A landscape or city is legible when it conveys information about itself. A place is most legible when it conveys information without the obvious devices of communication. Legibility is a kind of follow-your-nose sense that allows you to understand a place from both macro and micro signals.
Manhattan is legible though a grid punctuated by landmarks.
Miami Beach is ever-oriented between ocean and bay.
Most Greek villages run from a port, up the hill to a fort or church that takes the high ground.
The ebb and flow of commercial activity and social life in these places can be anticipated. You can figure out where the main shopping streets are and where people go to relax.
Legibility works in different dimensions–from an … Continue reading
A lot of attention has been paid recently to parking. The National Building Museum has an exhibit that closes in a couple of weeks. Herzog and DeMeuron has their new disco garage in Miami, 1111 Lincoln Road. Trenton, NJ, has a new scheme afoot.
Last month the International Parking Institute announced their 2010 design awards (bigger pictures available on ArchDaily). Among the winners is part of the recent expansion of the Towson Town Center Mall north of Baltimore. And while the street activation there is probably mostly still indoors, the project shows a successful integration of retail and parking.
The primary facade, as it were, holds the corner of Dulaney Valley Road and Fairmount Avenue, on what used to … Continue reading
Every three years, curators at the Cooper-Hewitt (The National Design Museum, the only Smithsonian Museum outside Washington, and the only one you have to pay to visit) gather what designers around the world are pursuing.
This year, much of the work has to do with sustainability. The way the curators sorted it all reminded me of our own Rethink Speakers Series, organized around topics.
The exhibition addresses Energy, Mobility, Community, Materials, Prosperity, Health, Communication, and Simplicity, similar to our own principles of planning sustainability. The products and projects range from high tech efforts like a solar-powered cargo ship to a rattan bike trailer for Indian housewives.
Planners will be interested in the Community projects, ranging from Medellin, Colombia, where the … Continue reading
The suburbs are often derided for being one-dimensional–row after row of “ticky-tacky.”
Turning a corner reveals no surprise, but sameness to the point of confusion. Isn’t the tired Dad who pulls into the wrong driveway a popular trope of movies, sit-coms, and commericals?
We can’t expect urban richness of the sort described by Alfred Kazin in A Walker in the City. The noise, smells, and general decrepitude would be unacceptable. But the hand of generations can add layers, paths, and landmarks to a suburban landscape.
In Bethesda, a place more varied than you might imagine, there is some complexity created by the old B&O rail line that is now a segment of the Capital Crescent Trail. You can walk … Continue reading
Three articles in the New York Times caught my eye this weekend. Bill Cunningham cast his stylish eye on the revelers at reinvented Coney Island, the About New York column did a follow-up on trashed clothing found outside H&M and Walmart, and the City Critic wrote about the potential for water taxis in Hudson and East Rivers.
They all come down to infrastructure and how you use it. Places, things, and ideas that we’ve abandoned often deserve a second look; they can have new value as our own values change. We used to think it was great to have a car and drive everywhere. Now, gassing it up, jockeying for lane space, and trying to park it can be an expensive pain. A fresh … Continue reading
Last night, Joan Almon, Executive Director of the Alliance for Childhood, reminded us of the importance of mud puddles.
She began by outlining the importance of play (that is, undirected messing around, preferably outside). It helps children develop negotiation and social skills, and coordination between their brains and hands. They learn to wonder, concentrate, and overcome challenges.
But these days, children 6-8 years old spend only 12 percent of their time outdoors. Children 10-16 spend only 12 minutes a day in vigorous physical activity, but 10 hours a day in sedentary activities (is that an oxymoron?). You won’t be surprised to learn that they spend a whopping 53 hours a week (about 7 hours a day) with media–whether its … Continue reading
Last night Michael Schaal, of the U.S. Energy Information Administration spoke about the outlook for future energy demand in the world and the United States.
Some of what he reported will not surprise you; we’ve heard a lot of this before.
Even with increased interest in renewable fuels, most of our energy needs will be met by fossil fuels. Demand increases with population and income, so demand is expected to increase in China, Russia, and India. Technology is helping us find new sources of fossil fuels. Technology is also helping us save energy; for example, the energy savings from more efficient appliances have helped keep US energy demand steady, even as we use more gadgets like cell phones and laptops.
Schaal pointed out … Continue reading
Guest Blogger: Michael Brown, Urban Designer, Kensington Sector Plan
After nearly 30 years, the Town of Kensington is inching closer to an updated sector plan. Thumbing through the 1978 Plan, you quickly realize the need for the updated document. While the overall vision of maintaining Kensington’s single-family, historical character has not changed, the updated plan promotes a new vision for the center.
In the 1960s, Kensington was designated as a Central Business District, in anticipation of a Metro route along the existing rail line. When Metro decided instead to build the Red Line along a different route, the 1978 plan eliminated the CBD designation to preserve the low-intensity character. Conversely, the updated plan promotes a mixed-use center with connections … Continue reading
Recently, I discussed the effort underway in Montgomery County to rewrite an aging zoning code. Over three decades, the code has grown unwieldy and hard to use. Thirty-three years of additions and amendments has left the code with a mess of outdated provisions, orphaned words, and a baffling table of permitted uses.
Continuing with the local theme of the Rethink Speakers Series, last night economist and author Michael Shuman spoke about opportunities to build Montgomery’s local economy by identifying “leakage.”
Leakage, in economic terms, are those goods and services that you are importing that you could provide for yourself, whether in your own household or community. The longer your money stays in the community, the more local jobs and wealth it can create.
For example, buy a local apple and the farmer takes your dollar and spends it with a local tax preparer, who uses it to buy daycare services for her kids, who may spend it at a local haridresser… And the apple probably tastes better too.
Though he hasn’t … Continue reading