Currently viewing the tag: "Urban Design"

Picture 004

Congratulations to the City of Miami Beach for installing new speed humps on Prairie Avenue.  They look great and for the most part were installed correctly.  They even took the bicycle lane into consideration when installing them!  Speed humps are excellent traffic calming devices.  I’m dreaming of speed humps in Miami.

Tagged with:
 

Functional Streets

There are certain critical factors which create a functional street.  This street, exemplifies what the urban center of a small town should resemble.  Let’s get interactive and discuss some of the qualities which make this such a functional urban space.

Also, Can anyone name the town?

For today’s Metro Monday, we once again direct you over to our friends at Streetsfilms to view an exceptional piece on Melbourne’s pedestrian facilities. It is simply amazing to see how quickly a city can change with the right policy, perhaps Miami 21 will serve as our saving grace.

There is an invaluable lesson here. In the early 90s, Melbourne was hardly a haven for pedestrian life until Jan Gehl was invited there to undertake a study and publish recommendations on street improvements and public space. Ten years after the survey’s findings, Melbourne was a remarkably different place thanks to sidewalk widenings, copious tree plantings, a burgeoning cafe culture, and various types of car restrictions on some streets. Public space and art abound. And all of this is an economic boom for business.

Miami 21 Update: On Thursday the City of Miami commission approved the continuation of the Miami 21 project with the mapping of the quadrants. Interestingly, the only mention of this in the Herald was a recent editorial two days before the actual vote by Daniella Levine… Perhaps this is a contributing factor for much of the confusion regarding Miami 21…

Walking around in the Stade Olympique neighborhood of Montreal’s outskirts, I saw the perfect opportunity to illustrate how seamlessly medium density buildings can be integrated with classic single family homes (sans the hideous car ports). This picture above shows a row of multi-family buildings abutting one story and short two-story houses that are not unlike the ubiquitous kind of single family housing found throughout Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

This is the kind of infill that Miami 21 would make possible, in turn creating denser communities in an unobtrusive manner. This also makes it easier to build affordable housing that makes for diverse socioeconomic communities.

Tagged with:
 
I know we have already mentioned this topic this week, but considering the Herald continues its negative spin campaign against the zoning rewrite I thought a healthy counterpoint was in order. Herald columnist Ana Mendez writes in her column today that she thinks that the code is a little too complicated for a layperson to understand.

She writes, “Its true zoning codes are difficult to write. And no one wants to minimize the important role that government plays in assessing the public’s needs and translating them into hopelessly complicated, impenetrable legal gobbledygook. But there has to be a better way.”

Now, as an urban planner and architect I agree that the language can be difficult at times, but the fact is that anyone with a high school education can figure it out (not to mention that all of the terms used are defined in the first chapter). Part of the problem is that we have to translate good urban design (which is a field that lends itself to drawing more than writing) into legal ‘gobbledygook’ so that land-use attorneys and developers don’t find loopholes in otherwise straightforward regulations.

Codes (Miami 21 or any other land use code) have to be written in language that is not simplistic, and that will hold up to scrutiny in court. Menendez quotes from the code:


Lots facing streets on more than one (1) side shall have designated Principal Frontage(s) and may have Secondary Frontage(s). Unless otherwise designated by a Special Area Plan, a Principal Frontage shall be that facing the street of higher pedestrian importance or intensity (i.e., traffic volume, number of lanes, etc.)

Which is another way of saying that you define the front of a corner lot as the one that faces the busiest street, but you can’t say that in a legal document because if you did then you would have all sorts of follow-up questions like:

  • How do you define which street is most important?
  • What do you call the other less important front?

Unfortunately, I think that this criticism of Miami 21, along most others, is less about the code than about blaming it for things that are beyond its control.

Here are a few of the arguments against Miami 21 that I have read both on the Miami 21 website and in various articles over the past two years:
-> “Miami 21 is the first urban application of a smart code in the US. It is an experiment that has never been tested.”

Actually, Miami 21 is not the first form based code to be applied to a major urban center, Philadelphia is in the process of passing a form based code, and I think we would all agree that as far as successful urbanism is concerned Miami pales in comparison. Form based codes have actually been around for a long time. Think of any good city (Chicago, New York, Philly, Boston) and their downtowns were developed with codes that were form based (as opposed to use based).

-> “Miami 21 is hated by architects and urban planners.”

Actually, having been written by urban planners and architects this one is not really true. The Herald loves to point out that architects dislike the plan, but really only a vocal minority of self-crowned celebrity architects dislike the code as a matter of ego than of substance. One architect in particular (whose name will remain anonymous except to say that it begins with Z and ends with h) says that the code infringes on his creativity by imposing height restrictions. Without going into some lengthy discussion on aesthetics and philosophy, lets just say that where this designer is concerned, creativity is overrated. Miami 21 holds faithful to some pretty basic premises (active street fronts, eyes on the street, etc.) and allows a lot of latitude after that. If you need your building to stand out like a huge phallic symbol, go to Dubai. Never mind that the the latest draft of the code has all but relaxed the height restrictions in certain T-Zones to be what they are in the existing code.

-> “Miami 21 will not allow me to rebuild my house if it gets destroyed.”

First of all, as with any zoning rewrite there will be nonconformities. The whole point of the code is that the existing code is allowing some pretty awful stuff to get built, and the new code will make some of that illegal. That’s the nature of any zoning code. I live in a 1940’s med style house that is illegal by today’s code because its too close to the sidewalk. Go figure. At any rate, the new draft of the code explicitly states that nonconformities in R1 zones will be grandfathered in. Period.

-> “Developers hate Miami 21.”

This one is my favorite. Developers love Miami 21 because it gives them greater development rights than they had before. The code was drafted using the existing regulations as a base. That means that all of the development rights have been preserved or augmented. All the code does is say that you have to meet the street in a way that will promote healthy urbanism. It’s not complicated.

-> “Miami 21 will allow tall buildings next to single family residences along Biscayne in the NE part of town.”

This one is true much to the chagrin of community activists such as Elvis Cruz who have long protected the area. Unfortunately they aren’t entirely using their thinking caps as to what they get in return for this extra height. Along parts of Biscayne you can build a 3 story building that would reach a height of 50’+ that would be adjacent to 30′ homes.

There are two parts to this that people need to understand.

1) We are trying to encourage pedestrian friendly development along in this part of Biscayne and part of that involves defining the street as a public space. With a street as large as Biscayne is, you need something more than two stories to make that happen. I don’t think that 50′ is all that egregious a transition to a single family neighborhood (especially in comparison to what is allowed now).
2) We need to start thinking of our eastern edge as the place where more intense development needs to happen. We cannnot hold the UDB line and be NIMBY’s at the same time. Saving the Everglades means that growth has to be in someone’s backyard. Biscayne Boulevard deserves buildings that are more than 3 stories.

Remember this: Miami 21 is a lot better than the existing code, and if we let this opportunity pass we are the ones who suffer. This is not some abstract concept in a book, this is about the kind of city in which we want to live and raise our families. I for one will not give up.

Speaking of curb cuts, I was passing along NE 2nd Avenue and was completely disgusted to experience firsthand the atrocities permitted to occur on the backside of the buildings facing Biscayne Bay. The term Biscayne wall is quite fitting as the backsides of these towers were clearly designed to resemble the blank slate of a concrete wall, keeping pedestrians well away. The worst part of all, as we’ve discussed before, is the lack of adequate transit integration and pedestrian facilities along this route. The blank backsides will almost ensure that any use of metromover by building residents is inhibited by vehicular needs. The parking entrances of these buildings should have been relegated to the minor cross streets (NE 11, 10, 9, etc.) instead of the major thoroughfare with DIRECT rail transit access. Even worse is the street activity. Aside from an existing pawn shop, the only street activity these buildings will be seeing is parking garage access… From now own, we’re calling this the Biscayne Blunder

I figured Chopin’s Funeral March would fit this slide well because this street is good as dead Dead…

Curb cuts are perhaps one of the most under recognized destroyers of good urban design. They completely mutilate the continuity of the pedestrian realm and endanger cyclists riding close to the curb or cars parked on the street. Curb cuts effectively subsidize parking and therefore increases driving demand. The next time you are taking a walk and you notice you seem to be undulating with the rise and fall of the sidewalk, blame the curb cuts. I challenge you to try and notice the effect curb cuts have around Miami-Dade…I think you might surprised.
Photo: nycstreets.org

Tagged with:
 

Source: Miami Herald

An article in the Herald this morning sheds light on crime problems in Liberty City’s recently constructed Habitat for Humanity community.
On Northwest 68th Terrace, a street in the heart of the neighborhood with 17 houses, nine homeowners reported having something stolen from their property or had property vandalized in the last month.

The list of stolen property includes: childrens’ bicycles that had been chained up in the backyard, car stereos, tools, yard equipment, plants and light fixtures. Resident Margaret Brown had her Nissan Altima stolen from her driveway.

As you read the article, you’ll notice a general tone of surprise that a lower density, “suburban-looking place” didn’t inherently diminish criminal activity.

One quote in particular really sums up this myth:

Many of the 50 families living in the subdivision off Northwest 22nd Avenue and 68th Street expected it to be an island of suburbia floating in an area known for its hardscrabble ways.

They worked together to plant the trees, paint the houses and popcorn the ceilings. When the neighborhood opened, it was heralded as a ray of hope for the hundreds who were lied to and displaced by the county’s oft-troubled HOPE VI housing program.

Maybe it’s just me, but “an area known for its hardscrabble ways” in the above context sounds like a euphemism for “inner city”, which of course implies “urban”.

However, the fact that suburban-style housing does not magically stop crime should not be a new revelation. This myth that social problems found in urban environments can be solved or mitigated by improved architecture or suburban-style design dates back to the housing reform movements of the early twentieth century.

One of the most popularized examples of this myth actually is the story of a more urban model — the Pruitt-Igoe public housing projects in St. Louis, Missouri. Pruitt-Igoe opened in 1954 as 33 eleven-story apartment buildings somewhat emulating New York City’s public housing. At the time, it was thought that the design of Pruitt-Igoe — impressive modern high-rises surrounded by large open spaces — would on its own merit be a prescriptive solution to poverty and crime. However, within a decade after opening, Pruitt-Igoe’s tower-in-the-park design had done little to curb crime or poverty, as both raged on throughout the neighborhood. As Katharine Bristol wrote in “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”, published in the Journal of Architectural Education in 1991,

“By placing the responsibility for the failure of public housing on designers, the myth shifts attention from the institutional or structural forces of public housing problems.”

Then in 1972, just 18 years after being built, Pruitt-Igoe was demolished. Dramatic images capturing the demolition were framed to symbolize the destruction of an inhumane place and the failure of urban housing (among other things).

Though the scale and design of Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis and and the Scott Carver Projects in Miami (the public housing demolished to make room for Habitat Homes) are certainly different, the same faulty message has come from the razing of both communities: urban-style public housing is inherently bad and therefore facilitates crime. Of course this leads to the terribly flawed logic that suburban-style housing will somehow make everything all better. Talk about putting a cheap band-aid on a gaping wound.

(Note: I think Habitat for Humanity has a wonderful core philanthropic goal to provide housing for the needy, but its methods regarding architectural and landscape design need to be reevaluated to include better urban design).

Clearly, the suburban-style design of the Habitat Homes have not done much to eliminate crime. The article continues,

Crime data from the Miami-Dade Police Department confirms the Habitat neighborhood is not crime-free: In January, when half the homes were still under construction, the police received complaints about vandalism, burglary and car theft.

Police said updated records of crime in the neighborhood are not currently available. However, an informal Herald survey showed more than half the residents in the community had been victimized.

Whether it’s Habitat for Humanity, Miami-Dade County, or even private developers, the message is clear: suburban-style housing is “benign” and offers “hope”, and therefore should serve as an oasis to the inherent evils of true urban environments.

Judging from this article, however, it doesn’t seem like the major players understand this suburban design myth.

But the nonprofit home-building group has learned something about crime prevention from its experience at Habitat Homes, she said: Habitat leaders will look into putting security cages around air-conditioning units in the future.

Every house in the neighborhood will also get a white picket fence, courtesy of Habitat.

Well that must be the problem, they forgot the white picket fence!

I live next to a busy intersection in South Beach - Meridian Avenue and 13th Street. It’s the main entryway to Flamingo Park as well as the beach’s central avenue. It’s the only tree-shaded roadway around. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of traffic: cars, bikes and pedestrians.

Within the past few months, four-way stop signs went up at the intersection, making it significantly safer, or so I thought. One of the stop signs is all but hidden behind a tree. Cars blow past it all the time. This is doubly dangerous considering pedestrians now assume cars will stop at the intersection. There are people pushing baby strollers to the park, little kids going to shoot hoops, people walking their dogs.

I emailed the city to point out the problem. There had been small temporary stop signs in the middle of the road until recently, and I suggested they do something similar on a permanent basis or at least make the hidden stop sign more visible. Never heard back.

Walking home one night, I came across two Miami Beach motorcycle cops. They were there to run down cars that rolled through the stop sign. I told them people couldn’t see the sign, but they argued there is a warning sign farther back (small red octagon with arrow) and nothing that could be done. When I emphasized the inherent danger, one of the cops said pedestrians should be “alert” anyway.

So, I’ve contacted the county’s public works department. They tell me they’ll check it out. In the meantime, I have a strong feeling someone is going to get hurt or killed. I hope I’m wrong.

Today’s quote comes from a phenomenal short video put together by our friends over at Street Films and the Project for Public Spaces on the vibrancy and quality of life of the streets of Havana. Although we agree Havana is not the ideal city to emulate, we could learn a lot from the beautiful urban streets, clearly designed for social interaction rather than vehicular dominance. Each narrow street of Old Havana is bustling with life as every ground level structure is opened up to the pedestrian realm. Meanwhile, the wide boulevards provide ample park space, recreational space, and plenty of foliage. The film clearly shows how this type of construction, for people rather than vehicles, promotes neighborhood and societal values, something we should be certainly promoting across Miami. To watch the whole film, click here

“If children playing in the streets is an indicator of the success of a city, then Havana’s streets may be some of the most successful in the world.”
-Ethan Kent

If you’ve ever traveled through the Grove (emphasis on Center Grove for this piece), you’ve probably noticed the ubiquitous gates and walls that fortress off most homes and buildings in the neighborhood. Perhaps many of these residents believe that gates and walls provide a feeling of safety and sense of security to protect them from the “inherent criminal element” of the urban neighborhood. Others might claim that it’s privacy they desire, and that suburban dream can only be realized with walls and gates in a place designed like the Center Grove. Regardless of the intent, these walls and gates symbolize the growing socioeconomic polarization of Miami as well as the decline of the street as a functional element of the public realm.

In effect, all of the individual gated and walled parts equate to a de facto gated neighborhood, a fortress-like mentality that aims to separate from poorer, less fortunate parts of the community. The message is clear: outsiders (i.e. West Grove residents) are not welcome here. Should we be surprised? Not really. Many outspoken Grove residents are still disillusioned about being a City of Miami neighborhood and not some quaint, autonomous slice of paradise. Regarding urban design, they wish they lived in an exclusive suburb, yet want the amenities afforded by a lively urban community. Therefore, they choose to wall themselves from the greater society they don’t want to be apart of, and rally for easy access (e.g. secure driveways and easily available business district parking) to the places they frequent. Call it “cherry-picking urbanism”.

Anyone who travels down SW 32nd Ave/McDonald Ave (probably by car, given that sidewalks are non-existent) is moving down one the most unambiguous demarcations of poverty and wealth in any major American city. However, instead of the entire Grove community choosing to deal with these socioeconomic imbalances, the wealthier Center Grove has largely chosen to barricade itself from the West Grove’s problems. One gets the feeling that Center Grove residents are just waiting for well-off, private regarding urban pioneers to venture across McDonald Ave, gentrifying the West Grove parcel-by-parcel, block-by-block until it merges with its equally well-fortified South Grove neighbor.

The point is, the infamous gates and walls that have sprouted up like weeds in recent decades are cancerous to civic life and public spaces, as is evident by the astonishing segregation of these two neighborhoods despite their close proximity. We can and should do a better job building inclusive neighborhoods that are critical for democracy, social progress, and high quality civic life. It’s a delusion to think these easily traversable gates and walls provide any legitimate means of security. Thus, instead of barricading ourselves and turning away from the West Grove, it’s opening up to the street and being inclusive that gives the best opportunity for the whole community to be a safer, more democratic place.

Tagged with:
 
Nick, Charck, and Alex got it — it’s Church Street in Burlington, VT. Everyone was able to narrow it down to New England, however.

I love Church St because it embodies so many quality urban elements. The street is completely closed off to cars for several blocks, allowing people to comfortably utilize the public space in many ways.

The urban design is of high quality, with multi-story mixed use buildings defining street space as well as physically welcoming people on the street. In classic New England form, the street terminates as a “T-intersection”, showcasing a church (a public building/meeting house) as a symbolic gesture that the street is a functional community space and democracy is at work.

As you can see, this space is active year round despite Vermont’s frigid winter weather. During the summer and fall it’s a great spot to shop, dine al fresco, or just take a stroll with a friend or family member. Some of the surrounding streets are even bike-friendly, with bike lanes linking to the city’s network.

It’s hard to see how this scale could be objectionable to anyone; with Miami 21, we could expect to see quality urbanism of this scale in several neighborhoods.

Tagged with:
 
As our friend Verticus from MVB discussed in our recent post on the Miami streetcar, a monorail system would prove to be a slightly more efficient transit system than a streetcar- if you were comparing the modes strictly on that level. Looking at it strictly as a Transportation engineer, as Verticus has suggested, I can attest that any mode of transportation which travels along its own dedicated right-of-way will prove to be a more efficient form of moving passengers around. However, as I have come to realize throughout many years of studying and thought, looking at our environment strictly from a system optimization perspective, sacrifices an inclusion of other major contributing factors. I’ve outlined these factors below in a brief comparison between the Miami streetcar and any other form of transportation (such as Verticus’ Monorail concept) and analyzed them from the perspective of an urban planner and a transportation engineer.

Passenger Efficiency- As I stated above, this is the one major advantage a dedicated right-of-way will have over streetcar technology. However, even the efficiency of the system has its drawbacks when placed in the context of the urban environment we are studying: Miami’s Design District. Typically, passenger rail systems established on dedicated ROW’s feature stations located no less than a mile apart. The long distance between system stations makes these types of transit ideal for moving passengers from nearby townships and suburbs (or Sprawled areas where stations feature extensive parking,) rather than intracity connectivity. The purpose of the streetcar is to create an intricate web of urban transit and its closely placed stations (1/3 of a mile or so apart) permits more independent mobility on a fixed rail system (more on the benefits of this later.) Installing an advanced signalization system along the streetcar route ensures that the streetcars will always receive priority at intersections and will ensure the movement of the system along the route.

Street Interaction- The streetcar here has the clear advantage, located at the street level rather than a fixed guide way hovering above the city streets. I cannot stress enough how important tying in our transit systems to our streetscapes is when trying to establish vibrant urban neighborhoods. The streetcar invites street level activity on the sidewalk and ground level of adjoining buildings.

Economics- A rough comparison of recently completed modes of transit across the United States:

LRT/Streetcar:


Portland, Oregon- 4.6 mile loop- $12.4 million per mile
Tampa, Florida- 2.3 mile line- $13.7 million per mile
Charlotte, North Carolina- $31 million per mile
Denver, Colorado- $27.6 million per mile
Salt Lake City- $42.2 million per mile
National Average- Approx $40 million per mile

Monorail:

Las Vegas, Nevada- 4 mile line- $87 million per mile

Cost per passenger mile:

LRT:

San Diego- $0.17
Salt Lake City- $0.15
Dallas- $0.55
Portland- $0.29
Sacramento- $0.42
Denver- $0.40

Fixed automated guide way systems:

Jacksonville Skyway monorail $10.71
Detroit Peoplemover $5.80
Miami MetroMover $3.42

Plain and simple, the cost associated with acquiring the necessary land to create elevated stations and guide ways any dedicated ROW transit would require would make the project wholly financially infeasible. The clear advantage of the streetcar is that it will be built entirely on existing ROW’s and municipally owned land. For power source efficiency data, please click here.

Environmental Vitality- Hurricanes pose the obvious biggest threat to creating a permanent system of overhead wires to power a streetcar system. We have not yet identified a potential solution to this issue, however we know one exists given the ability of streetcars to survive the strongest winter winds and snow storms of Canada and Northern Europe.

Conclusion- What many people fail to realize is that the streetcar is a solution for the City of Miami’s transit needs. It provides a system of reliable urban transit which will make much of the city more accessible to all residents. The advantage of any fixed rail system over an advanced bus network is that rails bring about land use changes and buses do not. Establishing a fixed rail network allows the city of Miami to permanently alter parking requirements, building setbacks, and many of the other vital components which differentiate an urban setting from a suburban one. The streetcar isn’t designed as aide to the suburban Kendall, Homestead, or Pembroke Pines commuter, but rather the residents which will be infusing the downtown core. The streetcar provides the means for current and future city of Miami residents to easily enjoy urban mobility. Combined with the new regulations instilled in Miami 21, the Miami Streetcar will reduce the need for automobile use for those residents living within its’ sphere of pedestrian access.

For more information, please visit the City of Miami’s FAQ regarding the Miami Streetcar…

One of the best examples of how to create a vibrant, pedestrian accessible, and dense neighborhood is in Boston along the Back Bay. The dense row houses, some of which have been converted into mixed use structures (along Newbury street, Commonwealth Avenue, and Boylston) create a dense yet comfortable living environment. Public park space is amply provided along the Charles River Esplanade, Commonwealth Avenue, and the city’s central park (the Boston Common and Public Gardens) which anchors the eastern portion of this quaint neighborhood. Boston’s Back bay embodies many of the principles envisioned in Miami 21, including stepped structural height increases, reduced setbacks, on street parking, and canopy/park space requirements. Miami’s design district would be ideal for similar development and the Miami streetcar, like the green line which runs adjacent to the Back Bay, would only further bolster the livability of this neighborhood.

Marina Blue, the “swanky,” 60 story residential skyscraper rising along Biscayne Boulevard across the future site of Museum Park has issues, major issues. The 600+ foot tower, designed by world renowned Arquitectonica is just one of the latest blunders to rise in our city. Now please don’t be confused, but we’re not arguing about its height, size, or density but rather how this building was designed to interact with our urban streetscape. It’s because of the inadequacies of its design that many Miami activists confuse height and density as the real culprits behind much of our urban problems…

Take a look at these pictures, found on Skyscrapercity and see if you can spot any of the major issues:

Incomplete building? Designed well from 3 angles, the Marina Blue design team apparently fell asleep when working on the western facade. A blank, exposed backside will greet visitors viewing the Miami skyline from the west, a stark contrast from the stunning blue and green glass facade facing the Museums and bay. Another Arquitectonica and Hyperion development building, Blue, up in the design district suffers from the same 3 sided design syndrome…

Who needs public transit when we have enough space for every car? Logically, the best thing to place facing a metromover station is the entrance of the 12 story parking garage with enough space to handle at least the 2 cars each of the 516 units owners will have. Forget creating usable retail space fronting the metromover, the patron’s of this building will likely be arriving at the valet station anyway, it’s not like they have any other reasonable option anyway…

Of course, if we aren’t going to plan for the use of public transit then why would we expect pedestrians to access the building either? Beyond the absurd canopy placement, the 3 foot elevated platform will completely decimate any hopes of creating a vibrant and pedestrian friendly boulevard. The second picture shows just exactly how much width was provided for sidewalk cafes and activity, none of which will be possible thanks to the blank wall and guardrails which are placed accordingly to keep Marina Blue residents and visitors in.

A Couple of reminders of what we should have been attempting to do with the redevelopment along the Biscayne boulevard corridor:

Note: This picture is still prominently displayed on the DDA website…

I can’t help but think that for every step we take forward (dense urban living in an easily accessible location) we take two steps backwards (building enough parking to house a dealership and failing to adequately integrate the building with the surroundings…)

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.