Book(s) of the Month: City Life

Posted by & filed under Design, Planning, Zoning.

In my last post, I began reviewing two of my favorite books from Witold Rybczynski, someone I consider one of the best authors in architecture and urban studies. The first post covered Last Harvest (2007) . Contrast that to City Life (1995), where Rybczynski theorizes:

“…the American city has been a stage for the ideas of ordinary people: the small business man on Main Street, the franchisee along the commercial strip, the family in the suburbs. It all adds up to a disparate vision of the city. Perhaps the American urban stage is best described as cinematic rather than theatrical. A jumbled back lot with cheek-by-jowl assortment of different sets for different productions….”

Like Last Harvest, … Continue reading

Considering the Environmental Value of Existing Buildings

Posted by & filed under Architecture.

guest post: Scott Whipple

Last Wednesday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released a report demonstrating something some will find counterintuitive or even dubious, but which many of us in the historic preservation field have thought for years: reusing existing buildings almost always offers more environmental savings than demolition and new construction.

The study, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, includes some interesting findings: A new, high-performance building needs between 10-80 years, depending on the building type and where it is built, to offset the environmental impact of its construction. In comparing new and retrofitted buildings ofsimilar size, function, and performance, energy savings in retrofitted buildings ranged from 4-46 percent higher than new construction. The benefits of retrofitting … Continue reading

The BRT Experience

Posted by & filed under Planning.

While the Planning Board, staff, and County are facing down the challenges of retro-fitting bus rapid transit into the suburbs, some transit planners are thinking about the soulfulness of mass transit.

Beyond the engineering and economic  calculations, the languge used to describe the service, its frequency and legibility, whether you can eat on a train car or check your email all contribute to how you feel about transit and whether you’re likely to use it.

I am not a frequent Metro user, but when I think about a local trip I consider it an alternative. I usually find it timely and convenient, but am always stymied by figuring the fare. Am I in the peak or peak of the … Continue reading

Book(s) of the Month: Last Harvest

Posted by & filed under Places, Planning, Zoning.

To keep up with emerging ideas, highlight especially important works, and provide diverse views on issues in planning and design, I will be highlighting some of my past and current readings over the next year. To begin, I’d like to feature a pair of books from one of the best authors in architecture and urban studies: Witold Rybczynski. Two of his books contrast the extremes of development: Last Harvest (2007) and City Life (1995). (For now, I will forgo his wonderful biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, A Clearing in the Distance, and his latest, Makeshift Metropolis.)

The subtitle of Last Harvest is a summary of its theme: “How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from … Continue reading

Public Space is People Space

Posted by & filed under Public spaces.

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 … Continue reading

Superblocks in Palm Beach

Posted by & filed under Architecture, Design, Places, Planning, Public spaces, Zoning.

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 … Continue reading

If You Think There’s Too Much Traffic Now…

Posted by & filed under Planning.

…imagine if hundreds of thousands of people didn’t take Metro everyday. That trip to Tyson’s Corner malls would be a Christmas time nightmare everyday.

A recent WMATA study modeled the region without transit to measure economic benefits–property values increased, jobs in a regional economy, freeway lanes and parking garages not built.

It’s clear that quality of life comes from a complex set public and private investments and variety in housing, transportation, recreation can feed that complexity.

Sycamore Revisited

Posted by & filed under Architecture, Design.

guest post: Scott Whipple

Back in June I wrote about the Historic Preservation Commission’s approval of a proposal to install solar panels on the roof of the Sycamore Store, a historic site designated in the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation. 

The panels have been installed.  Have a look. 

As discussed back in June, putting solar panels in a highly visible location on a historic resource is not the preferred alternative from a historic preservation perspective, and it is not appropriate in many instances. But sometimes, as with the Sycamore Store, it may be the only place on a site where solar panels will operate effectively. And, given … Continue reading

Conformity and Compatibility in Communities

Posted by & filed under Design.

And finally on Seaside (I promise), the community brings to mind the issues of compatibility that we confront in our regulatory reviews and in creating community design guidelines.

Seaside began as a plan, intended to be executed through private lot owners conforming to build-to lines and heights. Picket fences would ensure some streetfront compatibility no matter what filled the allowed building envelope.

But the power of Seaside’s image (beach town nostalgia) proved so strong that most owners/builders/designers defaulted to a Victorian bungalow hybrid style for a charming but less than varied result.

People talk about mixed use and varied communities but how much variety are they willing to tolerate before community comfort mode kicks in? And it’s unlikely that … Continue reading