Monday, January 4, 2010

Cheapo urban design example

I know a lot of times when I criticize a development I make it sound like I expect developers to barely break even. It sounds like my expectations are jumping through all these hoops and going to extreme ends to satisfy visions of "new urbanism." That isn't necessarily the case. Yeah, that would be great if every project was perfect, but you don't have to "Go green or go broke tryin!!" to make me happy. Here's an example of a (VERY) bare bones urban-smart building, a project that does FAR more to the built environment around it than any multi-million dollar projects like Lower Bricktown, the proposed SandRidge demolitions, or even The Hill.

This is the hotel/motel liquidation supercenter store thingy on NW 23rd at Walker. Yeah, it's not the best neighbor, and yeah it is kind of an eyesore for Uptown. I remember one time I actually got a desk from here years ago, after we searched the city's antique stores for a old timey desk, finally found something worn out but workable here. The place is a dump on the inside if I remember right, I don't even think they have lighting.

But I looked at it more closely while I was passing through and couldn't help but notice that the sidewalk environment is surprisingly nice. While the oversized gray/green (vomit color) metal awning that dominates the drive through Uptown is hideous and needs to go, what goes on underneath it is bearable. The sidewalk is wide enough for pedestrians to have room, they have window displays (albeit not good ones), some nice planters and patio fixtures, as well as a bench for people to wait for the bus. When you add the 23rd Uptown streetscape and the lighting, it's actually a nice environment.

If it weren't for the exhaust-stained snow drifts and the 20 degree temperature and the general malaise of activity on 23rd, there WOULD be people on that sidewalk. This building isn't adding anything to Uptown clearly, but the sidewalk environment is decent enough to the point that it doesn't detract from Uptown's walkability and it can link to more interesting elements. Granted, there really isn't a whole lot going on right now, but hopefully that will change one of these days. For now, here's an example of a low-budget building owner who is making a small, yet positive difference. I don't know the owner, or who the owner is, or if there have been issues with the owner, but at the least, I am pleasantly surprised and I think this serves as a good example on how you don't have to break the bank to be urban! It's just common sense things more of the time.

In fact, if they got rid of the hideous awning, this could very well be an attractive environment. And in case the owner reads this, I better go on a little bit more.. I definitely think that having the awning there is good for pedestrian environment, my only complaint is how hideous the awning in particular is. If it was a less overbearing and less obtrusive building element, it would be great. You could easily remove that and replace it with a simple canvas awning and you would no longer have an eyesore in the midst of a redeveloping corridor. There is potential here to have a nice building.


Max said...

I take this building for granted, but you're totally correct in this. It's set back properly with a well-maintained pedestrian environment. It's amazing how much these two simple things can do for any district. Consider near NW 23rd another area that really needs smart planning behind it in order to fully bloom.

kent said...

I agree with your comment on the overall pedestrian environment against the buildings. But I have stated at other sites that in my opinion the streetscaping that was done along that section of NW 23rd is the worst in the city. The existing streetscape creates a "Great Wall" that promotes that one either be on the Northside or the Southside but don't try to get to the other side, thus not promoting pedestrian movement between the two... the rebuttal of course was you go to the corners to cross. But my premise is the great wall keeps to pedestrians confined visually and physically to the side of the street that they are on.

Of thanks for getting comments from all....

Walker, Downtown Ranger said...

I think 23rd is just at the point where it needs a significant draw. The theater opening (aint gonna happen anytime soon) would be a huge draw. Anything that just gets large numbers of people there on Uptown for events is going to be a spark for them. That area is mostly "undiscovered" at this point.

I think one idea the city certainly needs to look at is a pedestrian traffic signal crossing right in front of the theater. They could coordinate that with attempting to get someone else to purchase that building and redevelop it. Part of the problem is just that traffic moves through there way too fast and too close to pedestrians, but with more businesses and stuff, traffic would just naturally slow down. That's a problem that can organically solve itself.

Kent, I appreciate your comment. I didn't realize how many comments I was missing out on by having the feature turned off for non blogger members. If your great comment is any indication, I'm going to be glad I took care of that problem.

kent said...

I then go to the comments that Jeff Speck made that addresses your comments on the 23rd street design. "Our streets are too wide." As noted in some of his visuals - 23rd would have meet the pedestrian environment better if the center median was not there, and the landscaping had been placed on both sides of the street, creating the pedestrian corridor of sidewalk - landscaping - parking - and traffic corridor. This would have created the safety zone for the pedestrain and at the same time would have created a traffic environment that would have felt a need to slow down.

In my opinion an organic solution is not going to change the problem, a complete redesign is needed to correct the problem. The area is not going to develop anytime at a fast pace because in my opinion when a developer looks at the area, as it is today, they see a much divided area that if something is going to be invested in, the income that is needed to support the development must all come from much smaller area due to the "Great Wall" dividing the area.

Although the landscaping has helped to soften the edges of the streetscape it has created a problem of pedestrian flow and continuity.

Max said...

Agree completely, Kent. Whenever I think of a great district like this in another city, there is never, ever, ever landscaping in the median. You can look directly across the street and see everything over there, and it encourages movement back and forth. In these areas, as mentioned, streetscaping is generally in planter boxes or trees in sidewalk cutouts throughout the sidewalk area.

Another thing contributing, imo, is that the street is too wide (2 lanes each way plus median). I know most about Western, so I tend to use it as an example, but I'm very glad that Western south of 50th is 2-lane. Consequently, people can run back and forth across the street and are encouraged to move from place to place and really utilize many of the area's businesses.