February 12, 2007

Appealing Streetscapes Need Visual Interest

I agree with Kansas City Star columnist E. Thomas McClanahan, who notes that a "healthy urban districts need street fronts thick with detail — buildings with grand entrances, clear windows, plantings, benches or sheltered alcoves. Amenities such as these send a compelling message to the eye, one that says: Lots of cool stuff here, but you can’t experience it from your car. You have to get out and walk.

"A blank wall sends the opposite message, and makes even a short walk monotonous."

That's another detail that often gets lost when officials think they're doing something for walkers by installing a sidewalk, without taking into account that a compelling streetscape -- and by compelling, I mean one that encourages people to walk from one destination to another -- needs more than just sidewalks.

As McClanahan says, it needs visual and architectural interest. It also needs a feeling of "enclosure" -- walking along a 6-lane highway with buildings set way back and parking lots all around is a sure way to discourage foot traffic, no matter how wide the sidewalks. Also, walkers instinctively dislike large blank walls, and like varying building facades with things like bay windows and doorways not flush on a single plane.

Think about what makes places like Boston's Newbury Street so attractive for walking, and it includes all these things, not just the presence of sidewalks. It's something local planning officials need to keep in mind when they think about trying to revitalize downtown Framingham.

1 comment:

  1. The article is interesting but there is a lot of things that need to be taken in consideration.

    First, pedestrians don't appear out of the void. They need to start and end their travel. Hence, even if you have the nicest walls, the best proportions as directed by Haussman or Cerda and design need population to enjoy. Condos, appartements, houses or parking lots are required so that patrons can enjoy the place.

    If there is no live population, you end with somewhat active timeframes on a street and a desolace place afterward (Ottawa's spark street is the best example. As soon as the clock hits 5:00pm, it's dead. Of course, it's only offices and no condos or appartements, everyone is back home in suburbia).

    We also live in a very flexible world, thanks to our car. Pedestrians are also automobilist and they have the choice to choose from various location and even don't care about the walkability of a site.

    In conclusion, urban planners need to consider the regional dynamic of a geographic location before pourring monies to form a compelling streetscape.