Category Archives: Developments

Will Tysons halfway plan bolster or doom the future city?

David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington brings us this story on the future of Tysons Corner.  Tysons is in many ways the poster-boy for post-war American suburbia.  Even PBS has noted it’s car-dependent, highway-oriented state.  Pedestrians in Tysons are taking their lives into their hands.  The city is made up of single-use office towers, strip shopping centers, tract housing, and parking, parking, parking.  Fortunately, Tysons’ local leaders are aware of the changing market conditions pointing toward mixed use development, and they are trying to fix their city.  Fairfax County has produced Transforming Tysons, a document that is still being revised that will guide more pedestrian-scaled development, focused on Tysons’ four Metro stops and tapering down to the surrounding low-density development.

Traffic engineers don’t believe that the plan will work, and are advocating expanded freeway facilities.  But Washington has ample examples, the District in particular, of how wrong traffic engineers could be.  According to their models, DC couldn’t be built today.  This and other debate has encouraged Planning Commissioner Walter Alcorn to propose that 3/4 of the proposed density be built in the next 20 years instead of building 100% in the next 40 years, as well as eliminating density maximums in favor of having the Board of Supervisors analyze every proposal in turn.  The Sierra Club endorsed Alcorn’s plan, hoping that the shorter time frame will encourage that the necessary transit upgrades to the periphery of the city are built.  The Audubon Society, on the other hand, wants the complete plan.  Stella Koch of Audubon said, “This plan must be implemented as a whole or it falls apart. Without the internal grid of streets, transportation inside of Tysons does not work. Without an integrated network of sidewalks and paths, and inviting shops and storefronts, people do not want to walk to destinations. The Tysons Vision must be implemented as a whole.”

Also agitating the process are landowners in the non-transit-oriented areas.  Many have been waiting on the plan to be finished, and some people are worried that these land owners may just up and build a strip mall instead of waiting for pedestrian-friendly guidelines.  If Alcorn’s plan is implemented, it could hurt the county’s ability to pay for necessary amenities, such as the improved street grid, storm water system, transit, and streetscapes.  The plan also opens up the possibility of the plan being compromised a little bit more for every project.  By doing it all at once, it’s easier for elected officials to do what is right for the largest number and not be swayed by NIMBYs.  Tysons should work to avoid the evenly spread, low density development of nearby failures such as Gaithersburg‘s Science City.  This type of development is hard because instead of trying to build a city from green fields like Washington was, Tysons is trying to build it out of an existing framework of suburban sprawl.  Development happens fast today, and if the leaders of Tysons don’t get this plan figured out quick, they may have a few thousand more acres of strip malls to deal with.

American Makeover Episode 1 – SPRAWLANTA

I probably should have plugged this a long time ago considering that I actually gave these guys money (and anyone who knows me knows I’m not loose with cash), but better late than never.  The creators of last year’s award-winning short film Built To Last have taken their efforts to the next level, creating American Makeover, a series of videos on sprawl in different parts of the city and efforts that are being made to overcome it.  Their first episode, SPRAWLANTA, looks at Atlanta, Georgia and how it has developed, taking special care to highlight Glenwood Park, a growing New Urbanist development there.

To continue their work, these guys need your help.  They are quite a bit shy of the funding goal that they need to achieve to continue this project.  I gave them a small contribution and got my name put at the end of SPRAWLANTA, so feel free to donate either out of interest in the project or self-interest, just help these guys to continue making great videos.  Here is SPRAWLANTA, for your viewing pleasure.

City Council approves cars on K Street

Ben Adler brings us this story on Sacramento‘s recent decision to reopen the K Street Pedestrian Mall to cars.  K Street, as with many similar projects across America, died when it was closed off to vehicle traffic, losing shoppers and gaining criminals.  This is actually a great decision and will hopefully reinvigorate the area.  Even though I don’t use a car myself, I and many other New Urbanists realize that cars still play a very important role in cities.  Most people still travel by car, and if you don’t allow cars at all then you don’t allow a large segment of your population.  Cars are good for retail because it allows more people to see street signs and to take part in commerce.  It also puts more eyes on the street, reducing crime.  Parked cars along streets add to pedestrian safety, creating somewhat of a wall between pedestrians and fast-moving cars.  The problem comes when people plan for cars only, allowing them to go at lethal speeds, providing too much parking, and diminishing the pedestrian scale of a place, making it boring and dangerous for people walking or biking.  Good communities need to plan both for cars and for people, and to give precedence to people, because as long as they are able, the cars will still come.

Clean, affordable light rail also delivers economic lift

Greg Gormick brings us this story on the future of light rail in Toronto.  He says that the debate over Toronto’s Transit City light rail transit plan has been between critics who don’t know the benefits of light rail and supporters who have been unable to articulate those benefits.  He explains the differences between streetcars and light rail.  The later evolved from the former in European cities after WWII, when transit started losing ridership to cars.  Light rail became a mid-capacity system between high-capacity subways and low-capacity buses.  Light rail became larger, smoother, quieter, farther spaced, and faster, and had priority signaling and their own right-of-way.  At the same time, European cities embraced transit-oriented development, controlling sprawl and creating vibrant new neighborhoods.  They also embraced a concept known as lateral segregation, which gives transit users, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians their own part of the road adapted to their specific needs.

The effects have been economically and socially stimulating, and a number of cities that tore out streetcar systems have either replaced them with light rail or are in the process of doing so.  Edmonton was the first North American city to adopt light rail in 1978.  Since then, in places such as San Diego, Dallas and Portland, light rail has gotten people out of their cars, acted as an economic catalyst, and revived failing neighborhoods.  He argues that those who oppose the plan, who say that a new light rail line will have exactly the opposite effect, are fighting against historic precedent.  Light rail is also much cheaper than subways, an alternative supported by some, and can generally be built faster.  Building a new light rail system would make Toronto more competitive, more environmentally friendly, and more economically robust.

Taking Oak Cliff’s “Better Block” to Atlanta and the Congress for the New Urbanism

Robert Wilonsky of Unfair Park brings this awesome story on an urbanism technique that should be replicated in every small town and suburb in America.  Instead of coming up with a fancy proposal full of glossy architectural renderings and lofty language about the future, The Better Block Project simply took a block near the intersection of West 7th Street and North Tyler Street in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas and just made it right, overnight.  They installed a bike lane protected from the street by parking, narrowed the street by just setting up plants as bollards, and turned the reclaimed street section into cafe seating.  They added a little bit of paint to the buildings and voila, awesome little block.  What’s really amazing about this was that it was fast and relatively cheap–no new infrastructure, just some paint and some plants, but it still ended up being really cool.  This project has been squeezed into the CNU 18 schedule at the last minute due to its sheer awesomeness.  Check out the video.

Mayor Breaks Ground on Westlake/MacArthur Park Development…But Is It TOD?

This article from Damien Newton of Streetsblog is one of the more reasonable critiques of Los Angeles‘ new TOD projects that I have seen (there has been a lot of passionate chatter on the subject).  Newton asks, “Is it TAD or TOD?”  TAD (Transit Adjacent Development) is the “evil twin” of TOD.  While they look similar, TAD doesn’t do anything to make life better for existing residents and doesn’t encourage people to use transit facilities, no matter how close they are.  Newton analyzes the project by answering these questions: “does the design take advantage of the transit node, does it create an attractive and safe pedestrian network, how are the bike amenities, does it create a mix of housing options and uses, and is there a restriction of automobile parking?”

While the development isn’t on the same block as the station, it is one block away and has access to a number of bus routes.  These bus routes, however, have not been a part of the marketing strategy of the development.  The proposals show wide sidewalks, street trees and underground utilities, but proposals and reality often show a disparity.  There are no planned bike amenities, despite the area having a large number of cyclists.  There will be 90 affordable housing units and ground floor retail, but the developers have not been known to do quality retail development.  As with many LA “TOD’s,” the major failing comes when trying to compromise with LA’s car culture.  There will be three levels of underground parking, 100 commuter parking spots and the required parking for residences and retail.  Renters will receive a monthly Metro pass, but that doesn’t mean much.  Newton comes to the conclusion that “there are some troubling aspects as well such as the de-emphasis of the bus, the lack of bike parking in an area which (anecdotally, because the city doesn’t do bike counts) has a large number of cyclists and the levels of car-parking make it difficult to to declare it an example of Transit Oriented Development.”  Although LA does have its urban pockets, it is a car culture, and that may not change until we run out of oil.

Texas Sprawl Goes Out With a Bang, Development Sprouts on Irving Transit Line

Greg Lindsay brings us this article on development in Irving, Texas.  Many in Irving were unhappy when they lost the new Cowboys stadium to neighboring Arlington, but they have turned lemons into lemonade with a great plan for development on the former site of the recently demolished Texas Stadium.  The city is leasing the land to the Texas Department of Transportation, making more money than they ever did with the Cowboys, and have plans to create a dense, transit-oriented development along the future DART corridor.  The area will become the most walkable in the Metroplex outside of downtown Dallas.  The city has already begun building convention and entertainment centers and looks forward to $4 billion in private investment.  The plans include five-story apartment blocks with ground-floor retail.

Irving is known for office parks and gated communities, so the new development is not only very different, it is aimed at different groups than have previously been courted by Irving.  Some see the new dense, mixed-use and apartment-based development plans are seen by some as an admission that office parks and single-family McMansions are no longer enough.  Market demand is pointing in this direction, and Irving has been smart enough to take the lead, and they will profit from it.  Here are some renderings from the Irving Chamber of Commerce of what it might look like.

New ITE walkable thoroughfares manual finalized, finds first application

This article from the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) announces the new street manual, Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: Designing a Context-Sensitive Solutions Approach, prepared together by CNU and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE).  The goal of this document was to create a manual that, instead of being based simply on moving cars as fast as possible, is focused on creating complete streets that are context-sensitive and allow for all modes of transport as well as urban development.  It is transect-based, and has different street designs that are appropriate for each transect.  Some of the important changes made to this document are:

  • Ensuring that operating speed and design speed are the same (The fact that these are not the same is why people go 50 miles per hour in 35 zones.  Unless people are under strict supervision or in traffic, they will drive as fast as they feel safe).
  • The elimination of highways, which shouldn’t exist in urban areas.
  • The change from “Major” to “Walkable” in the title, showing that the focus of this new manual is walkability.
  • A section on emergency response that was co-authored by former Milwaukee fire captain Neil Lipski.

One of the greatest parts of this news release is that there is already a city working to apply the standards of this new manual: Elgin, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.  Hopefully this will help Elgin to create more context-sensitive streets, and it will help CNU and ITE to learn what of their recommendations work and which ones may need further revising.  Part of the effort to work with Elgin included this great slideshow for the participants:

Elgin CNU/ITE Manual Presentation

B&LT a leader with LEEDS for Harbor Point

Richard Lee of NewsTimes brings us this article on the Harbor Point development in Stamford, CT, outside of New York City.  Though the second word in his report is “sprawling” (apparently he didn’t know that that is a dirty word in the development world), it does a great job of highlighting some of the great things about this new development.  The first of these is that Harbor Point has been awarded LEED-ND Gold Certification by the US Green Building Council.  It is among one of the first developments to do so.  It’s transit-friendly location, brownfield redevelopment, and New Urbanist patterns helped it get this award.  The development consists of five neighborhoods each centered on a park.  The streets are lined with trees and ground-floor retail, with wide sidewalks and bike lanes.  The structures themselves employ green building techniques.  Construction waste is being recycled and historic buildings preserved.  There will be a small transportation system that will take people from the development to the train station and downtown.  The development includes 350,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 350,000 square feet of office space, a hotel, 4,000 residential units, a marina, 11 acres of new parkland and a waterfront promenade.  Developers expect this gren recognition to help them fill office and residential spots even in a slow economy.  The developer, Cart Kuehner, sums up the spirit of the development: “Generations screwed this up, and this will be the generation that will fix it.”

He Can Go Home Again

This story from Thomas MacMillan of the New Haven Independent shows what I think is one of the best implementations of New Urbanism: replacing 60s-70s era public housing barracks with mixed-income, human-scale communities.  West Rock’s Brookside Avenue will be home to the new Brookside Housing Development, with the Rockview development nearby.  The developments will have nearly 400 rental units, but also 60 home ownership units, which will allow people of different incomes to live together and allow members to move up to a home when they can afford it or move down to a rental if hard times hit without leaving the neighborhood.  New streets will be named after important citizens in the community, like Shirley Banks, co-chair of the West Rock Implementation Committee, which worked as an advisory council on the project and made sure that construction jobs would go to residents, locals and minorities.  Many former residents are planning on moving back and looking forward to the reuniting of the community that was created there with the previous development.  The project should be completed by the fall of 2011.