Building blocks

How long will YOU walk for that cup of coffee

Over at Fast Company’s Co.Design is an interesting dialog about how important it is for cities to figure out what their fundamental goals are. While this sounds basic, governments, planning agencies, and citizens can get too wrapped up in individual difficult issues; without having big-picture guideposts, solutions to these issues can be disconnected or even harmful. The article is a discussion between a city planner in Gainesville, FL and an urban designer from Perkins + Will, the global design firm.

Same reality, different perception

One of the topics discussed–and one mentioned on this blog previously–is the importance of perception in the urban environment. Above is a diagram of a portion of Manhattan from the article, making the point that if you’re standing at Lexington and 32nd, and a friend calls to say “meet me for coffee at Lex and 42nd”, you’d start walking the short 10 blocks without hesitation. If that same friend says “meet me at 6th and 32nd”, despite the fact it’s exactly the same distance, you’ll brace yourself for a less amusing crosstown schlep. Why? Short blocks with more intersections to cross mean more diversity and visual interest; long blocks with fewer intersections mean less diversity and more visual monotony.

The same could be said for blocks containing empty storefronts, parking lots, few awnings or projecting signage: it becomes a chore to walk. It becomes a delight to walk when you’re visually stimulated on a regular basis along the route. You think less about the distance, and more about the pleasure of being in the street. Food for thought as you think about your next cup of coffee.

[thanks to Co.Design for the diagram]

7 responses to “Building blocks

  1. In Birmingham, most people do not object to walking the 7 blocks between Linn Park and First Avenue North, but would hesitate to walk from the Post Office to the McWane Center or from the Innovation Depot to the City Federal Building although the distances are roughly equal. The differing visual interest of the streetscape and the architecture, the activity levels generated buildings and parking lots, and the number of pedestrians and related sense of security are all factors in making Birmingham Green far more “walkable.”

    Efforts to encourage retail at the sidewalk level of parking decks have had limited commercial success, but respond to the need for walkable City Center.

  2. City center needs a prioritized plan for filling gaps, especially along selected streets and at all corners. And the plan should evolve on foot as this post makes evident.

  3. Loved the Co.Design article. As Bham goes through its comprehensive plan effort, one can only hope the simplicity principle is considered and a clear goal emerges.

  4. Form-based code!

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