Comforts“:

If the problem is to create a walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, much of the answer is architectural. Actually, it is not so much “architectural” in the usual sense of the word, for it ignores style. Site plan trumps architecture. …

The key decision is the position of the building with respect to the sidewalk. This decision determines whether you have a city or a suburb.

  1. Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).
  2. Make the building front “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).
  3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

Now, at first, it may seem that Harrison Square meets the conditions. It will be built to the sidewalk, the front will not be bare walls, and obviously there’ll be no parking lot in front.

But take another look at the streetscape above. The retail establishments are not at street level; they are maybe five feet above street level, separated from the street and sidewalk by seven steps and a brick wall.

Now, imagine walking by the retail stores. You would not be eye level with the stores. You’d be ankle level. And when you drive down Jefferson Boulevard, you’ll have the same problem of not being able to see directly into the stores. This elevation of the retail establishments reduces the building’s “permeability” — not completely, but partially.

Another interesting wrinkle is that the rendering above seems to show on-street parking on Jefferson, which would require reducing Jefferson’s four lanes to three. Is that really part of the plan? I hope so, because if not, that small sidewalk with a wall on one side and heavy traffic on the other will not feel so friendly to the pedestrian, trees or no trees.

But here’s the clincher: If you are handicapped, how do you enter the stores?

Well, if you have the misfortune of approaching Harrison Square from the west, you’ll have to travel an entire city block to find a ramp that allows you access to the stores.

Now, before my criticism gets criticized for being too, well, pedestrian, please remember that these details matter. City residents will not approach Harrison Square from the air, as in the virtual fly-throughs. We will approach it on foot. And the way we interact with the building as pedestrians is the only way we’ll ever know.

I know that renderings are only plans, and are subject to change. But since construction of the stadium has been underway for some time, bringing the first floor of Harrison Square down to street level is probably out of the question.

— images from the city of Fort Wayne Web site

5 Comments

  1. I agree with your analysis and wonder why the developer has chosen this plan. Merchants are certainly not going to like it. If the reason is that the site slopes then the solution is to divide the building into smaller spaces.

    Btw, one of the ‘sub-rules’ to the Three Rules is as follows:

    SUB-RULE: Locate the inside floor
    level as close as possible to the
    level of the sidewalk outside.
    Make it easy to see and move into the
    building. Current laws on accommodating
    people with disabilities encourage
    this anyway, but don’t let
    the ramp be the only method. Try to
    keep the interior floor levels as close
    to the sidewalk grade as possible.
    To the right we see the exception
    to the rule, which is acceptable only
    because it is a retrofit of an old
    townhouse. It works in a historic
    context, but it is not ideal.

    Reply

  2. Are those posts shown along Jefferson for the parking meters? I remember that the original idea WAS to have public parking along Jefferson on the south side – so customers could park to shop during the 90% of the time that NOTHING will be going on at the unnecessary new stadium.

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  3. Does it really matter if Jefferson is reduced by one lane? During construction recently the city shut down two lanes and traffic flowed as usual. Also Jefferson is two lanes except in downtown.

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  4. I agree that the design, as proposed, would be detrimental to pedestrian traffic. Having just returned from Bellvue, WA, I was amazed when we were directed to what was the ‘best pizza in Seattle”. Unfortunately, the pizza place was up TWO flights of similar steps from street level–practically on a second floor, with no signage or windows to entice you inside– and separated from the nearby parking garages by a maze of one-way streets with no turn lanes to let you park in the garages most adjacent to the restaurant. Not a welcoming thought.

    After about ten minutes of trying to figure out the parking, we finally gave up and parked almost three blocks away, and hoofed it to the restaurant. It was good pizza. But I wouldn’t go there again….simply because the access was difficult. Street-unfriendly facades, one-way streets, distant parking….sound familiar? IF (and that’s a big IF) the Harrison is ever built, I would hope that these things are taken into consideration. But based on Fort Wayne’s track record, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    Just my .02.

    Reply

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