10 Steps to Good Urban Planning

The following is from Harris Steinberg’s article, 10 Steps to Good Urban Planning, on Philly.com. Harris Steinberg is the director of PennPraxis of the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, Steinberg is working with a local planning commission and a 46-member advisory group to shape a civic vision for central Delaware (from Allegheny to Oregon, and the river to I-95). The 10 steps listed below are general guidelines for planning, but some of them are specifically geared towards the Philadelphia area.

1. STREET SMARTS

Does the project respect the Philadelphia block structure or does it sprawl over many acres? Does the building squarely meet the sidewalk or float in a suburban-style landscape?

Philadelphia city blocks are easy to walk along with a fine-grained city street grid that disperses multiple building uses and traffic efficiently.

2. DOES SIZE MATTER?

How big is the project? Macy’s and Wal-Mart are both big retail boxes but Macy’s (the old Wanamaker’s) sits on a city street with parking below grade and shop windows on the sidewalk. Wal-Mart is an island surrounded by a sea of surface parking. Which would you rather walk past?

3. CITIES ARE FOR PEOPLE

Cities and riverfronts are made for people. Is the development pedestrian-friendly, designed in a way that will encourage walking, biking, strolling and jogging? Is there public art to lift the spirit?

Do the public spaces encourage people to linger and socialize or is it a gated community designed to keep the public out?

4. WATERFRONT TRAINING

Does the development support public transit, or is it solely dependent on cars? Look for development that reduces our carbon footprint and promotes mixed-use, transit-oriented projects.

5. PAVING PARADISE

How are cars handled? Are they parked discretely out of sight, underground or behind buildings? Or is the site overwhelmed by parking (on the surface or in garages)? Storing cars takes up a lot of room and sucks the vibrancy out of urban areas.

6. SELF-AWARENESS

Can you see the water from the street or does the development create a wall between the public and the water? Think about how you don’t know there’s an ocean out there when you drive down Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City. You want to be able to see the river as you move along the river.

7. EDGE CONDITION

Public access to the river’s edge is your right. After all, the river’s edges are held in public trust by the commonwealth for the people of the state. Make sure that development allows you to gracefully get to the water to boat, fish, relax and exercise. And once you’re there, make sure you can walk and bike north and south along the river.

8. WHERE’S THE BEEF?

What does the ground floor of the development look like? Are there shops and cafes, hair salons and dry cleaners? Or are there blank walls, mechanical rooms, loading docks and parking garages. Make sure that the ground floor has active, people-oriented spaces and places.

9. BUILD ON THE PAST

Does the development respect our history or destroy it? How are existing structures from the industrial past used in the new development? Will the new building be a future landmark?

10. RESPECT FOR THE RIVER

The river and its edge are part of a significant ecosystem. Does the development respect the watershed? Does it skillfully manage storm water, reduce greenhouse gases and contribute to the quality of life of the river wards?

These are the basic building blocks of sound urban planning. They put people first. It’s the city’s job to establish the street grid, create parks and open spaces, and lay down rules that the development community follows. It’s the developers’ job to build projects that respect the public’s right to live, work and play along generous streets, sidewalks and public spaces that connect us with the river and each other.

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