We Are All Pedestrians

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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 … Continue reading

Take a Walk

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Or try to. That’s the message of Tom Vanderbilt’s series this week on Slate about pedestrians–or without the perjorative that he points out–people walking.

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 … Continue reading

The Food Truck Challenge

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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.

Food Trucks Roll On

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You heard it here first, food trucks are a coming community issue. Participate in the County’s survey and let them know how you feel about a rolling lunch.

Public Space is People Space

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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

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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

Planning Board to hear recommendations about Capital Crescent Trail

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As a part of the Purple Line, Montgomery County will fund upgrades to the Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring. Tomorrow, the Planning Board will hear recommendations from its transportation planning staff about several issues facing the trail. After hearing testimony, the Planning Board will send recommendations to the Montgomery County Council.

The current design from the Maryland Transit Administration includes a number of improvements to the trail. The upgraded trail will be expanded to 12 feet wide, where  feasible, and paved. Additionally, the trail will be extended from its current terminus at Lyttonsville 1.5 miles farther east to Downtown Silver Spring. New overpasses or underpasses will be provided over Connecticut Avenue, Jones Mill Road, 16th Street, … Continue reading

Duany is in the Details

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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

Public? Space

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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

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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