McCandless Crossing, or The Town Center is a Lie!


From mccandlesscrossing.com.

McCandless Crossing is a development in McCandless, Pennsylvania, which has been under construction for years and which will be implementing its fourth and final phase soon. Their website bills it as “a central, walkable, livable community that will synergize [sic] all the surrounding amenities with connectivity and by mixing uses.” This is a totally noble pursuit, but the design that the developers are proposing will not accomplish this goal. I want to discuss some ways that they could actually do it.Location-01First of all, is McCandless Crossing in the right location? My first thought was to undergo a McHargian analysis of land suitability for development.McHargThis shows that the location is just the wrong one for a dense, mixed-use development like a town center. The site is best suited for low-density housing development, as it is one of the few remaining stands of dense forest in the township.

My next thought was, wouldn’t it make sense for a town center to actually be near the center of town? I looked at intersections of major roads, and the intersection of McKnight Road and Ingomar Road is very close to the geographic center of the township, but it is a multi-level interchange. The closest street-level intersection is Perry Highway and Ingomar Road, which I think would not be a bad spot. There is a small commercial development there right now with way too much parking that could be better utilized through denser development. But my next though was, is it better to be near the geographic center or the population center? With that in mind, I undertook a density analysis.McCandless-02McCandless is overwhelmingly low density. That being said, the highest concentrations of people are along Perry Highway and Cumberland Road, adjacent to the North Allegheny Schools campus, Northland Library and the Community College of Allegheny County; and along Babcock Boulevard between Duncan Avenue and Cumberland Road, adjacent to La Roche University and UPMC Passavant Hospital. CombinedSo basically, there are at least three locations better than the chosen one for a town center for McCandless Township, with the best probably being either Perry Highway and Cumberland or Bigelow and Duncan. But let’s say that that isn’t an option and, for whatever reason, you want to develop your town center on the existing McCandless Crossing site. What would be the best way to approach it?

The first question for me seems to be whether or not you locate it astride McKnight Road or on just one side of the road. Doing it on both sides of McKnight was my first thought, as it would allow for more room for development and more access from either side of McKnight. The issue with that would be getting pedestrians across McKnight. It is a major highway that is not safe for people on foot, and people are used to blowing through there at high speed. There is no way to make a road both high speed and pedestrian friendly. The closest you could come is to turn McKnight Road into a boulevard.

McKnight-01

McKnight Boulevard-01Although I do think that this would be in the best long-term interest of the township as it is forced to densify, for now, it would cause too much trouble. That leaves us with focusing development on one side of McKnight.

From revistasusp.sibi.usp.br.

Calthorpe’s TOD concept, and it’s somewhat analogous Traditional Neighborhood Development, include the idea of creating a walkable Main Street that runs perpendicular to a major arterial. This allows for a measure of compromise between walkable urbanism and drivable suburbanism. A good example is Orenco Station outside of Portland, Oregon.OrencoOrenco Station has a mixed use Main Street along a public space axis that runs perpendicular to a major arterial. Parking for some of the anchor retailers faces the arterial so that there is easy vehicular access while it is still screened from the walkable neighborhood part of the development. I think it is very important to have the Main Street intersect with the arterial so that there is at least a hint of the walkable town center just off the road. This is the problem with Belmar; if you didn’t know there was a cool neighborhood behind it, all you would see is the suburban strip.Real Town Center Part DoneMy plan for McCandless Crossing would be to reorient all the anchors so that they gather around just a few large parking lots facing McKnight Road. The Main Street runs parallel and is lined with small shops on the ground floor and other uses (hotel, office, and residential) above. The small retail lines and softens the anchors to make them seem more walkable. The theater is important, because it can have lobbies on both sides so that people can both walk to it and drive to it. There is a little bit more residential than other upper floor compatible uses, so apartments are laid out around a public green.Real Town Center Full DoneAnother issue is that the plan as it is designed is a retail power center and not a true mixed use town center, the major distinction being that the retail is meant to be supported by regional drivers and not local walkers, and as such there is nowhere near enough residential to support it. I wanted to expand the proposed uses to create a real town center, including range of residential types that fades into the largely single-family context, so the residential steps down from apartments to townhouses to small homes.

McCandless needs a town center, and McCandless Crossing could well be it; they just need to totally change nearly everything about their site plan. It can still serve drivers and be a regional retail destination, but it doesn’t need to be suburban schlock that won’t age well or contribute to the future and betterment of the people of the township. With some slight modifications, McCandless Crossing can become a real town center and help McCandless become a real town, that actually is “a central, walkable, livable community that will synergize [sic] all the surrounding amenities with connectivity and by mixing uses.”

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About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

One Response to McCandless Crossing, or The Town Center is a Lie!

  1. dan reed! says:

    Great post, Dave. You might be interested in looking at Germantown Town Center here in Maryland. It’s a nice example of how to refashion a strip mall as a Main Street (in this case, Century Boulevard). There’s a big-box grocery store with a parking lot in front, but it’s been turned 90 degrees and lined with small retail shops (and really nice tree-lined sidewalks). Further down is an arts center, a library, and a few blocks of low-rise retail buildings (some with apartments above, others with offices).

    There’s a loose street grid, and the surrounding blocks have some rowhouses with rear-loading garages, so the streets are actually very nice (especially Middlebrook Road, which would otherwise be a typical suburban collector road were it not for the houses fronting it). Check out these photos if you want to see more.

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