Tag Archives: Planning

Investment Ready Places: The New American Frontier

How do you know if your neighborhood is ready for investment? Investment Ready Places was just launch by friends Atul Sharma, Joseph Nickol, Kevin Lavelle and James Michael of Street Sense. The premise is:

The small towns and cities of America are once again becoming the new frontier for development.

The thoughts and ideas that are included in this tool are on target with the type of triage thinking that we need in so many of our country’s smaller towns and cities. There are six key characteristics of Investment Ready Places that are essential for attracting investment that will contribute to the creation of authentic, pedestrain scaled places.

  1. Nourishment for residents
  2. Stable supply of water
  3. Manageable infrastructure
  4. Connected places
  5. Creative knowledge
  6. Heritage and living culture

I would encourage everyone to hand out the checklist at the back of the report to their city council, community leaders and neighbors. There is a good dose of reality in this little booklet that is timely. This is a new paradigm tool for an increasingly more competitive landscape of places that get it and those that are going to be left behind economically, culturally and, unfortunately, environmentally. It was so great to hear from Atul and Joe as they were developing the core ideas that are now so nicely conveyed in this booklet. Please pass it along and use it wisely.
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Chuck Marohn gave a great lecture last night at MIT, I’ll have blog coverage of it here soon, and thanks Chuck for the much more solid review of IRP on the Strongtowns.org blog.

Integrated Transit Planning: Principles for Providence’s Mobility Network

Public Transit is the live blood of the modern city. It has become more and more apparent that the cities that have robust regional transit options will be the cities that prosper. I am excited about the plans that the Rhode Island Public Transit Administration is drawing up for the first Streetcar line serving downtown in over 60 years. With all the talk of transit going on due to RIPTA’s Core Connector Study, I pulled together the principles below to hopefully inspire the creation of a better plan that supports a more prosperous region that is, of course, a nicer place to live.

This is an incomplete list, and it would be great to hear your additions in the comments below.

The Region

The physical organization of the Metropolitan Providence should be supported by a framework of transportation alternatives. Transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile.

A transit system should support the ongoing development of towns and cities by respecting historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries.

Transit should serve to connect activity centers within the region. Corridors should be located to encourage the redevelopment of existing city fabric. The evolution of suburban development should also be considered when locating these corridors. Failing suburban retail center, big box stores and office parks should be consider retrofit opportunities that would add higher densities if served by transit.

Strong connection to regional rail and shipping services is not only an economic necessity, but will provide further alternatives to highway driving for the business and citizens in Providence.

Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, and should follow the principles of neighborhood design when possible. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways. Transit spines should work with these larger linear features to enhance the connections between neighborhoods.

Transit corridors, when properly planned and coordinated, will help organize Providence’s metropolitan structure and revitalize the urban core. These corridors should be planned to connect neighborhoods and to provide easy access to the services and destination located in Downtown.

Wherever possible, new development shall be sited on underutilized, poorly designed or already developed land. Transit stops should be located in these areas to encourage redevelopment. Future development should be organized based on the principles of a walkable neighborhood with plans for transit integrated into the design.

Neighborhoods must be compact, with a range of densities that are compatible with existing places and cultures. Successful transit options require lively, mixed-use urban places.

Brownfields shall be redeveloped, using cleanup methods that reduce or eliminate site contaminants and toxicity. Redevelopment of these sites should rely on transit and reduce or eliminate parking requirements.

Networks

Multiple transit option should be provided to ensure all citizens of Providence have access to jobs, entertainment and recreation. Automobile travel should be discouraged to promote more sustainable forms of mobility.

A resilient transportation network requires many nods, stations and multiple opportunities to navigate to a destination. Planners must recognize that people will change their course if needed and the network should provide as many choices as possible.

A transit system should be organized around a network of corridors, and thoroughfares. Transferring from one mod to another should be easy and well organized. Expansion of the network should create a web of transit facilities.

Providence has a fragmented urbanism which transit should work to connect. The network should provide transportation option within a neighborhood as well as travel between neighborhoods.

Streets and Blocks

The design of streets and the entire right-of-way shall be directed at the positive shaping of the public realm to encourage shared pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular use.

All transit stops should be designed as permanent amenities to the streetscape. These stations should build on the culture and identity of both the corridor and neighborhood.

Development should create a positive public realm that is designed to provide pedestrian comfort and safety. Transit should be integrated within developments and public space to further enhance these aims.

Retail and first floor commercial uses are important elements of a mixed use neighborhood. Transit should be planned to enhance the economic development potential of first floor uses that will add life to the street and enhance community safety.

Buildings

Development within a five minute walk of transit should not require parking. The market should dictate if any off street parking is needed based on sales or leasing requirements.

Transit infrastructure should respect the character of the neighborhood. The streetscape, including transit facilities, should be designed to improve the pedestrian experience, and enhance the surrounding businesses.

For more on smart planning principles click herehere and here.

[Image By food_pvd]

Artistry is Missing in Planning Today

Artistry is needed in today’s cities and towns. I am completely sick of statistics and computer models for city planning. Yes, I agree that enough water must be provided, and capacity for waste measured. However, these are not the issues that make cities great. The meaningful relationship of buildings, the vistas and views, and the beauty that enlightens those citizens blessed by being residents of a place built with artistry are minor points in the planning of cities today. The goal of a street must be more then moving cars. You must ask more of your urbanism if a place will be resilient, and even more of it to be competitive. Artistry is a powerful, and forgotten, tool for the building of our cities and towns.

Bicycle Diaries, Emergent Architecture and David Byrne

David Byrne @ Bellhouse Jan 11, 2010 The incredible wise and creative Mr. David Byrne lectured in Providence at the invitation of the Mayor earlier this week. I hope this is an indication that the city is ready to look seriously at its bicycle infrastructure. Biking can be such a pleasant, and affordable, way to travel the city, and with Providence’s compact size we are missing a huge opportunity. The number one excuse I hear from potential bikers in Providence is the hills. Well, San Francisco has hills and they have still managed to embrace a bicycle culture. Real cities all over the country are putting biking on an equal footing with bus, rail and streetcar as a serious transit component. It was great to hear Mr. Byrne’s thoughts on the subject.

If you have not had the chance to read Mr. Byrne’s latest book, Bicycle Diaries, I highly recommend it. There was one particular chapter that has kept me thinking. Here is a quote:

“It is as if some genetic architectural propensity exists in us, that guides us, subtly and invisibly, as to how to best organize first a kiosk, then a stall, and from there add incrementally as our innate instincts guide us. Until soon enough there exists a whole marketplace and neighborhood.” – Bicycle Diaries, p.138

He is pointing out an interesting occurrence where public markets found throughout the globe are organized in strikingly similar forms. These forms are perhaps patterns that emerge from us humans as naturally as bees construct their hives or beavers their dams. The contemporary practice of urbanists and architects might be fancied with the theory of Emergent Architecture. However, I still think more focus is needed to fully apply this natural occurrence to the planning of our cities and towns.

Here is a link to more information about the David Byrne lecture. There is also some interesting writings over at Living Urbanism that are related to Emergent Architecture.

Photo by marc dalio

Book Review: The Smart Growth Manual

Over vacation I took the opportunity to dive into The Smart Growth Manual by Andres Duany, Jeff Speck and, fellow Living Urbanism editor, Mike Lydon.  The manual is a comprehensive review of the practices that lead to the creation of smart places.  I highly recommend giving it a read even if you are a seasoned practitioner.  The concise text and illustrative images layout the techniques that are at the forefront of planning, urban design and architecture.  The design of the book is memorable as well.  I hope to see it on the desks of town planners everywhere.

Are the Suburbs Modern Frontier Settlements?


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Spending the holidays in Florida has left me wondering about the wild west. I realized the suburbs are the modern equivalent of the frontier town. Sprawling out across the landscape consuming resources as if they were kids in a candy store. They may not have been built as quickly as the gold rush town’s of the West, but the modern suburban development performs under strikingly similar principles.

First, profitable natural resources spark hysteria (after 1848 it was Gold, recently it was cheap land & gas). Second, the masses built as quickly as possible to consume and capitalize on the resource. Third, society turns a blind eye to the lack of civility present in these places (then it was gun fights in the streets, now it is half hour drives to buy milk). Fourth, the resource is consumed. Finally, no further financial growth occurs and investment into the infrastructure specifically design for harvesting the natural resource deteriorates. Ghost towns, prairie outposts and, luckily, San Francisco were left in the wake of the Gold Rush. What will we do with the suburbs now that the resource of cheap land and easy mortgages have come and gone?

Frontier development is inherit to American culture. By reframing our view of the suburbs as the modern equivalent of a typical America typology, frontier development, are we able to better forecast the proper course of action for the future of the suburban landscape now that the boom is over? How will the end of this cycle change the perceived permanence of sprawl development? This temporal manifestation of capitalism must be accepted as a frontier experiment. Will the deeply rooted opposition to change and growth that exists in the exurbs of America today be able to accept the urbanization of these places? The suburbs are either the first step for the establishment of a new settlement or the are the begin of the modern ghost town. 

I hope our governments current stimulus package takes into account the grand retrofit of suburbia that will have to occur in the coming decades. Instead of building bridges and highways, why not build parking structures and public transit systems that will support the compact development a sustainable future requires.

CNU New England Urban Design Workshops

CNU New England’s “301 Urban Design Workshops” start tomorrow in Providence. I will be helping instruct two of the events with Bill Dennis, Don Powers and Rick Chellman. Thanks a bunch to our partners, Maine Association of Planners, 1000 Friends of Connecticut and Grow Smart RI, for helping make the workshops possible.