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

Duany is in the Details

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

Part of what makes Seaside and its ilk so successful is their attention to detail. And by detail I don’t mean what one observant designer called “frosting”– banners, lamposts, and fountains.

A more structural approach to designing a space or place begins with elements that are obvious in plan view–terminated views, street grids, and a central square. That initial street grid is punctuated by a square, then further embroidered with paths and smaller spaces.

But even those public spaces and paths are treated with varying levels of complexity. The formal public lawn is neatly mown and edged, but other spaces are more casual.

The path in front of your house is paved and raked, the one behind a barefoot … Continue reading

It’s a Seaside World, We Just Live in It

Posted by & filed under Architecture, Design, Planning.

This year, Seaside is 30 years old and whatever you think of Andres Duany and the Congress for New Urbanism, any observer of urbanism must admit that Seaside has changed the vocabulary.

The pattern of main street, grid streets, mixed facades, and public space is part of every Federal Realty project and appears on our own Ellsworth Street.

Along Florida’s Gulf Coast, Seaside neighbors Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach, and the Watercolor resort have picked up the vocabulary and created a sense of place, community, and style along the coast road, 30A.

Duany etal have identified a fundamental human pleasure in strolling a certain type of built space, and have, most importantly, made that space marketable. From Seaside to Kentlands, … Continue reading

Public? Space

Posted by & filed under Places, Public spaces.

No matter what you think of the expanding Occupy Wall Street movement, the 99 percenters have staked out a share of the public space along with the public conversation.

But is it really public space? Zuccotti Park, like many urban parks in other cities and in Montgomery County, is privately-owned public space, generated in exchange for increased zoning density, which equals increased leasable space.

The land remains in private ownership, and though there are rules set by the public agency for its use, there are always questions about political protests, leafletting, and canvassing.

Amid our discussions of bricks vs. pavers and setbacks vs. build-to lines, it’s important to recognize that territory staked out in public spaces is not only … Continue reading

Beauty and the Eye of the Beholder

Posted by & filed under Design, Places, Public spaces.

Everyone has an opinion about the new fountain at what people consider the “town square” of Bethesda–the plaza in front of Barnes & Noble Bookstore.

As reported online in the Bethesda Patch most of the commenters think it was at best unecessary and at worst, a scheme to keep people from sitting out in front of the store. You can chime in as well by voting online. Unfortunately, out of 209 votes so far, 121 people (57%) don’t like it.

This is not a Bethesda phenomenon. In fact, just last week, the New York Times reported that Portland, Maine has removed a sculpture called Tracing the Fore. The article quotes Shawn McCarthy, who owns the bar across the street from … Continue reading

Food Trucks Expand Their Menus

Posted by & filed under Places, Planning, Public spaces.

Food trucks are an urban trend that is hard to keep up with. Do they compete with or complement stationary businesses? Are they sufficiently regulated for health, safety, and welfare? Are they unsightly or exciting?

Well, they’ve morphed again. Real Food Farm trucks in Baltimore are bringing fresh produce to neighborhoods, and sometimes even to your door. On the one hand, it’s a service with a bit of social engineering–bringing good food to people who need it and connecting farmers to new markets.

But it is also an update of a Baltimore tradition of street peddlers, known as A-rabbers. Once again, the new urbanism updates the old urbanism.