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

Food Trucks Expand Their Menus

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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.

High Line Part Two

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The second half of the High Line opened this summer and even though it’s a one-off, not likely to be funded in these straightened budget times or replicated in less dense environments, it’s still intersting to think about making parks out of places that are not traditionally green.

Enjoy the pictures.

 

Eco -logy meets eco -nomy: it all comes down to home.

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Excerpts from David Korten’s “Living Buildings, Living Economies, and a Living Future” from Yes! online, May 18, 2011:

“Integrating multi-purpose buildings into a larger multi-building neighborhood or district system adds opportunities to develop public green spaces, community gardens, edible landscaping, and small-scale poultry and livestock production, as well as natural wetlands and living machine water purification to continuously recycle nutrients, water, and energy.

Integrative projects also create opportunities to balance the utility loads of businesses, which generally have greater energy needs during the day, and residences, which have greater needs during nonbusiness hours. Bringing residences, employment, shopping, and recreation together in close proximity minimizes transportation requirements and facilitates the sharing of autos, bicycles, appliances, and tools, and community connections … Continue reading

Dangerous by Design

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No, not the bad boys your mother warned you about, but the streets you may (try to) walk along everyday.

Transportation for America’s latest report has plenty of media-catching data:

between 2000 and 2009 more than 47,700 pedestrians were killed in the United States, the equivalent of a jumbo jet crash every month in that same time period, a pedestrian was struck by a car or truck every 7 minutes while motorist deaths have dropped 27 percent in the past decade, pedestrian fatalities have fallen at only half that rate, by just over 14 percent.

But you won’t be surprised to hear that a scant fraction of federal transportation funding distributed to states for local projects is dedicated to pedestrian safety. … Continue reading