At a panel discussion in late October, where architect David M. Childs of SOM received the George White Award for Excellence in Public Architecture from the American Architectural Foundation, the notion of joy in planning came up.
Amid discussions of floor area ratio, compatibility, function, and infrastructure, bringing up joy seems frivolous¬†in the least, perhaps even foolish.
Childs recalled that he and George White, the ninth Architect of the Capital between 1971 and 1996, proposed allowing ice skating on the reflecting pool, an idea that was quickly dismissed as not serious.
But imagine the feeling of gliding between Lincoln and Washington. That stretch of city would become a place for people as well as a place for history. I love pedaling in the bike lanes down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue; it is my opportunity to participate in the monumental avenue.
Architectural historian Vincent Scully wrote “Flags snap, high heels tap: a little sex and aggression, the city’s delights.” It is one¬†of my favorite quotes about urban life and environment. It captures the anything-can-happen excitement of downtown.¬†He takes delight in the urban physcial environment and the social environment that it provides a stage for.
So how do you incentivize joy in project review? I don‚Äôt think it can be quantified or measured, but it is something that you know when you see.¬†I hope there is room to create joy in between the regulations.
And consider as well how joy can contribute to sustainability, by using one place for many purposes. Layering uses is an efficient appraoch to resources‚ÄĒgood planning by any measure.
The District’s plan for eco-friendly redevelopment¬†in Southwest Washington is a big one, but M-NCPPC environmental planner Tina Schneider points out that one of the plan’s small elements¬†could apply in Montgomery County.
Alternating tree panels with stormwater panels is a way to slow and filter run-off while enhancing streetscape. The County requires stormwater management treatment, but it’s often easiest to use methods that have already recieved approval than to try something new. And, let’s admit it, there’s a lot of competition for the limited right-of way space. We want to make room for bicycles, streetscaped sidewalks, and–oh yeah–cars. It can also be a challenge to thread a new drainage path among existing underground infrastructure.
But other places have managed it–you can see lots of pictures of the Indianapolis Cutlural Trail here, happy bike riders, cars, and planted panels.
It really speaks to what a complex environment a street is, one made more complex by competing interests vieing for a limited resource–space.¬†But that’s what planning is all about. And don’t forget that roads and streets are our most prevalent and visible public spaces; they deserve coordinated design attention.
PS–one of my first questions was about mosquitos. Stormwater panels are designed to drain within¬†24 hours, less time than it takes mosquitos to get–ahem–comfortable.
The Yards Park has already won a list of awards, but I’ve just discovered it.
I can see why it’s won awards–there are so many things I love about it–the variety of spaces, the classic Holly Whyte bits of urbanism (movable chairs, touchable water, something to eat, people to watch), and its connections, running from Diamond Teague Park at National’s Stadium and through the Navy Yard, with a few bikeshare docks along the way.
Yesterday the Planning Board discussed a draft Park, Recreation and Open Space Plan (PROS Plan) that lays out a strategy to ensure access to open space for County residents:
The purpose of the 2012 PROS Plan is to estimate the future needs for park and
recreation facilities and natural, historic and agricultural resource preservation
and to develop specific service delivery strategies to meet future needs through
the year 2022 and beyond.
This broad-ranging Plan covers traditional park and trail facilities on public and private land, but also delves into preservation and enhancement of historic, cultural, and agricultural resources.
Like the recently created Parkscore system established by the Trust for Public Land, important parts of the PROS Plan are establishing:
- a methodology to determine where open space is lacking,
- strategies to rectify identified problem areas, and
- guidelines to implement the creation of new open space.
A quick overview of our urban areas shows that significant green spaces are lacking in our densest areas.
Parkscore has rated Washington, DC 5th among the 40 largest cities ranked.
And with the metrics used, the County should rank quite well.¬† Many of the County’s parks, however, are right outside our metro station areas.¬† For example, I regularly visit Wheaton Regional Park, which is only a 1.7 mile walk from my home in the southern part of the Wheaton CBD.
Still, opportunities exist within the central core to provide green space and respite for residents, employees, and visitors.¬† How these open spaces are created is, of course, the question.¬† And it is one that the PROS Plan begins to answer.
The record remains open until June 1st, so please contact the project manager at MCP-PROSPlan2012@Montgomeryparks.org.
While we’re sitting here writing plans, guerilla urbanists are on the streets, identifying what they love about their communities.
The Walk Your City Kickstarter project will provide open source access to crisply designed signs that can be zip tied to telephone poles to encourage people to walk. As the signs point out, if it’s only a seven minute walk to a local park, why not?
The project has gotten a lot of media attention (fat, lazy Americans, etc.) but beyond addressing the surface problem–where to go and how to get there–the signs open a larger discussion of what is valuable in a community. What places are we proud of? What does it really take to make a place pedestrian-friendly?
It’s more than just sidewalks, there has to be a place to go, within a reasonable distance. The overall scale of a place has to be walkable.
He makes a point that’s long frustrated me. Sooner or later, we all walk, even if it’s only from the parking lot to the mall. Something inside us loves to stroll. What is a mall if not a re-creation of an urban boulevard and witness the success of retail neo-main streets.
But we spend so little of our time, money, and thought on establishing and securing pedestrian environments. Even the fact that I describe it as a “pedestrian environment,” as a place apart and separate, rather than woven through our lives and communties–speaks to our separation from our feet.
Check out what Vanderbilt has to say…
No, it’s not about who’s got the biggest twitter following or who makes the best fusion taco. As always, follow the money. In many cities, trucks compete with local and chain restaurants and as this article points out, since there are only three meals a day, competition gets fierce.
We can extol the New England Common and the midwestern town square, but let’s be honest, America’s real public spaces are parking lots. We have turned our landscape over to the car. In his forthcoming book, “ReThinking a Lot,” MIT urban planning professor Eran Ben-Joseph estimates that there are 500 million parking spaces in the US, covering about 3,500 square miles, about the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Other estimates are higher–up to 2 billion spaces; throw in Connecticut and Vermont.
That comparison is a sad statistic on our willingness to turn over civic life to the car; parking lots¬†are an investment in space that seems to be paying out negative social, environmental,¬†and economic impacts. So what to do with all this pavement?
We’ve been looking into zoning and planning opportunities to recreate crossroads and Metro area lots into livable rather than strictly drivable places. In some case, the CR Zones¬†reduce parking requirements significantlycases and also set maximum limits.¬†The zones’ parking standards vary¬†on a sliding scale¬† based on proximity to transit services.
We even participated in Parking Day.
Parking lots really have to serve us twice–as drivers and as walkers–and they have an aesthetic. Landscaping is the most obvious way to¬†create a more nuanced environment.¬†
But this article looks at even looser and more interesting approaches to civic re-use of pavement, including summer theater under the department store port cochere, sports leagues, and the ever-popular food trucks.
To make parking lots more meaningful and attractive public spaces, whether a formal landscaped design or an organic outgrowth of community activity, we have think like people rather than drivers.
Here are more pictures of parking lot re-use, and send us your photos of interesting lots–good and bad.
On a busman’s holiday, I had a chance to bicyle around Palm Beach¬†and noticed that, not surprisingly, the one percent get some pretty nice urban design.
But what is surprising is that whether you’re in the one percent or the 99 percent, the bones are the same.¬†Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue was created very much the way Federal Realty does a Bethesda Avenue or Foulger Pratt does an Ellsworth Avenue.
Worth Avenue, Bethesda Avenue, and Ellsworth Avenue are all parallel or perpendicular to the main traffic artery. You get onto Palm Beach island via Royal Palm Way, a spectacularly landscaped boulevard with green median and four travel lanes. But make no mistake, shopping and strolling are a few blocks to the south on the much more intimately scaled Worth Avenue. The same bones are¬†in Bethesda and Silver Spring; the car traffic is out on Wisconsin and on Georgia.
And it points out a lost opportunity in Friendship Heights (which has the bones and the money).¬†Friendship Boulevard and Jennifer Avenue run parallel to busy Wisconsin Avenue, but are lined with parking lots and loading docks instead of using them to create a retail enclave conducive to strolling and cafe lingering.¬†¬†
Furthermore, Worth Avenue’s little piazzas and mid-block connections seem to be the accreted decisions of varied builders over time.
It is, in fact, a real estate development created out of assembled properties, just the way our CBD zoning encourages assembly by offering optional method density increases for sites over 20,000 square feet.
It’s what you do with your superblock that makes the difference. Worth Avenue and much of Palm Beach’s¬†(and South Florida’s) Spanish-Mediterranean architectural¬†character¬†was created by Addison Mizner. He didn’t go to architecture school, but did attend university in Salamanca, Spain and apprenticed with a Beaux Arts practice.
In the Beaux Arts, God truly is in the details. From “An American Country House,” a 1925 monograph on the work of Mellor, Meigs, and Howe, this column capital is carefully drawn, scaled, and constructed.
Sure it’s easy if you’re doing a luxurious country¬†house, but these details come from the Bush Terminal Building on 42nd Street and Broadway in New York City as recorded in the 1925 ¬†”Architectural Construction, An Analysis of the Design and Construction of American Buildings.”
And one more thing. At the time, Palm Beachers used to clapboard cottages objected to Mizner’s “ugly, foreign-looking buildings.”