Archive for the ‘Urban Design’ Category

Earlier today Lauren Fulbright of the Daily News Leader reported that the Frontier Culture museum is negotiating a lease agreement with Petrie Ross Ventures, an Annapolis-based development firm, to build a shopping center on 40 acres of land owned by the Museum.

The new development, if it passes several stages of approval, will be called the Centre at Staunton. The property in question is situated along Route 250 and next to the Sheetz gas station. Eight and a half acres of this land has already been leased to a company called Awasawa, which plans to build an artisan center on the site. The DeJarnette Center is also located on this parcel (a historic landmark I have discussed many times in the past), and it sounds as if the development firm will have to knock it down to make room for their mixed-use development with “retail, banking, restaurants, theater/artisans center, museum and hospitality.”

Translation: big-box stores, chain restaurants, and parking spaces.

I’m not shocked by this announcement because the Frontier Culture Museum, including former Mayor John Avoli, has tried to entice other developers to purchase this parcel of land. According to Fulbright “the museum spent three years negotiating with a company called Dierman/Regency to put a retail center on the site, the deal fell through about a year and a half ago.”

However, I must say that I’m disappointed in this news for several reasons:

  • The DeJarnette Center will be demolished: I’m an advocate for historic preservation, smart growth, adaptive re-use, and infill development. Historic buildings, including the DeJarnette Center, can teach us about the past, and help us find ways to build a brighter future.The DeJarnette Center may have a sullied reputation, but its architecture is astonishing and unmatched by anything we build today. Plus, the building has already been constructed (although it could use a few touch-ups) and the infrastructure is in place so the developers and the City don’t have to spend additional money on new materials and utilities. The developers want to build a hotel on the property — why not leave the DeJarnette Center and turn it into an attractive and unique hotel? Just look at how attractive the Villages at Staunton will be!
  • The new development will mar the entrance corridor: Local officials for the City of Staunton have been working on an Entrance Corridor Overlay District that will restrict the types of development that can occur in the City’s entrance corridors. The Overlay District is intended to beautify the City; protect cultural, scenic, and natural resources; and promote sustainable development. The Frontier Culture Museum is situated along Route 250 and Interstate 81, one of the biggest corridors in the City. This area is already dominated with big-box retailers and chain restaurants. The open green space on the Museum’s property served as pleasant reminder of the area’s rural character, and it was a great entrance because it clearly delineated the City’s boundary. Tourists and motorists knew when they were leaving the County and entering the City. The new development will blur this line and deminish the land’s ascetic values.
  • The development will pull business away from Downtown Staunton: The Centre at Staunton? First of all, we’re in the United States not the United Kingdom. We say “center” not “centre.” Petrie Ross Ventures completely ignored the local (actually national) vernacular. However, they were very clever in their attempt to use British terminology to disguise the fact that they are adding to Staunton/Augusta County’s sprawl and haphazard commercial strip. The “Centre at Staunton” is laughable because it is not located in the center of the City, and if this development is built it will only draw business away from the City’s center, its historic downtown. The development should be called the “Periphery at Staunton: On the outside looking in.”

The City of Staunton is fortunate to have a vibrant downtown district with beautiful buildings, thriving businesses, and a strong sense of community. It takes decades for areas like Staunton to develop organically, and once it’s gone it’s difficult to replace. City officials, local residents, and developers should make stronger efforts to protect this unique area. If I could impart one message to Petrie Ross Ventures and the City of Staunton it would be: Grow in not out. We should try to reinforce the City’s urban core while conserving the periphery.

Plus, in a time of rising gas prices doesn’t it make more sense to develop more walkable communities?

I will write more on this issue later in the week once I’ve had more time to examine the developer’s proposal and think about the pertinent issues.


Trees are the lungs, water filters, and air conditioners of our cities as they clean the air, purify surface water, and cool urban heat islands. According to the article “The Power of Trees — Investing in Natural Capital” by a Virginia Tech research group, trees provide more than $400 billion in stormwater, air quality, and energy benefits every year in the United States.

On a smaller scale, a large tree in your front yard can save you about $29 in summertime AC costs, absorb 10 pounds of air pollutants, intercept 760 gallons of rainfall in its crown, and clean 330 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Furthermore, trees are good because they…

  • Increase property values
  • Enhance aesthetics
  • Make us feel safe
  • Block bursts of wind
  • Provide wildlife habitats
  • Have a traffic calming effect
  • Decrease aggressive behavior
  • Reduce stress
  • Provide a space for children to play
  • Create buffer zones
  • Provide shade
  • Increase community pride

So, plant a tree and reap the rewards!

1. West Edmonton Mall – 20,000 spaces
2. Seattle Sea-Tac Airport – 13,000 spaces
3. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, McNamara Terminal – 11,500 spaces
4. Universal Studios, South Facility – 10,200 spaces
5. Disney World, Magic Kingdom and Epcot Lots – 23,000 spaces combined
6. Disneyland’s Mickey and Friends Parking Structure – 10,000 spaces
7. Chicago O’Hare Airport, Main parking garage – 9,266 spaces
8. Toronto Lester B. Pearson International Airport, Terminal 1 parking lot – 9,000 spaces
9. Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Daily Parking Garage – 8,400 spaces
10.Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Terminal D Parking Garage – 8,100 spaces

This list was published in The list consists of parkings lots from shopping malls, airports, and theme parks. Click on the link to check out these ugly monstrosities.

The following is a checklist compiled by the Project for Public Spaces that outlines some characteristics that are common in “great cities.”

Community goals are a top priority in city planning

  • Citizens regularly participate in making their public spaces better and local leaders and planning professionals routinely seek the wisdom and practical experience of community residents.
  • Residents feel they have responsibility and a sense of ownership for their public spaces.
  • Neighborhoods are respected, fostered and have unique identities. There is a sense of “pride of place.”
  • Public spaces are planned and managed in a way that highlights and strengthens the culture of a particular community.
  • The emphasis is on pedestrians, not cars

  • Pedestrians and bicyclists are more numerous than vehicles (on at least some streets).
  • Streets function as “places” and have numerous attractive destinations along them.
  • Transit options are available to get to places where people want to go and are used by all kinds of people.
  • Parking does not occupy most of the public space; free parking is difficult to find.
  • There is a walkable commercial center convenient to every neighborhood that provides everyday needs and services (grocery store, pharmacy, library, medical services, coffee shop etc.)
  • New development projects enhance existing communities

  • New developments, both public and private, are designed to include mixed uses and to be easily reached without using a private vehicle.
  • Developments are human scale and connect with places to cut through rather than mega scale, internalized and islands unto themselves.
  • There is a mix of new housing types and layouts that allows and encourages people to grow old there.
  • Public spaces are accessible and well-used

  • There are public places within both neighborhoods and downtowns where people can gather informally and regularly.
  • Parks feature attractions for people of different ages and are used at different times of day; they are more than simply recreation facilities.
  • The waterfront allows people to actually reach the ocean, lake or river.
  • Amenities (benches, transit waiting areas, etc) are comfortable, conveniently located and designed to support the intended use.
  • Negative uses or users do not dominate the public spaces.
  • Both children and seniors can easily and safely walk to where they want to go (e.g. children can walk to school, seniors can walk to movies, grocery stores).
  • Civic institutions are catalysts for public life.

  • Schools are centrally located to support other neighborhood activity.
  • The library is a multi-purpose and popular place where people go for many different types of activities.
  • Civic institutions (museums, community centers, hospitals, government buildings, etc.) have resources and activities that appeal to people of all ages and all cultures in the community.
  • Local economic development is encouraged

  • There are many locally owned businesses-markets, mom-and-pop stores, street vendors, and larger independent stores; these local businesses are encouraged by the city; people know their retailers by name.
  • The mix of locally owned businesses is such that at least some of them are “third places” -places where people can just spend time.
  • Local businesses work with schools to provide internships or part time jobs.
  • Public spaces are managed, programmed and continually improved.

  • The public realm is managed to maximize community interaction and to facilitate public outcomes.
  • Spaces are managed to provide opportunities for generations to mix.
  • The Corner neighborhood in Charlottesville might be on the verge of a major change. According to John Ruscher at a CVS Pharmacy might take over the buildings occupied by Plan 9 Music, Satellite Ballroom (including Higher Grounds Coffee), and Just Curry. Currently the change is a rumor hoovering around local Charlottesville blogs, but the building’s tenants have confirmed that the CVS change has been discussed.

    In 2006 Robert Hargett and the Rebkee Company proposed a CVS at the corner of West Main Street and McIntire Road, but the proposal was shot down by Charlottesville’s Board of Architectural Review.

    Would these businesses be missed? Coffee drinkers can go to Starbucks, dinners can get Thai food at Lemongrass, and music shoppers can get digital music online. The Ballroom is virtually the only venue on the Corner capable of holding concerts, but if this establishment leaves music fans will can make the trek downtown to listen to live music.

    However, does the Corner need a CVS? Currently, there is Cohn’s on the Corner and two hole-in-the-wall mini-marts.

    Furthermore, the Corner already has a Q’doba, Starbucks, and Jimmie John’s. The real question is, what kind of businesses do you want to see? Locally owned businesses that make the neighborhood unique or chain stores and restaurants that make the Corner look like every other commercial strip in America.

    Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil and renown architect and urban planner, talks about cities as the solutions to sustainability. Jaime talks about the designs of cities, Bus Rapid Transportations (BRT) systems, education, and creative cities.

    My favorite quote from the talk:
    “The car is like your mother-in-law. You have to have good relationship with her, but she cannot command your life….If the only woman in your life is your mother-in-law, you have a problem.”

    A naked street is simply one that does not have street signs or markings for automobiles (e.g. stop signs, painted lanes, speed limits). The idea behind naked streets is that if automobile drivers are disoriented then they are more likely to slow down and pay attention to their surroundings. Naked streets are designed to allow pedestrians and drivers to occupy a common transportation space.

    Naked streets usually look like giant sidewalks.

    In January 2007 I posted about the Preston Lake development in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Preston Lake is marketed as a pedestrian friendly, safe, and diverse community. Although I am a fan of mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development, and new urbanism, I have my doubts about Preston Lake. Even though it is a pedestrian friendly development, it’s still an island in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t connect with any other developments and people still have to rely on cars to get there. Some would characterize it as suburbanization with a smile. I would have rather seen these buildings built in downtown Harrisonburg to increase density and revitalize the surrounding community.

    Furthermore, Preston Lake seriously lacks affordable housing. How can you have a diverse community when the only people that can afford to live there a middle and upper class citizens? I would have liked to see affordable housing units sprinkled in throughout the development.

    Nonetheless, only time will tell if it can evolve into a vibrant community.

    Here’s a list of carfree / pedestrian-oriented areas in the United States from Cooltown Studios. (This is not a comprehensive list)


    Santa Monica – Third Street Promenade, 1/2 mile
    Riverside – Several blocks of pedestrian mall.
    Sacramento – The ‘K’ Street Mall
    Aspen – Pedestrian malls: Three downtown blocks of E. Hyman Ave., S. Mill St., and E. Cooper Ave. (pictured)
    Boulder – Pearl Street Mall – Several blocks at the city center.
    Fort Collins – Four streets in downtown.
    Denver – 16th Street Mall
    Florida – Miami – Lincoln Road Mall, 7 blocks in South Beach.
    Iowa – Iowa City – Pedestrian mall, several blocks downtown near the University of Iowa
    Louisiana – New Orleans – Several blocks between the French Quarter and the river
    Massachusetts – Boston – Downtown Crossing
    Minnesota – Minneapolis – Nicollet Mall
    Nevada – Las Vegas – Fremont Street
    New York – Ithaca – Ithaca Commons pedestrian mall, two blocks
    Oregon – Portland – RiverPlace, 1/2 mile downtown waterfront pedestrian promenade
    Texas – San Antonio – River Walk, famous restaurant/shop-lined waterway
    Vermont – Burlington – Church Street Marketplace, four blocks
    Virginia – Charlottesville – Main Street pedestrian mall, several blocks
    Wisconsin – Madison State Street, six blocks, though buses, police cars and taxis are

    Here’s a list of 10 myths of urban design from the London Free Press:

    10. It’s all about front porches. Indeed, building more houses with front porches is important, but it’s really about making friendly buildings and attractive street-scapes.

    9. It wants to eliminate the back yard. Back yards are important for privacy, but urban design reminds us not to forget the front yard as a place of activity and usefulness.

    8. It’s all about density, density, density. It’s about providing variety and diversity, allowing people to grow up in a single-family home, move to an apartment, then a townhouse, then back into a single- family home, then back into an apartment as their life progresses — all in the same neighbourhood.

    7. It expects everyone to walk everywhere. It’s about providing friendly streets and sidewalks and public transit and other infrastructure to entice people to walk more. Nobody expects the car to be eliminated.

    6. It is just about the rear laneway. London is fearful of the rear laneway (for reasons nobody is sure of, considering they are all over Old North and Old South, for example). Some can be unpleasant, but there are examples of attractive back alleys in new urbanist developments across North America. Not everyone wants a big house with a big back yard.

    5. It will not fit into a “normal” person’s lifestyle. What is normal? People may want to drive to the supermarket for the big shop, but do they want to get in the car and face traffic just to pick up a loaf of bread or litre of milk? People want options. They want variety in the kinds of buildings they interact with, variety that makes the experience of living in a community richer.

    4. It is just about creating pre-war housing architecture. It’s not about replicating Victorian architecture; it’s about eliminating repetitive architecture that saps identity from a neighbourhood.

    3. It is all about new urbanism or placemaking. New urbanism a catchphrase, but it’s about old-fashioned, grid-style developments with a diversity of home types and architecture. Placemaking involves integrating all industrial, commercial, residential and retail areas.

    2. It is just about what the buildings look like. No, it’s about how we deliver our walking spaces, our driving spaces, our open spaces. It’s more than just architecture and landscaping.

    1. It is not economically viable. New urbanist communities are thriving across North America. New ones are being built every day. They’re sought after by home buyers.