Community Architect: Urban Design and Transportation – A City for People Instead of Cars

Fells Point in Baltimore. From

In this post, Klaus Philipsen describes how exactly the car is a bane to designers. You have to figure out approaches and parking before you can really do anything else. And because the metrics of traffic flow are easily quantified, they are often more strongly argued than the qualitative points of design. Philipsen discusses how the development in this country since WWII has largely been car-centric, although recent trends are pointing toward a more balanced transportation network. He has a number of images and examples from his local Baltimore to illustrate his point. But my favorite line is this: “design is definitely more encompassing and fun than just making sure the traffic flows. The promise of design: A better and more livable city.” Let’s work on designing a fun city more than one that is easy to drive through.


10 Techniques for Making Cities More Walkable – Design – The Atlantic Cities


Kaid Benfield, one of my favorites, recently posted this list of walkability ideas from Jeff Speck’s recent book, Walkable City. This list includes:

  1. Put cars in their place. Streets are public spaces for people, not conveyors for cars.
  2. Mix the uses. In particular create more affordable housing in growing neighborhoods prone to gentrification.
  3. Get the parking right. Consolidate it and make people pay for it.
  4. Let transit work. Plan transit in tandem with urban investment, make housing dense enough to support it, and make it an enjoyable experience (I’m looking at you, SEPTA).
  5. Protect the pedestrian. Cars go slower, and thus pedestrians are safer, when drivers are afraid of crashing into things. Speck, and some others, encourage getting rid of signage and road striping all together and forcing drivers to concentrate.
  6. Welcome bikes. Cycling allows people to have another choice beyond the car.
  7. Shape the spaces. Create outdoor rooms and a sense of enclosure.
  8. Plant trees. Trees improve auto safety, naturally cool cities, and contribute to stormwater retention.
  9. Make friendly and unique [building] faces. Interesting architecture will keep people entertained and encourage them to walk.
  10. Pick your winners. Focus initially on downtowns and transit corridors.

Benfield also has a few critiques for Speck. He criticizes the “cars suck” idea that he and many designers (I will admit, often myself included) have a habit of exhibiting. He also criticizes Speck’s dismissal of green space as important to the city, although Benfield does agree that it is important to make sure green spaces contribute to the urban nature of a place rather than making it feel more suburban or rural. He also agrees with John Norquist’s statement that there is good and bad congestion, and that small cities such as Pittsburgh shouldn’t try congestion pricing because it will give people just another reason to stay out of the city.

Low-income People Need Public Spaces the Most | On the Commons

Ramona Park in Long Beach, CA. From

In this post, Jay Walljasper of the Project for Public Spaces argues for the progressive nature of public spaces. he cites Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, Columbia, saying that the rich have “big homes, backyards, private clubs and country houses,” while the poor rely on public spaces—streets, parks, libraries, etc. He argues that they are just as important as hospitals and schools. Walljasper also emphasizes the importance of public spaces in emerging democracies, from Eastern Europe of the 1980s and 90s, to post-apartheid South Africa, to the squares of the Arab Spring. He warns about the dangers of cars and highways as status symbols for individuals and governments in the developing world. We in the West have gone down that path and are just beginning to see our mistakes; let’s hope that the nations still developing will skip that hazard.

Impressions of Tibby’s Triangle, Southwold « Ink & Compass

This post on Ink & Compass describes Tibby’s Triangle, a new development in Southwold, a beach town in England. From what I saw in the video and the photos, I really liked it. None of the buildings are exactly the same, but they have a similar design language which also meshes with the older fabric of the town. There is a range of sizes which creates a community which can house people of different ages, incomes, and stations in life. The site features a loose grid which connects to the outside, creating a community that is not exclusive, but an extension of the existing fabric. A new public square which features mixed-use buildings is central to the development.

Of course, the promotional video doesn’t show the bad stuff, which is why it’s important to have critical reviews like this one from Ink & Compass. The author seems to feel that too much space is given over to cars, with one space per home. This is preposterously low by American standards, but the way that it is concentrated in certain areas, such as by the flatiron building, does give it a stronger presence in some areas. The streets are essentially woonerfs, with shared pedestrian and car spaces, but the author says the pedestrians still feel like they are intruding. Similarly, some of the houses have open carports, which contributes to the feeling that cars have too much control. Also, some facades, especially those painted white, seem blank, whereas the unpainted ones have the various shades of red and the grey of the mortar to give some color. As the author says, the pros definitely outweigh the cons, but the cons are something we can learn from in the future.

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