Showing posts with label Jane. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jane. Show all posts

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Squeezing Jane Jacobs into Mid-rise Urbanism


Hull Street, Boston, originally uploaded by Flickr user Asten.

It seems whenever urbanists discuss development and density issues, I often encounter an assumption that travels widely among urbanists: that the urbanism of Jane Jacobs looks no higher than the mid-rise building environment seen in the photo above. No doubt that the urban village Jane Jacobs loved in The Death and Life of Great American Cities is that mid-rise level urbanism of Greenwich Village and Boston's North End (photographed above). Clearly, Jacobs takes in the book what seems to be a kind of pragmatic, middle-ground position on the topic of residential concentration for urban vitality. If density is too low, she argued, it would fail to foster supportive diversity for primary uses, but if it went too high, it would risk imposing standardization of development with building mono-typologies and thus lose the housing variety needed to support a diverse enough population.

The problem here is the numbers.  Jacobs provided a very rough (and qualified) lower and upper limits for "optimal density" in the "Need for Concentration" chapter (Ch. 11), giving the range as 100 to 200 dwelling units per net residential acre. Urbanists, I'm afraid, widely assume the North End is the upper range for this kind of optimized typology and peg her as a mid-rise urbanist from thereon out, never bothering to take a careful look at the numbers provided. Death and Life here is taken wholesale as a paean for 4-6 story urbanity - that "just right" Mama Bear density that neither creates shadowy downtown canyons, nor 2-level rowhouse sprawl. Frankly, I suspect many urbanists interpret Jane Jacobs's requirement that "most blocks be short", her second condition for generating diversity for urbanity, as meaning staying short height-wise (she meant length-wise).

In this 4-6 story vision of neo-Jacobsian urbanism, we urbanists are quite comfortable operating, I must say. Our personal experience of Greenwich Village and the North End bears it out. We jibe with that kind of close-fitting, yet not too high, urbanity. If buildings got any higher, our snug alleys and pocket parks become subsumed in ominous Gotham city shadows.

But as a land planner, this chapter always startles me when I see the numbers.  In no way do I associate, as Ed Glaeser does, 6 stories with 150 dwelling units per net residential acre! This is at least 8 stories, and that's if parking areas/structures were not to count as part of the residential acreage.  With parking,150 dwelling units per net residential acre (150 DUA for short) looks like a district with a healthy mixture of development that includes many 10+ story high rises. Think Portland's Pearl District.

Pearl District, Portland, Oregon
Why 150 DUA needs buildings taller than 6 stories is a matter of how buildings use blocks.  Most importantly, residential units just do not like to get any deeper than 35 feet from the nearest window.   This fact alone means that your footprint can't match the lot perimeter.  When your blocks are 330 to 400-foot wide (as they are for the vast majority of pre-war urban districts in North America), mid-rise multifamily lots are pretty much stuck below 70% building coverage, not just for architectural taste, but for human needs. (In Portland, the smaller blocks help bump up coverage efficiencies. ...As Jacobs said, frequent streets are good!)

Yes, architects can cut into the open space with projecting wings (like those skinny Brooklyn flats with the plans that look like the white piano keys), but, what that means - and why we are loathe to do so beyond 70% coverage - is that your lower units start losing access to sunlight at 4+ story heights. Even Jacobs notes the disadvantage of coverage that is too high in Chapter 11, discussing the North End in particular. The block on the left side of the North End photo at the top, for example, had 72% building coverage in 1960 - way too high for comfort for her (actually, she called it "intolerable"). That is why it was 123 DUA in that 4-7 story height range.

For most 1-5 acre lots, 60% lot coverage for 6+ story multifamily development is a sober number not to surpass for your development. If you want to hit 150 DUA with this, you will need to go to at least 8 stories to secure adequately sized multi-bedroom units.  That's what 150 DUA looks like at a bare minimum with underground parking.  If we elect to squeeze 150 DUA into 6 stories instead, we are going to be building too many one bedroom units - exactly what we shouldn't be building, according to Jacobs, if we want to promote diversity! To use her terms, that would "standardize" your development to stamp out diversity.

In other words, the six stories Ed Glaeser allotted to Jacobsian urbanism is actually exactly what will undermine it by squeezing it from the other side: it will either not create enough density or not enough diverse housing with density. He would be making his point much more pungently if he enlisted Jane Jacobs as an ally in his argument for going taller. 

More than likely, you are going to be using a lot of high-rises to get anywhere near 150 DUA district-wide.  Especially if you are going to be building a diversity of housing products.

Part of adding diversity is building affordably, and for that you also need construction efficiencies that make it worthwhile for developers. Because the price of steel is so high compared to wood-frame construction (which can't get higher than 6 stories), developers don't like to use it in that vaunted luxury mid-range of 7-12 stories, unless they are building in a market that actually can support that product. I would argue that, in fact, we have to climb higher, up to 170 DUA at least, in order to get enough supportable high-rises that can add affordable family unit products to a district. We need to escape the middle!

Moreover, this makes good sense for architectural reasons. The mixed-use buildings in the 4-6 level range are needed to provide "relief" for daylighting their taller brethren. That mixed typology in a district to me seems what we should be extolling as "neo-Jacobian urbanists" (the Vancouver strategy). By easing regulatory pressures to going higher, urbanist development is able to become more affordable again to the middle class, and I can only see Jacobs applauding Glaeser here. Where she would disagree is that we can settle on one solution to suit every frame; in fact, the mixtures and exceptions are important. Sometimes, regulation promotes. As an architect who has to think about things like daylight and the needs of humans and sheer construction realities, i.e. "regulations" of a sort, I have to add that the physical mixture of diverse architectural products, short and tall, side by side, can secure multiple benefits.

In short, don't trust Ed Glaeser when he talks about architecture. As Adam Christian states, "Glaeser conceives of cities first and foremost as consisting of people and connections, and secondarily of places and buildings." Indeed. (Only the cool imagination deduces six-story walk-ups for one hundred fifty 1600 sq.ft. apartments in an acre!) But, urbanists, we gotta take Ed's advice just the same, for his and Jane's reasons, ...and go high. Very high.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Freeway in the City, Of Big Bosses and Big Digs


Rose Kennedy Greenway, originally uploaded by Dan Bock.

The story of America has always been a story of large personalities. As 21st Century urbanists, we look at the transformation of late 20th Century urban America and can’t help noticing how large personalities like Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Robert Moses played a role seemingly promoting the postwar demise of America’s cities, a reading partly propped by Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities. Interestingly, this reading may be one of the ways that we continue to flatter ourselves as urban designers. As products of planning and design school, we like to believe the enterprise of urban design matters greatly to the illth and health for America’s cities. Now that we got our utopias in line or much sobered up and humanized, why, let’s clean up the splatter left by the reign of modernists.

Uhm… Was it really Wright and Corbu that did us in in the first place? Was it the boing-o headed utopias of these bad boys of architecture that gave us separated land uses, dehumanized cores and sprawl-burbs? What actually did contribute to the postwar demise of America’s cities?

Frank Gruber has been doing a lot of careful thinking on his Huffington Post blog on this topic. As an entertainment lawyer and Santa Monica Lookout News columnist, Gruber sure does an exorbitant amount of reading and thinking on the topic of urbanism. But (maybe because he is not an architect?) Gruber does not spend much time on contemporary urbanism’s favorite whipping boys and, in fact, thinks little of them in his attempt to figure out why America destroyed its great cities. In a provocative arc that has been unfolding over the past year on his blog, Gruber’s attention has turned to his current working lineup of “suspects” behind city-murder. Interestingly, his latest post is a review of Earl Swift’s The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways, in which Gruber has come across some really big bosses who may have actually played a leading role in the demise of urban conditions in America, and they are not the persons most urbanists have probably even heard of. The biggest one of these was the technocrat Thomas MacDonald, who spent a whopping three plus decades (from 1919 to 1953) as head of the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (the predecessor to the Federal Highway Administration). It was MacDonald who crafted the flesh and bones of the 1944 highway bill that created the downtown slicing interstate system of highways, which the 1956 appropriations bill implemented wholesale without anyone really inspecting the particulars, much less the implications, of the national plan.

While superhighway construction helped disperse industrial activity and middle class habitation to the periphery, a real devastating effect was taking the freeways into the center cities themselves. Gruber summarizes why this was important to our postwar cities since, unlike Europe, where cities preserved the traditional fabrics of their transit-served cores by stopping suburban limited access highways at a ring road around the core, Americans wanted freeways to connect to the center “under the profoundly mistaken view that their cities would revive if they were connected to the suburbs by high-speed roads.” Gruber notes that the key decision to bring freeways into cities, “was never debated in a meaningful way”.

I would add to this: we still have not had this debate! Gruber lists the epic Big Dig among the efforts to repair the freeway incisions, which is a seriously wasteful example to contemplate in repairing freeway incisions to the core. In fact, it demonstrates the opposite. We should not have had a Big Dig, except maybe to park the cars right there. (Louis Kahn’s plan for terminal parking in Philadelphia at immense parking-deck “harbors” serving the downtown thresholds was a pretty darn good solution for a modernist, I must say.) The right to go right in to (and in fact, more accurately, through) downtown via freeway is so tied up to our unconscious conceptions of how the city should function, that we don’t even bother to question it. Not long ago, Jarrett Walker’s fictional city for a transit network planning game he devised was roundly critiqued for its seeming lack of freeway "completion" on his blog Human Transit. Jarrett was surprised that he had to defend his decision to stop the freeway before the core, pointing out some obvious North American examples that spared the core.

That we have not yet had a holistic debate about this even among urbanist circles is telling enough. Still the urbanist solution appears to come down to "capping" downtown freeways. An image of the wind-howling linear park over the Big Dig was used to tout it as a good precedent recently by the consultants presenting the Charlotte Center City Partners’ 2020 Vision Plan (a similar park is being proposed to cap a portion of our downtown loop). Tellingly, (unlike the photo above) not a single person appeared in the photo. A transit engineer I know and I looked at each other, each of us thinking the same thing. Immediately, he started sketching on his napkin. He sketched a map of the downtown freeway loop and started “X”-ing out the lower southern section (the part we call the John Belk Freeway), implying to take out the redundant lower section of our very small and tight-curved inner freeway loop. Easily, I grasped the immense power of his solution (yes, engineers can think brilliantly about urbanist solutions too!). Immediately, visions of a wide boulevard with a welcoming median replacing the loop came to us, with multiple rows of trees and maybe with active and passive uses in it, as in median promenades in Paris. Such a boulevard – by also separating faster through traffic from slower local traffic – could easily improve the traffic needs of the city by granting drivers immediate access to the grid, instead of bringing them to limited interchange chokepoints that actually slow everyone down. This very act of healing the sutures, by removing all the ramps and network barriers to funnel off traffic to them, would also open up the highly fragmented conditions of the adjacent grid two blocks deep in either direction, greatly connecting the city vastly more than imagined by the said meager capping, which just covers over the traffic backing chokepoints (a proposal for the capping can be found here; in fact, this particular proposal would even worsen traffic since it would demand additional rerouting in the fabric).

By offering a grand boulevard to front to instead, suddenly you are not only augmenting, but creating more value to all parcels adjacent to John Belk Freeway. Instead of looking at an immense freeway chasm, buildings will be facing a green boulevard supporting urbanism! All of a sudden you’ve created an amazing asset for the city around the entire southern periphery of our downtown, a far greater impact than the three-block long capping park proposed.

There is plenty of room here...

Click on image to view in Google Maps

...To do this in Charlotte:

Click on image to view in Google Maps

Part of the reason why we haven’t had this debate meaningfully in our country about the actual need for freeways to go through our downtowns, I think, is because of that form-obsessed, architecture-based mythology of urbanists that blames modernism for everything. This myth constantly sidelines urbanists from talking cogently about freeways (we prefer to talk about the problems with buildings). For someone who talked so much about the street and who was a key activist fighting Robert Moses’s plans to cut a freeway through Manhattan, Jane Jacobs notably does not mention Thomas MacDonald even once among her historic cast of evil-doers in Death and Life, all of whom have by now become the “usual suspects” of separated use, road-based, sprawl promoting planning. (I find this dearth of freeway talk in Death and Life very strange. Jacobs, notably, left Frank Lloyd Wright’s name off the list but disparaged Lewis Mumford amongst the gang of the usual suspects—who, ironically enough, actually led the late counter-charge against MacDonald and his downtown-slicing plans.)

Perhaps in obsessing on the forms, the hubris of the profession has detracted us a bit from the energy transferring mechanics that would most effectively “retrofit” America’s cities back to their greatness.

Friday, July 2, 2010

How Savannah Generates Diversity

An Odonomy of Savannah VII: A Tale of Two Grids

~ part i ~
how savannah generates diversity

Four-way intersections really do make an active city.
A round of interesting posts on the blogosphere lately concern the attributes and forms of American city grids.  While some have questioned their utility or highlighted their shortcomings (at least those of prominent precedents), there are some really good reasons for valuing city grids.  I'd like to point to another (which is more important to me): grids multiply route options and thus help generate land use diversity in open conditions that contribute to a city's economic prospects and resilience.  How well different grids functionally and efficiently connect people is the important attribute that needs measurement and observation.  Perhaps, Jarrett Walker brings up, we avoid the topic of travel efficiencies because Urban-ist discourse tends to devalue so prominently the virtues of "purposefulness", seeing as we American flaneurs all tend to prioritize the qualities of places with the complexity of texture that invites spontaneity, slow and not-so-purposeful wandering.  Speed and directness of travel are goals that we have learned all too well tend to erode the design quality of our urban places.  But, I see Jarrett's point.  The fact is, the well-designed network is functioning best when it works to meet and preserve multiple functions.  Some of those functions may include speed and "cold" efficiency.  How grids find ways to meet these cross-purposes in mobility and land use economy simultaneously -- all important factors in the life of cities and many of which are seemingly at conflict on paper and in much of our urbanist discourse -- may just be one of the most important of their attributes.

Jarrett's vantage points have resonance with my experience.  My formative travel and collective graduate school experience taught me that cities, even their forms, always find their sweet spots.  The cultural endeavors of mankind (including languages and their products, written works) tend to have this inside quality.  They serve their peculiar and diverse cultures in ways that are often hidden from direct observation.  However, such observation is possible if you have the patience of a insider or a philologist.  A philologist inspects form, the transmutation of words or their use, to tease out the cultural development of meaning.  Observe the city well, Jane Jacobs (that philologist of urban form) suggested, and you will discover why many well-intentioned interventions mistranslate the city and often miss their mark.  The underlying purpose of the grid, similarly, is to hit one of the sweet spots of cultural work that actually generates urban vitality.  This work of the grid, like language itself, may be invisible at our scales of experience and to generational observation often.  Such transmutable vitality of the bones is what Miss Jane called the inherent "diversity" of cities.  She pointed out that local interventions into grid functions often frustrate the "generators of diversity", some of these traveling at the scales of time so slow they are epochal, and we just haven't taken notice of their dynamic economy.  An undisturbed, well-connected grid will naturally advance and balance the simultaneous, diverse pulls of the urban economy.  Savannah's Historic District form, more than any other grid I know, crystallizes this fact and, in fact, employs it to generate commercial and civic vitality in manner we can plainly read.

In fact, Savannah does this well and transparently, because, almost unique among cities, its historic fabric does not contain one grid, but two.  The second major division in the Odonomy of Savannah's Historic District is the division between Savannah's two grids.  The 3/4 mile x 3/4 mile Historic District is a composite grid created out of two overlapping grids. Understand the virtues of these two grids and you apprehend one of the generators of urban land use diversity in Savannah's grid.  I call these complementary grids the "Fast Grid" and the "Slow Grid" due to the relative speed of vehicular traffic on them.

Conceptual Map of Savannah's "Fast Grid"
The Fast  Grid, or Ward Grid, is a simple squarish grid composed of Savannah's "primary" loading streets and avenues, which divide up the 3/4 mile square district into a 6 by 5 array of modules averaging 680x820 feet. These modules are the signature wards of Savannah.  At the center of the majority of these modules are thus the signature garden squares (depending on what you include, 22 squares presently exist, but some might want to include the Colonial Park Cemetery as the honorific 23rd). This Fast Grid, really, represents what most grided cities have typically for their gridiron.  Usually, the interstitial circulation inside this primary grid is discordant, discontinuous and un-patterned or simply serves parking or service uses, if it even exists at all.  With most cities, including my own, the story of the grid stops here, and that is where it also stops conceptually, by precedence, in the minds of planners, discerning designers, public officials, lawyers and not-so-discerning developers.

Broughton Street, the "Main Street" of Savannah
The most important streets in Savannah are the east-west loading streets of the Fast Grid, including Broughton Street at left.  They are the two-way streets depicted in teal in the 9x9 "conceptual map" here for the Fast Grid.  They are spaced between 735 and 875 feet (centerline to centerline) and get progressively more distant from one another further south.  These streets are valuable for two main reasons.  Firstly, they are the streets in the district with the widest right-of-way and that represent the most direct and/or prioritized routes for the important regional east-west direction of travel, the direction of regional commerce between the bay areas to the east and the access points to the coastal commerce routes (including I-95) on the west.  Secondly, they are the only streets in the district that are continuously fronted by buildings on both sides of the street.  These two attributes together makes them valuable for commercial activity, real estate investment, and overall use vitality. While these streets are in many ways similar, they often exhibit dramatic differences from one another in terms of their activity, use-mixture, transportation and environmental qualities.  Each has a peculiar valence that is not coincidentally tied to local conditions and to the subtle and manifold adjustments traveling through the grid or creating disruptions to its normative fabric.  I don't have time to get into the details now, but be assured that this fascinating order of land use diversity generation will get further treatment down the road.

A car stops for a cyclist on Drayton St. ..Is this any barrier to crossing?
Savannah's primary avenues (the purple streets in the conceptual "Fast Grid" map) represent the north-south streets of the Fast Grid, and these are spaced 620-730 feet apart, with the widest Ward "columns" being in the center. Unlike the primary loading streets, these streets often have very narrow rights-of-way. The perimeter avenues of the Historic District, MLK on the west and Broad Street on the east, are wider two-way streets, creating natural terminations to loading street travel, while the central Fast Grid avenues are two lane one-way streets (like Drayton Street in the foreground of this image).  The fact that these central avenues in the interior of the grid are one-way is handy since one-way, two-lane travel poses comparatively little hindrance for east-west crossing traffic of all modes. Traffic on one-way streets tends to "platoon" in bunches and so offers plenty of opportunity for traffic and pedestrians to cross with little, if any, wait times.  The one-way travel also allows easier turning oppurtunities and to thus avoid queuing.  To me, these one-way avenues are the second-most important asset for fluid travel in Savannah's grid (we'll talk about the top-most later). Vehicular travel on these one-ways is effortless, relatively unhindered (except at the intersections with the primary loading streets) and fast, as it should be for one-way grid streets - an important factor since Savannah is oriented north-south geographically and therefore these streets serve their function well as conveyances of cross-town and internal commuting traffic.

Since these primary Fast Grid streets (both loading streets and avenues) are the most heavily traveled by vehicles in the grid, the intersections of the Fast Grid streets represent the largest conflict points for vehicular travel. The majority of signalized intersections in Savannah (which, by the way, occur far fewer times per square mile than in a typical grid, like Charlotte's) are therefore at the four-way intersections of the Fast Grid streets. Since the Fast Grid loading streets usually have two to three extra traffic-controlled intersections to navigate across the grid and have lots of pedestrians and opposing turning movements to deal with at the intersections, these streets can stack appreciably and can congest at times. Because of the heavy east-west traffic volumes sometimes produced by the "cross-bay" traffic, they can present formidable challenges for pedestrian and bike crossing, and, at places, such travel along them. Thankfully, with the exception of Jones Street, they are given much attention in terms of traffic control.  Only one of the streets, median-less Bay Street (at the top near the waterfront), represents persistent pedestrian and traffic problems around the clock. Bay Street is easily the greatest traffic deficit of Savannah's grid, especially since the right-of-way is very narrow for its volumes and much of the cross-bay and industrial/port trucking traffic is forced to route through this bottleneck. But many waterfront boulevards in touristy and busy port cities usually are a bit congested after all (and perhaps should be).

As I mentioned, all of the primary loading streets are given priority except for Jones Street. Avenue traffic does not stop anywhere for Jones Street. The fact that you only have only up to five potential stopping points, thus, between Bay Street and Gaston Street, the southern-most Historic District street, really makes travel on those avenues unhindered, especially as you move further south away from the most urbanized portion of the district near the waterfront. Despite covering the same rough distance (actually, a little bit greater distance) than the east-west Historic District streets, you can usually manage to travel the entire district from Bay to Gaston in a car during rush hour in about 3 minutes, by far the fastest average travel times I recorded among all of the grid's through streets. (Yes, I timed this in my car, keeping pace with the traffic, timing runs between 7:30-9:00 am and 4:30-6:30 pm on most of the district's through streets at least twice). In normal rush hour traffic, I was usually a full one to two minutes slower on the primary loading streets getting across the grid east-west from Broad Street to MLK.  (See...These kinds of useful facts are what I wish people recorded somewhere about grids--hopefully, real-time GPS data might some day prove to be a boon for this kind of research.)

Conceptual Map of Savannah's "Slow Grid"
Almost all of the intersections along the Fast Grid streets are four-way intersections (most exceptions happening at the streets on the perimeter of the Historic District). However, the second grid of Savannah, the Slow Grid (which I shall nickname the Southern Grid!), is distinguished by its three-way vehicular intersections and its consequent predilection for more aimless, prevaricating, and unburdened travel. This grid is composed of the streets that all create T-intersections with the sides of the garden squares.

I like to think of the Fast Grid avenues as creating a "pressure drop" in the grid, pulling out traffic circulating in the Slow Grid, much as anteater snouts would suck termites out of a mound (or "java chips" through a straw...you pick your metaphor).  The garden squares help this process by introducing centrifugal forces to vehicular traffic in the Slow Grid.  They induce "high pressure" in the vehicular flow network.  (Of course, some drivers like to travel in the "high pressure" zones nonetheless.  They just like driving around the squares, enjoying the scenery.  That's ok!  Savannah gives them that option.  You can be a slow poke in Savannah just fine.  ...There are your slow grid people and your fast grid people everywhere, but, normally, they just don't travel separately.)

Not really a barrier to pedestrian mobility (a T-intersection on a square) 
This relationship, however, is exactly inverted for pedestrian traffic.  Pedestrians, as well as cyclists, bike taxis, horse buggies, and the like instead gravitate to the squares, for a multitude of reasons, including shade, attractive uses, slower traffic (sometimes including foot traffic on the travel way), very wide and generous streets (reserved for aforementioned slow traffic and "jaywalkers")... and the much greater ease and safety of crossing streets (partly the reason for the ubiquitous jaywalking), ...just to name a few.  3-way or T-intersections, by the way, when they limit pedestrian movement to only three directions do discourage pedestrian travel...NOT so the case in Savannah!  Around Savannah's squares, T-intersections just discourage walking in only four directions (therewise folks even feel free to push their strollers along the travel way).

The garden squares and "low pressure" avenues exert two forces that create the land use diversity that is relatively evenly dispersed in Savannah's historic district:

Along Drayton Street.  ...A city in flux.
1. First, they divert vehicular traffic away from the garden squares and therefore direct it to the Fast Grid.  This helps commerce along the loading streets, by giving their frontage more passing eyes to attract users, and creates a need for commercial frontage serving convenience (stop and go) services to concentrate on the avenues, where frontage is not as important to preserve and thus vehicular access can be accommodated.  For such convenience commerce to take a hold on the avenue, however, it has to creatively make space for parking and compete directly with civic and residential uses to do so.  Thus, it has to make a lasting case for itself.  In the image here (and in my banner at the top) is an old garage site on Drayton Street, one of Savannah's one-way avenues.  As you can see, this garage is trying hard to re-open a case for itself.  I can't help but to notice how it is now trying to do this.  To me, it represents a city in flux.  Like my blog name, it is an image I place on my banner in order to posit it as a question: what is the "proper scale" to understand this?  (I chose to name this blog "Proper Scale" in order to query the starting assumptions of transportation and land use discourse...and to be open to reconfiguring my own, especially for my Southern context).   Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for this garage, now a Vespa dealership, it is on an in-bound avenue, not an out-bound one, where I suspect its original use could have fared better.  Perhaps, it should have been a donut shop instead.  In Savannah, these things matter.  With a form like Savannah's, they can't help but to matter.

2. Secondly, they pool pedestrian and slower traffic to the interior of the wards.  The garden squares thus support amiable uses geared to attracting walking and more leisured traffic.  They also invite the frontage of civic uses that are not always open around the clock, but, nonetheless, need a ceremonial front addressing a public place with foot traffic.  The uses on the Trust Lots east and west of the gardens are therefore perfect for civic uses since they are tied directly to both kinds of traffic, creating a presence on both the Fast Grid avenues for the convenience of users and the Slow Grid squares for their ceremonial frontage.

A corner use on Bull Street
On the north and south sides of the garden squares, the corners created by the intersecting north-south Slow Grid avenues tend to support street-level commercial uses, since these are important funnel points for pedestrian traffic.  The uses best supported here are corner coffee shops, galleries, cafes, museums and shops catering to leisure, ...not convenience.  The attractive pull between the central waterfront area and Forsyth Park to the south on Gaston Street makes Bull Street, the central north-south avenue connecting the garden squares between, the most important concentrator of pedestrian-geared uses in Savannah.

Because of its form, Savannah attracts a remarkable density of civic uses, but not even Savannah can support so many, so, where civic uses are less supportable, other uses, typically gorgeous Southern mansions, take their place on those prominent trust lots. The garden squares along Bull Street especially attract a high concentration of civic uses.  Going away from Bull Street east to west, the garden square character progressively becomes more quiet.  The squares on the perimeter form the communal heart of attractive little urban neighborhoods that, surely, still must preserve something of the original serene quality of Oglethorpe's early Savannah.

But the connection to Forsyth Park is not the only reason higher intensity uses concentrate on Bull Street and its squares.  Simply, Bull Street is in the center.  Uses in the center have more access to other uses and thus more users.  Uses on the perimeter have less.  Intensity of use steps higher in two directions in Savannah.  Intensity steps higher going north towards the waterfront; this is the response to the pull of the attractive edge.  And, intensity steps up going to the center in the east-west loading direction; this is the pull of centrality.  So Savannah adapts to its regional shape, as well as its modular dynamics.

SCAD saw low overhead in Savannah's old uses. The economic relationship reciprocated.


Savannah's form, as one can hopefully begin to see here, provides simultaneous-countervailing centrifugal and centripetal pulls that ensure a distributed land use diversity, stepped in intensity and navigating transitions of use dictated by internal form, greater geography and a patterned but variegated transportation network.  You can read Savannah like a book, and see stories within stories just walking square to square, without even needing to purchase a guidebook.  You just need to learn her alphabet, her grammar and her thought patterns of time.  For a primer on that language, here is a good starting point.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Savannah's Kind of Blue







Today is August 17, 2009. Exactly 50 years ago Miles Davis and Bill Evans's Kind of Blue was released, which, not only introduced modal playing to jazz composing, but has remained the best selling jazz album of all time. In the spirit of Flamenco Sketches, I present here variations on a theme. This is the lively and sad moods of Savannah's historic district squares. Enjoy.



With much love and respect for Miles Davis, who, along with Savannah and Jane Jacobs, teaches me much about the art of planning without planning...improvisational urban design.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Life of Great American Philly


I had a chance to visit another cool market: the Italian Market in Philly. This one, like Eastern Market's outdoor sidewalk layout, demonstrates and teaches how these markets can simply make awesome use of sidewalk space. Very simple. Vendors take over the parking spaces and sale their produce to the passing public on the sidewalks, sheltered by awnings. In a way, the value of a sidewalk truly realized, bringing support and vitality to the shops along the street. The Italian Market must be one of the most organically developed little farmer's markets in an urban area in existence. I was summarily impressed by the diversity (in age, ethnicity and income) and vitality of South Philly's neighborhoods. It was also more instruction that mixed use environments really thrive with dense neighborhoods along narrow streets. No open space is needed...Hence, to me, Philly is a remarkable lesson in Jane-Jacobs-style urbanism.

Speaking of which, I also had a chance to visit Philly's three "Jane Jacobs" parks for the first time: Rittenhouse Sq.(shown above), Washington Sq., and Franklin Sq.. I've only previously known these parks from Ch. 5 of Death and Life of Great American Cities and so it was an interesting compare and contrast journey to experience them. They have each changed greatly from the time Jane Jacobs wrote about them. Rittenhouse is a pure people watching paradise, a condensed Central Park...Like the public arenas one experiences in Europe, where people gather just to revel in the presence of people. Washington Sq., the "Pervert Park" has become Jane Jacobs's pram-loving Rittenhouse Sq...The place where mommas with kiddos go to hang out. And Franklin Sq., the "Skid Row Park" has a restored fountain, immense playground and carousel that caters to exclusively to kids. I viewed a birthday party in progress when I visited. I wonder where the homeless have relocated. Interestingly, the parks in South Philly are mostly dedicated to active uses and playfields. No neighborhood parks needed (although there are some...which were rather depopulated, for many of the same reasons Jane observed about the former state of Franklin and Washington Squares). Interesting to think and dwell on many contrasts along my walks around Philly, surely, soon to dethrone DC and NYC as the coolest city in the East (if it hasn't already...I'm sure Philly's residents would rather keep that information to themselves)...Check it out!...