Archive for January, 2007

Wide Roads: Wide / multi-lane roads are a problem because they have a lot of traffic, are difficult to cross, and are generally considered to be “unsafe.” One of the objectives of urban planning is to design communities that are pedestrian-friendly, and when people don’t feel safe walking on a road they are forced to drive their cars. Who wants to walk down a road when there are three lanes of traffic flashing by at 45 mph.?

Streets without sidewalks:
Additionally, streets without sidewalks are a major problem because sidewalks are the key elements for pedestrian-friendly environments. Without a sidewalk people are more likely to be involved in accidents and less likely to travel by foot.

Culde-sacs: Culde-sacs are one of the most devastating problems with the traditional suburban community because they impede traffic flow (cars and people) and segregate residents from one another. Nobody wants to walk down a street with a cul-de-sac because these streets are dead-ends and they lack human activity. These traffic patterns should only be used when the topography of the land is unfit for a road to continue.

Front Garages: Garages located towards the front of the house are also troublesome, and the emerging belief in urban planning is that garages should not be visible on the street – they should be situated behind the house or on a rear alley. This belief is gaining popularity because the rear placement of garages makes houses look more appealing and better defines the public space (this will increase pedestrian traffic). In an architectural sense garages are generally ugly and do not add to the appeal of a house. In current suburban designs garages are being placed at the forefront of houses and often times these structures distract from the beauty of the houses.
Large Retail Stores: Large retail stores such as Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, Food Lion, and Best Buy have added to suburban sprawl in the U.S. because they decrease pedestrian activity and reduce the need for smaller/specialty stores. First of all these large retailers build huge parking lots in front of their stores. These parking lots decrease the attractiveness of walking and the architectural beauty of the landscape. Additionally, these stores “steal” the business away from smaller stores, and reduce the livelihood of smaller hopping districts or the traditional Main-Street area.


Next year I plan on studying Urban Planning in Graduate School, and I’ve applied to the University of Virginia (UVA), the University of North Carolina (UNC), Clemson University, and Virginia Tech. My interest in urban planning began two years ago when I conducted several urban planning projects in my Geographic Information Systems (GIS) classes (watershed evaluations, flood zone planning, site selection for construction, etc). Since then I’ve been scouring the Internet for literature, reading books, and browsing local newspapers to better understand the complexity of this dynamic field. So before I review any more developments I want to discuss some of the key principles of urban design.

– Daily needs (shopping, services, schools, recreation) within a 5 to 10 minute walk from home and work
– Nodes / public meeting places (parks, squares, plazas) within a 2.5 minute walk of home
– 5 minute walk = .25 miles & 2.5 minute walk = .125 miles
– Pedestrian Friendly Design: buildings close to the street, front porches, tree cover, street parking, hidden parking lots (behind buildings or underground), garages in rear lanes, narrow roads

– Interconnected grid pattern for streets: disperses and slows traffic; increases walkability; reduces the number and length of automobile trips; saves energy; and makes trips pleasant and interesting
– More than one way to travel to another location (multiple routes and modes of transportation)
– Neighborhoods are connected to other neighborhoods
– Public transit is provided whenever possible

– Homes, shops, offices, apartments, recreation, and institutional uses in the same area/region

Diverse Housing:
– Range of housing types, sizes, and price close together
– Affordable housing is designed to look like market-rate housing
– Affordable housing is not clustered together

High Quality Architecture and Community Design:
– Design emphasizes aesthetics, human comfort, and a sense of place
– Community buildings and public meeting places placed in prominent locations and used as landmarks
– Retail buildings front the sidewalk directly with no setback
– Residential lots have parking access via rear lanes and garages not facing the street
– Houses have simple fronts and are pleasing to look at
– Heights of buildings do not vary drastically from building to building
– Architecture is consistent with other neighborhoods, houses, and buildings in the area

Increased Density:
– Residences, shops, and employments are close together to conserve space, encourage walking, reduce infrastructure costs
– Close neighbors develop social interactions, make the streets lively, and watch over each other to increase security
-Offices, apartments, shops located in mixed-use buildings

Traditional Neighborhood Structure:
– The neighborhood has a distinct center and edge
– Commercial activity and housing density increases the neighborhood center
– Neighborhood center has a square/park/green

Sustainability and Environmental Quality:
– Significant environmental features are kept and celebrated
– Preserves trees
– Plan works with the topography so that grading is not needed

North Carolina 92 Arizona 64

Earlier this afternoon #4 UNC defeated #17 Arizona 92-64 in Tucson, Arizona. The Tarheels were without freshmen starter Brandon Wright and sophomore defensive specialist Marcus Ginyard, but the absences didn’t stop the heels from dominating the Wildcats on both ends of the floor. Six Tarheels ended the game with double-digit points including the freshmen twin towers Deon Thompson (14pts.) and Alex Stepheson (10pts.). The win brings UNC to 19-2 on the season and drops Arizona to 14-6.

Some Observations from the game:
Ty Lawson is the next legitimate UNC PG: The freshman point guard finished the game with 18 points, and his play helped to spark many of the Tarheels’ scoring streaks. Lawson played with tremendous poise and he handled the ball with few turnovers. His ball-handling skills led to several offensive opportunities and his defensive presence bothered the Arizona guards all day. Could Lawson be the next Ed Cota or Raymond Felton? Yes – if he stays in school.

UNC’s Freshmen Class is truly amazing: UNC’s fabulous freshmen without Brandon Wright contributed 56 points (Wayne Ellington [14 pts], Lawson [18pts], Thompson [14pts], and Stepheson [10]), and they showed that they can play with anyone in the country. Thompson and Stepheson clocked some very important minutes, and their effort in today’s game will boost Coach Williams’ confidence in them during the final stretch of the ACC schedule.

You can’t run with UNC: Early in the first half Arizona was playing well, and they were keeping up with UNC. On the offensive end the Wildcats’ guards penetrated the UNC defense and found many open players around the basket for easy buckets, and on the defensive end they slowed Carolina’s offense and made them run half-court sets. However, once UNC started to push the tempo Arizona strayed from their game plan and attempted to play the high tempo style. In that stretch Carolina increased the lead to 18 points, and Arizona began shooting ill-advised 3 pointers ( 0 for 15 three pointers at one point). The Wildcats would have been better served to slow the game down and test UNC’s freshmen big men in the paint.

Arizona is rather disappointing: Even though I watched UVA blow out Arizona earlier this year in Charlottesville, VA, I still thought this game was going to be a tough road test for UNC. I’m not disappointed with the Tarheels victory -they played great – but I thought ‘Zona would be more of a formidable foe. UNC owned the game from the opening tip, and they made Arizona conform to their style of up-tempo basketball.

Recently Fortune released the “100 Best Places to Work in 2007,” and the Internet giant Google topped the list. Google has consistently been one of the top places to work over the years because the company tries to make their offices as “employee-friendly” as possible. Here’s a short list of the perks of being a Google employee.

Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California has 11 gourmet cafeterias that serve the employees FREE meals.
Additionally the office has several snack rooms that are stocked with cereal, candy, nuts, yogurt, carrots, fresh fruit, dozens of different drinks including soda, and the best cappuccino and coffee.

Every day Google provides shuttle-bus transportation from area train stations and nearby residential locations for its workers. However, if an employee wants to drive to work they can utilize the onsite car washes or oil change centers. Once the workers have arrived to the office they can motor the office campus on personal scooters.

Google employees don’t have to worry about leaving work early to complete daily errands because their offices are equipped with almost everything they need. Workers can bring their children for daycare, do laundry, drop off dry cleaning, workout in fully equipped gyms, get a haircut, and receive doctor checkups. The Google campus is a pet-friendly facility, and dogs are allowed. And if you want to stay around the office and hang out with other employees you can play billiards, rock climb, or take languages classes.

As if a fully equipped office wasn’t enough Google also rewards its employees with cash bonuses, vacations, spa-treatments, and stock options (currently a share of Google stock costs most than $480). For example, if you drive an environmentally friendly car to work the company will pay you $5,000 for you trouble or if you recruit a friend to work for the company you can get a $2,000 bonus.

Thinking about getting a job at Google? Don’t hold your breath – Google gets 1,300 résumés a day. Hopefully other companies will take notice and design offices that allow employees to live, work, and play.

North Carolina Basketball

My love for UNC basketball started in 1992 when I was in second grade. That winter I joined the YMCA youth basketball league and played for a light blue squad named the Tarheels. The Tarheels averaged about 12 points a game and we were the only team in the league not to lose a game – we tied most of our games (damn those YMCA rules). Needless to say we were a dominant powerhouse. Midway through the season I asked my dad what a Tarheel was, and he only knew that the Tarheel was the mascot for the University of North Carolina. This information meant very little to me until he mentioned that Michael Jordan was a former Tarheel. Even though I was a 7 year old basketball novice, I knew who Michael Jordan was and I immediately became enthralled with UNC basketball.

The 1992-93 college basketball season was the first season that I had ever watched. In the 1993 NCAA tournament UNC was the number 1 seed in the East region and it knocked out East Carolina (85-65), Rhode Island (112–67), Arkansas (80-74), Cincinnati (75-68), Kansas (78-68), and Michigan (77-71) to win the National Championship. Dean Smith and company stunned Michigan’s “Fab Five” (Ray Jackson, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose and Chris Webber) in a game highlighted by Webber’s illegal timeout. The Michigan game enhanced Smith’s legendary status and cemented my love for the Tarheels.

A few weeks ago I read an article in the Daily News Record about a new community named Preston Lake being constructed in Harrisonburg, VA. The developing firm, The Hine Group, announced that they were going to build a mixed-use community outside the city limits of Harrisonburg, and the group stated that the new community would have a shopping district, unique row houses, apartments, estate homes, and small single-family cottages. Preston Lake is marketed as a pedestrian friendly, safe, vibrant, and diverse community.

The image above is the master plan for Preston Lake, and it shows the design of the community. The Hine Group’s attempt at making a sustainable urban community is commendable, and I truly believe that this community will spur the growth of future developments in this region of Virginia. However, as a student of urban design I have noticed several flaws in Preston Lake’s master plan.

Mixed-Income – One of the most important principles of urban design is mixed-use, and when this strategy is implemented successfully the resulting community is full of diverse individuals from various backgrounds and income levels. The builders of Preston Lake wanted to provide a mixed-use community and they designed a community with low-density houses, high-density apartments, shops, commercial areas, and civic buildings. However, they planned for high-end buildings for high-income people. The estate homes are generally more than $500,000, the row houses cost more than $300,000, and the shops/restaurants (e.g. Talbot’s, the Bookbinder’s grill) are relatively expensive commercial properties.

Currently, this planned community is only viable for the people in the upper middle-class or above, and the lack of affordable alternatives will segregate the community from residents of different income levels. To alleviate this problem the community should provide more affordable housing and allow businesses/shops/restaurants with more affordable prices to enter the community.

Street DesignThe layout of the streets in a neighborhood is very important in urban planning because the street network dictates how a community will interact and helps define the public and private properties. The best urban communities usually have grid-like street networks, and these networks are important because they allow people (pedestrians, drivers, joggers, bikers) to easily travel in the community, alleviate traffic congestion, and they increase social interaction. When streets are connected and pedestrian friendly, citizens can use the roads/sidewalks to exercise, and meet one another. The streets in Preston Lake have few connecting roads, dead ends, and unattractive sidewalks (from what I can see in the plans).

Community Layout Streets alone do not create a lively community. To create a vibrant community the streets need to lead to intriguing destinations (shops, restaurants, community centers, churches, parks). Thus, it is important that a community contains a variety of destinations and that these destinations are spread throughout the community. Preston Lake certainly has some attractive buildings, but they are all situated in the same area. This is a problem because all of the traffic flow will be concentrated in a certain area and other areas of the community will be deserted.

The community is named Preston Lake. To successfully integrate the various features of the community I would place shops and businesses next to the community center located on the lake, and have the houses branch out from that location. The high-density housing would be located closer to the lake, and the low-density housing would be farther away.

Even though there are some flaws in Preston Lake’s designs, there are also several features that are favorable. For example, I really like the various designs of the row houses and the fact that the Hine Group wanted to incorporate designs from cities that are historically known for the beautiful architecture. The community plans to use architecture from Charleston, SC, Georgetown, Boston, and Williamsburg. However, I would only consider living there if the community was diverse (socially and economically), vibrant, and pedestrian friendly.

Welcome to “I’m Spatial.” If you’ve stumbled upon this site you’re probably wondering what this blog is all about. The truth is I have no idea, but I plan on using this space to talk about my interests, beliefs, and anything else that comes to mind. Example posts may include EPL soccer, the MLS, UNC basketball, new urban communities, the principles of urban design, green buildings, James Madison University, hiking, etc. My favorite part of writing is brainstorming, and when I brainstorm I usually make long bulleted lists. I’m an analytical thinker and problem solver, and I am used to studying a problem and breaking it down into its individual components. Thus, I expect the entries of this blog to contain lists instead of long, complex prose. Enjoy and feel free to make comments or provide links you think I might like.

I just finished watching the U.S. Men’s National Team 2007 debut against Denmark at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA, and I must say that I was impressed by the Americans’ outing. After a 1-1 score going into the half, the U.S. came out in the second half and took care of business to finish 3-1. The game featured goals from Landon Donovan (his first in 19 games), Jonathan Bornstein, and Kenny Cooper. More importantly this friendly marked Bob Bradley’s debut as the team’s Interim Head Coach. This game was very intriguing and it left me with several afterthoughts.

First of all, the game shows that the U.S. has recovered from their trip to Germany. Even though the U.S. played an inexperienced and unfit Denmark squad, the U.S. played with confidence and didn’t show a hangover from the 2006 World Cup. After Germany many football analysts across the globe started to doubt the U.S.’s soccer abilities, and this game proves that we still have the skill, talent, and desire to compete at the highest level.

Secondly, the 3-1 finish shows that Bob Bradley can coach at the international level. With a roster full of unproven domestic players, Bradley selected a lineup that matched up with the Danish squad pretty well. However, I was more impressed with the Interim coach’s late game adjustments. It was clear that Denmark wasn’t as fit as the U.S. squad, and late substitutions of Kenny Cooper and Justin Mapp proved to be the difference.

Thirdly, the future of the U.S. National Team looks bright. This game featured several players that could earn permanent spots on the National team and evolve into future starts (Kenny Cooper, Justin Mapp, Jonathan Bornstein, Bobby Boswell). I think that Kenny Cooper might be the perfect replacement for Brian McBride. He’s big, strong, good in the air, and has great footwork for someone his size.

Finally, the Home Depot Center is a beautiful place for soccer and it is worthy of the world’s finest players. Sure the HDC might not be as big as the cathedrals in England, Spain, and Germany, but it fits the U.S. perfectly. It seats around 20,000 in a tight atmosphere, and has plenty of room for expansion. I look forward to seeing Nate Jaqua, Landon Donovan, Chris Albright, and David Beckham knock the ball around this upcoming season.

It will be interesting to see how the U.S. team plays against Mexico on February 7th. This match will truly test Bob Bradley’s skills as he has to find a balance between international and domestic players on his roster. Mexico would love to come out and embarrass Bradely and the rest of the team.