Tag Archives: New York Times

Cars and people

Heavy emphasis on walking. Not so much on driving

As we await a review of detailed site and design documents for the newly named Regions Field (thus far no presentation has made it to the agenda of the Design Review Committee), it’s worth considering transportation access to this new venue.  In the rendering released at last week’s groundbreaking (above), we see the corner of First Avenue South and 14th Street (the super-graphic faces 14th). Whether by design or not, the rendering is filled with lots of people, but only one car. No bikes or public transit are visible either. One of the first questions, as a matter of course with large, destination sports or entertainment venues is: where do people park?

It's all about providing a connected environment

Part of the answer is seen above, in a shot of the Bricktown entertainment district around the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark in downtown Oklahoma City. This former warehouse district has been revitalized into a restaurant and entertainment center around the ball park (note the great reuse of existing historic warehouse structures). There are multiple small lots, and some structured parking, scattered throughout the district; the idea is not to park everyone coming to a game in one attached deck, but rather for fans to find multiple locations to park and enjoy dinner and a stroll before the game. People don’t mind walking a couple blocks as long as the walk is engaging, with lots of pleasant distractions and “window shopping” to be done. This appears to be the strategy at Regions Field, where it’s been determined that within a certain walkable radius of the facility, there’s more than enough on-street and existing parking facilities to handle the fans.

Lots of options across a well-planned district

The map above illustrates the scattered parking plan for the Bricktown district. Needless to say, the plan would be much less attractive if the streets weren’t lined with active, inviting businesses and diversions. Interestingly, the canal you see in blue weaving through the district was built from scratch in 1998 as a tourist attraction to complement the district; the water taxi service along this canal has become quite popular.

It took some vision

This is not to say that water taxis are in the cards for our new Parkside district. But it’s encouraging that the development is going with a scattered parking strategy: this should promote foot traffic throughout the area, spurring additional private development. Now, let’s just get those sidewalks paved around Railroad Park, and some more bike lanes marked, and we’re starting to make this area a model for how cities (and zoning departments) can think outside the dated, 1950’s paradigm of “every facility has to have its own parking”. We can scatter it, share it, and encourage other modes of transit instead.

These boots were made for...

Which brings us to a final note on that oddball city, New York, where zoning laws have been changed for some time to deliberately discourage developers from building on-site parking at their projects. In a fascinating recent article from the New York Times, we learn that in the last 30 years the number of off-street parking spaces in Manhattan has fallen by 20% (and this in a city borough which has gained about 100,000 in population over the same period). Part of the outcome? Well, besides increasingly expensive rents for off-street parking spaces (which routinely fetch over $1000/month), transit ridership is way up, bike lanes have been constructed everywhere–and, of course, people continue to do a lot of walking (midtown intersection, above). New York had the right idea changing its zoning laws. We need to consider the same thing here, in certain areas where it makes sense. This can only enhance the density and diversity of our urban environment. So get those boots on and get ready to walk through Parkside to all the new urban attractions that will soon await us.

[thanks to alanoftulsa for the Bricktown overview pic; babselder for the canal pic; flickr4jazz for the Manhattan pic]


Provoking the consumer of the urban environment

On view now in New York City is a show orchestrated by architect/urbanist Rem Koolhaas and the New Museum called “Cronocaos” (read the review in the New York Times). Located appropriately in an old equipment supply store next to the museum, the show explores what Koolhaas sees as the disturbing tendency of modern cities to use preservation as a tool to erase certain layers of the past, and to “sanitize” the urban environment for upscale tourism and consumption.

Controversial by design, the show questions the darker side of the preservation movement, where developers, governments, and preservation agencies unite over projects that displace the poor, and benefit tourists and upper-income consumers. It’s apt the show’s located on the Bowery, until recently a byword for poverty and soup-kitchens (and good punk rock venues); it’s now brimming with upscale boutiques, hotels, and condos.

A different case for preservation?

Since the shotgun houses of the poor were long ago cleared from Birmingham’s central city, there are few residents to “displace” here; much of our own preservation movement has converted old commercial structures into residential, bringing new populations into what had hitherto been exclusively commercial areas. Perhaps more relevant is Koolhaas’ lament of the “sanitizing” nature of a lot of historic preservation, where messy but fascinating layers of time are erased to create a faux-historic environment at odds with any historic reality. Further complicating this is the fact that we’re willing to create new buildings in vague “period” styles, often diminishing the power of nearby, truly historic buildings (this was the argument against the imminent “historicizing” of the Alagasco building downtown, whose current 1960s self is shown above).

$50 a week on 24th Street North

Right down the street from our office–24th Street North–is a small two-story building which in the not-too-distant-past was a boarding house offering “furnished rooms” from $50/week. The painted sign advertising this can still be seen on the brick. While the boarders have long departed, it’s preserving this sort of quirky authenticity that Koolhaas is arguing for (a dreadful oversimplification I know). Anyone who is interested in the complexities of urban space and historic preservation: if you are lucky enough to be in New York before June 5, see this show!

[thanks to the New York Times for the exhibition pic]