Throughout my professional career, whenever a new or innovative approach is taken on a development project, its title automatically defaults to that of ‘Pilot Project.’ It occurs so often that I am changing my title to ‘Pilot Project Pilot’ as I would then be involved with pretty much every development proposal out there. Due to overuse, I suspect that conventional ‘Pilot Projects’ will fade away, just as the terms Smart Growth, Watershed Planning, and Lifestyle Centers have.
Half-way through our family’s relocation to the woods for the month of August, placeshakers have been asking me for town planning lessons learned. It’s challenging to encapsulate a place as extraordinary as Victoria Beach, with its 101-year history of car-free summers and an elegant street grid of dirt roads that are tremendously kid-friendly. I’ve been blogging about the plan here and here, although am really just beginning to scratch the surface.
Enjoying a serendipitous downtown walk this week, I was reminded of just how important this concept is. Seemed like a good opportunity to dust off this oldie-but-goodie.
I’ll admit it: I wish there was a more user-friendly way to say “terminated vista.”
Perhaps I’m more sensitive to it because, as regular readers here know, I’m not an urban designer. I just work with them. That means I’m more inclined to scratch my head like any other layperson when I hear wonky expressions that sound far too highfalutin for an everyday community.
That’s too bad, because the terminated vista plays a pivotal role in good community design.
The flurry of social media discussions sparked by my recent series on lessons from great cities has made it apparent that a few things aren’t clear. When I write about a particular square in some inspiring place, I’m hoping you won’t take away from it that we should stamp 5-story buildings on 50-yard wide squares all across the landscape. But rather I’m reaffirming that a sense of enclosure can indeed provide a feeling of comfort and satisfaction. You’ll know, if you’re a frequent PlaceShakers reader, that this sense of enclosure is illegal across much of North America because of auto-centric land use laws that require wide, fast roads.
We talk often here on PlaceShakers about cottage living, as well as drilling down into how to make that happen at home, with conversations like Small Y’all: A Cottage Solution to the Housing Problem and “Pocket Neighborhoods”: Scale Matters.
This weekend, strolling through Victoria Beach — an insightful cottage community in Manitoba, Canada — I was struck by many of the lessons learned through all the conversations we’ve had together here. And one of the biggest is to keep it simple. And in many cases, that means inexpensive. Victoria Beach does it with a dirt street grid and very simple architecture on the town square, which is really more of an oversized town ramble. Most of the lots on these dirt streets are not cleared keeping the costs lower and privacy higher.
Want to get some sleep tonight? How about snuggling up with your local Development Code? Read any section, such as Sign Violations and Enforcement Procedures, and I’m willing to bet you’ll be out before you get past the Statement of Purpose.
That’s a problem, because such volumes don’t exist to cure insomnia. They exist to engage us in the collaborative project of creating our shared surroundings. That means something and, while I understand that Comprehensive Plans, Zoning, and Subdivision Ordinances, by virtue of their lofty stature, might make for poor everyday reading, we all suffer when they end up so… tedious.
“Our life is frittered away by detail … simplify, simplify.” – Thoreau
In her September 2011 blog, Special Districts Getting All Mixed Up, Hazel Borys questioned why we treat large format areas with distinctive uses, such as manufacturing or aviation, as “special” to the point of exclusion from our efforts to integrate all urban land uses and activities into a spatially coherent whole, ending with an inspiring contemporary example of planned “strict integration” of land uses in the corridors and boulevards connecting the El Paso International Airport to the city.
Living in season asks us to “entice people outside, where they get more acclimated to the local environment, needing less heating or cooling when they return indoors,” according to Steve Mouzon via treehugger.
Howard Blackson dares us to live outdoors where “we can again connect with our climate and place — another step towards unsealing ourselves from our hermetic suburban environments.”
Urban Design is concerned with the practice of designing, repurposing and revitalizing 3-dimensional places. These place types are described in Charter of the New Urbanism principles, as, “The neighborhood, the district, and the corridor are the essential elements of development and redevelopment in the metropolis. They form identifiable areas — centers, edges and in-between — that encourage citizens to take responsibility for their maintenance and evolution. Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, such as airports, campuses, and industry. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways.” Personally, I add ‘downtowns’ as another essential element of city-making.