Archive | Urbanism

Three ways the Ash Brokerage HQ connects downtown Fort Wayne

Renderings-1-withlogos

My family can tell you I was as excited as a schoolgirl at Build-a-Bear when I saw the drawings for the planned Ash Brokerage headquarters in downtown Fort Wayne. This. Is. TREMENDOUS. What a fantastic looking building for our city.

But as I studied the building yesterday, I came across some disgruntled comments about it, and they were more than just complaints about Cindy’s Diner. (Note: Cindy’s current location is not original, and all involved parties want to find it a new home.) Some people didn’t like the modern look; some didn’t like the sheer size of it.

Let me try to lay some fears to rest. There are three tangible ways this structure will help connect downtown.

It connects to the structures of downtown

I’ve heard commenters say that this doesn’t match the historic nature of downtown Fort Wayne. And it certainly doesn’t look like the Star Bank building or Lincoln Tower to the east, or the block of buildings across Wayne Street.

But downtown Fort Wayne is not in any way a uniformly historic-looking downtown. Right across Berry Street from the Ash HQ is the modern looking Metro building. One block away is the second-tallest building, PNC Bank, and not far is One Summit Square, both of which are strikingly modern. This new structure complements them handsomely.

Besides, good design isn’t always about matching. Often, it’s about mixing. Contrast is a great design tool, whether we’re talking about typefaces, colors, or buildings. Historic and contemporary can live very comfortably side by side as long as the next point is taken into account.

It connects to the sidewalks of downtown

I think a lot of people have been turned off by modern architecture because of some of our unfortunate “starchitects” who forgot about relating the building to the street and pedestrian. But that’s not the fault of a modern design.

David Sucher, author of “City Comforts,” identifies the Three Rules for Urban Design; that is, the elements that mark an urban design versus a suburban one. It’s all in the site plan:

  1. Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).
  2. Make the building front “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).
  3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

Look at the sketch of the building above. Just like a great urban building of the early 20th century, this early 21st century one is friendly to pedestrians. The retail filling most of the first floor softens what could have been a foreboding blank steel wall. We citizens of Fort Wayne will rarely get to see the building from the angle seen above, but most of us will walk by it. It’s much friendlier than a parking lot.

It connects to the space of downtown

Currently, the parts of downtown west of this spot — including the library, the Ferguson Building at Berry and Ewing, and the soon-to-be University of Saint Francis downtown campus — can feel a little isolated from the rest of downtown. That’s partly because of how large surface parking lots dampen pedestrian traffic.

Consider how successful Lunch on the Square at the corner of Calhoun and Wayne is, and then consider how far you have to walk to find surface parking from there. The parking garages lacking first-floor retail or office space aren’t helping, but there is no huge block-sized surface parking within a few blocks.

But this is one of the greatest gifts of this project: It fills a hole in our downtown. It connects the areas to its west and east, and to its north and south. Downtown will feel more “whole” and will feel even larger, in a wonderful way.

This is big news for downtown Fort Wayne, and not just for the developers. It’s big news for all of us who call this city home. A thriving downtown is the nucleus of a city, and this only strengthens our core. Great job, Ash Brokerage, for investing in downtown, and in all of us.

Image courtesy of the City of Fort Wayne

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What is the role of government in urbanism?

My friend Scott Greider left some well-written commentary on The Good City’s post about our recent reboot that focuses on market-driven urbanism. I encourage you to read his entire comment here, but below is the paragraph I’d like to interact with:

All things being equal, yes, the market tends to work best. But all things are NOT equal. It’s far easier, cheaper, and more profitable to develop/live/worship/do business in Sprawlville than it is in the City. So while I’m committed to “market-driven” approaches (indeed, I live/work/play/worship downtown), they just won’t work here apart from massive government involvement.

Well… I’d say I’m suspicious of “massive government involvement,” and I think it’s for good reason. It’s massive government involvement in two specific ways that actually helped create and support the American suburbs:

  • The federal government’s post-war spending on highways, which artificially lowered the cost of driving your own car.
  • The federal government’s post-war subsidizing of mortgages for single-family homes,which didn’t cover existing housing or apartments and which encouraged residence-only subdivisions along all those new highways.

Of course, the suburbs would have certainly existed to some extent without government involvement, but federal spending was a huge impetus for the incredible spread of suburbia. And the current spending on highways and other infrastructure continues the trend. This is why I’d say that, in general, limiting government spending and expanding private property rights is the true solution to bringing some balance to the growth of a city.

But that’s the ideal. What do we do now that the Interstate and the suburbs exist? Are there places the city should spend to restore some urban/suburban balance? Perhaps. Are there some zoning ordinances and regulations the city should relax? Likely. But it’s all in the particulars, which is what this blog will explore for what I hope is a long time to come. And I certainly hope Scott and others keep contributing to the conversation!

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Market-driven urbanism: The TGC Reboot

It’s time to begin again.

Thanks to friends saying this blog must be revived, The Good City is now back in business.

We’re retooling the focus of the blog to concentrate on market-driven urbanism versus the more common centrally planned urbanism.

But what’s market-driven urbanism? Here’s a definition from the Market Urbanism blog:

Market Urbanism examines how market forces and property rights enable complex, yet vibrant and economically robust communities and regions to emerge through the “spontaneous order” of the land use and transportation marketplace. When left to market forces, as opposed to intervention, land use patterns and transportation systems reflect a society that is economically and environmentally more efficient and just than when imposed in a top-down fashion by government.

Simply put, market-driven urbanism is the best philosophy to revive our downtown and other urban areas in a conservative city like Fort Wayne which is naturally suspicious of governmental intrusion. Besides that, it honors property rights and eclecticism that makes cities vibrant.

Stay tuned for more posts and commentary!

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Learning from Columbus, Indiana

What can the rest of Indiana learn from Columbus? From an article in the Star Press of Muncie:

The American Institute of Architects ranks Columbus as the sixth city in the nation for architectural innovation and design? (The ones listed 1-5 are: Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.)

and this:

What every comprehensive planning and design exercise that has guided the development of Columbus — from its civic buildings, to its health and senior care facilities, to its commercial and retail facilities, to its streetscape and public art for the last 40 years has contained physical design guidelines and the drawings and models to communicate their recommendations.These provide everyone with a vision of what might be. They serve as “talk pieces” to foster public discussion, debate and consensus building. More important, paraphrasing the great architect and planner, Daniel Burnham, who said about his plan for Chicago, “They need to stir men’s soul.” I might add, “women, children, investors, developers and retirees.”

Read the whole article here.

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Are chain stores bad for downtowns?

Subway in downtown Lewiston, MaineFrom The News-Sentinel:

BLOOMINGTON — A task force appointed by Bloomington’s mayor is going to consider steps other than his proposed ban on new chain stores and restaurants to protect the character of the city’s downtown. …

Mayor Mark Kruzan asked task force members in September to start considering chain store restrictions. He has said he wants to protect areas with distinctive business identities.

How can a ban on certain kinds of business ownership save a downtown? Even the most traditional downtowns of the 1950s had chain stores like G.C. Murphy’s and Walgreens.

The mayor should perhaps instead consider The Three Rules of Urban Design for his downtown:

  1. Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).
  2. Make the building front “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).
  3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

It doesn’t matter who owns the store. It matter where the store is located on the site plan. Because nowadays, big chains such as Subway and Starbucks can easily meet these urban standards. The problems arise when stores in an urban area ignore the simple steps above that would make any building a compliment.

Photo by NNECAPA from Flickr

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Results of downtown design survey

downtown_d75d7b7352_bHere is the press release sent out by the City of Fort Wayne this morning:

DOWNTOWN SURVEY RESULTS SHOW PUBLIC PREFERENCE FOR DURABLE DESIGN

Input from nearly 700 people to help create Downtown Design Manual

Fort Wayne, Ind. – Fort Wayne residents have once again expressed support for thoughtful design in downtown Fort Wayne through the downtown design survey earlier this fall. An internal team and an advisory group will use the survey’s information as they create a Downtown Design Manual by early next year.

“Engaging the public in the revision process is a critical element to ensure that we are planning with people, not for them,” Mayor Tom Henry said. “We received an outstanding response from the public and will use this information as we shape policy that will leave a lasting legacy for our downtown and entire community.”

Respondents expressed a decided preference for an appealing pedestrian experience in downtown, particularly for anything that includes landscaping, planters and greenery. Other preferences included the use of durable materials such as brick and stone, street-level windows, lower ground-mounted signage and wide, unobstructed sidewalks.

“Fort Wayne residents consistently tell us they care about how their city looks,” said Community Development Director John Urbahns. “Information from this survey as well as the input from the comprehensive plan process and the Downtown Blueprint points to how people value and appreciate the aesthetic experience of public spaces.”

The City will use the survey and information from the internal team and advisory group to create a Downtown Design Manual. The existing Downtown Design Guidelines is an advisory document that provides general recommendations. The new manual will continue to have recommendations but may include required elements that would be incorporated into a zoning ordinance amendment, which would need City Council approval. Required elements would need to be quantifiable and not based on a specific taste or style. Once complete, the draft design manual will be made available for public review and comment.

“One of the things that makes downtown Fort Wayne an interesting place is the variety of styles: the Allen County Courthouse, One Summit Square, the Lincoln Tower and the Grand Wayne Center for example. We want our design manual to maintain architectural diversity while encouraging features we know Fort Wayne residents appreciate and want to see more of,” Mayor Henry said.

The survey, taken by 693 people, had respondents evaluate building materials, signage, sidewalks, windows and other design elements of buildings and public spaces. Respondents could also indicate if the feature should be encouraged or required. A full summary of the responses is available at www.cityoffortwayne.org/designsurvey.

Photo from Flickr by Northeast Indiana

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Urban find #1

This is a first in a possible series of cool-looking but underused urban buildings and settings in Fort Wayne.

Where is the above building located?

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Slow down, you move too fast

A policy that encourages cars to keep moving privileges cars at the expense of pedestrians and bicyclists. Since drivers, for the most part, already believe that they have priority on the road, in places where there are many more walkers and bicyclists, drivers able to drive more quickly because of fewer impediments would likely feel more empowered to move more quickly and to drive faster, likely endangering non-drivers.

As long as roads are engineered to allow very high speeds, and cars are engineered to drive very fast (in the 1940s, the speed limit on residential streets in DC was 15 mph), reducing impediments on drivers is likely to be deleterious to pedestrians and bicyclists.

– From Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

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Come, let us rezone together

I’m completely ripping off The News-Sentinel’s headline above, but it’s too good not to. (BTW: Great headline, Caleb!)

In his column today, Kevin Leininger comments on the proposed rezoning of 633 properties in a “downtown edge” zone.

On paper, perhaps, the proposed changes — intended to codify earlier downtown improvements plans — don’t seem all that consequential. It would limit the location and size of gas station/convenience stores, for example, establish guidelines for heights and setbacks, and would seek to limit common features deemed too “suburban,” such as surface parking lots and drive-through service lanes, while promoting so-called “mixed-use” projects combining housing, stores and other urban features.

But recent history shows how even seemingly benign guidelines can conflict with market decisions.

Consider planners’ preference for “pedestrian-friendly” development that eliminates parking lots between the sidewalk and door. When Subway Systems Inc. built a new restaurant on West Jefferson Boulevard earlier this year, it included a parking lot and drive-through — passing up a city grant in the process — because an earlier location had taught that foot traffic alone could not sustain the business. And when Woodson Motorsports moved to East Washington at Clay two years ago, it lost a city grant when it put a modern metallic façade on the historic brick building.

In each case, the owners decided to act in their own perceived best interest – even though those interests were not necessarily compatible with planners’ interests.

If their properties had been rezoned, however — and both are included in the proposed “downtown edge” area — those decisions could have been made more complicated.

Personally, I’d hope that such rezoning would not mandate urban-style development, but at least put it on even footing with “normal” suburban-style development. Because it seems to me that current zoning is not in any way “neutral,” despite Kevin’s perspective.

Suburban-style development, including minimum parking standards, is the only one codified, with everything else having to be submitted for “exceptional” approval. Unless I am wrong, the code the city is considering would only open a new urban-like avenue for development. Is that true?

– Photo by The News-Sentinel

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