Monday, October 24, 2011

A Hope VI Gallery

In the comments to last Monday's post, several commenters suggested that the example I'd chosen, J. Henry Hale Homes in Nashville, was not representative of the design quality of many Hope VI projects.  For the sake of balance, I've put together a series of aerial and street-level images of each of several projects chosen from a variety of locations.  Rather than editorializing, I present them accompanied by a short statement from their planners or from other relevant sources to let you judge for yourself the merits or shortcomings of each of the projects (click on the images to enlarge):

Bedford Hills Apartments, Pittsburgh

"Through the community-driven design process, the planners learned of the residents’ interest in maintaining the look of the existing housing stock. It was important that the new units fit in the context of the neighborhood. Consequently, the design team spent much of its time in the surrounding neighborhood documenting existing housing types and architectural styles. ... Each rowhouse, including the rental townhouse flat units, has a front door that opens up onto the street, providing residents a sense of ownership and a direct connection to the community. ... Resident surface parking lots, accessible by driveways, were situated in the rear of the housing units. Small setbacks of the houses enabled the planners to incorporate landscaping into the plan." -Project Summary
Broadway Overlook, Baltimore

"The final master plan for the Broadway Overlook was more human in scale than the former Broadway Homes and oriented to pedestrians instead of automobiles. Parking is either on-street or in the rear of the units. Not all of the units have dedicated parking, but the steep topography of the site made it possible to place some of the resident parking beneath the new units, to be accessed from the rear. Although the master plan worked with the existing street grid, it incorporated two new streets to facilitate greater density.  These streets were designed to be one-way with on-street parking to help buffer pedestrians from direct traffic flow, therefore making it a more pleasant and safe streetcrossing experience. Like the surrounding community, the townhomes borrow from the Federal and Italianate architectural styles and consist of single-family and two-family dwellings that range in height from two to four stories." -Project Summary

Centennial Place, Atlanta

"Over 900 families live in new garden apartments and townhomes. Some families make a few thousand dollars a year and some make more than $150,000. But you won’t know which by looking at their housing units. They live side by side in an attractive neighborhood of tree-lined streets. Two swimming pools and a fitness center in the development, and a new YMCA nearby, provide recreational opportunities. New commercial development is underway – being built with private investment." -Development Description

Flag House Courts, Baltimore

"Torti Gallas and Partners responded to the special challenges of this revitalization project with sensitive solutions. Rental, homeownership, and live-work units are designed with a consistent esthetic treatment that dissolves the stereotypes surrounding public housing. Housing density is reduced, allowing the introduction of planned open spaces. Blighted structures are demolished to create a rejuvenated environment. Safety and security are intrinsically planned into the neighborhood, and units are designed so that living areas face streets and public spaces. Creative plans fit comfortable units within the existing narrow lot widths." -Project Summary

High Point, Seattle

"By the end of the decade, High Point will have nearly 1,700 new affordable and market-rate units across its 120 acres. Most homes will have private yards and porches. They will sit on safe streets with controlled traffic, and will show great variety in architecture, with character and styles on each block. ... To maintain the green, garden-like feel, the plan designated over 20 acres of land for parks, open spaces, and playgrounds. A four-acre, central park will be at the heart of the community. Another park features a large pond and a jogging trail, and several other community and pocket parks are scattered throughout High Point.  Even planting strips along streets will be greener and wider than elsewhere in Seattle. The plan triples the number of previously existing trees." -Redevelopment Plan

Martin Luther King Plaza, Philadelphia

"Significantly, new housing is equally divided between on-site reconstruction and off-site renovation and infill. Long term sustainability of the reconstructed project will be assured by eliminating blight and creating stability in the broader community.

One key to the on-site master plan is the creation of a new residential square founded in the tradition of neighborhood-making established by William Penn, founder of Philadelphia. This new open space will be a focus for the broader Hawthorne neighborhood and will marry new and renovated housing, retail with residential above, and a host of local institutions, including a new daycare and community center, a local church and an existing elementary school. The architecture of the new units includes a diverse set of types modeled on traditional patterns of Philadelphia neighborhoods." -Project Summary

Mechanicsville Commons, Knoxville

Existing houses in the neighborhood reflect the architectural styles that were popular in that era, primarily Victorian cottages and Craftsman bungalows. The house designs created for Mechanicsville Commons and for infill in the adjacent neighborhood respect these architectural traditions, incorporating elements from them – deep front porches, Victorian fretwork, and Craftsman brackets – to enrich the facades. The houses are painted in rich colors that give distinct personality to each house and create a lively streetscape. -Architect's Summary                      "As a minimum requirement, all new residential structures should have seeded lawns around the entire house and foundation plantings along their front facades. Landscape plantings and treatment help to define the mood for the residence as well as that of the entire neighborhood. ... In addition to the general landscape guidelines, one small ornamental tree shall be planted in the front yard; a minimum of one large ornamental or canopy tree shall be planted elsewhere on the lot." -Design Guidelines

New Columbia, Portland
The vision for New Columbia was to create a vibrant new neighborhood with a mix of housing types affordable to people at all income levels. New Columbia includes the following features: A mix of residents, representing a variety of cultures, age groups, and income levels; A community-friendly design, with front porches, parks and public spaces; A new street grid that provides easy circulation within New Columbia and connects the community to the rest of the Portsmouth neighborhood; A Main Street that offers a variety of recreational, cultural and educational opportunities both for New Columbia residents and the surrounding neighborhood. -New Columbia website

"A sustainable stormwater management system retains 98 percent of stormwater onsite, treating and infiltrating water into the ground, avoiding piping overflows into local waterways. The system includes 101 pocket swales (or as residents call them, “rain gardens”), 31 flow-through planter boxes, and 40 public infiltration dry wells." -New Columbia website

"Portland doesn't really have food deserts ... . But it has patches such as New Columbia, a community of 3,000 mostly low-income residents where people must travel long distances to get to groceries." -Portland Tribune, March 10, 2011

North Beach Place, San Francisco

"North Beach Place is one of the largest mixed income, mixed-use complexes in California, comprising a 341-unit development; 20,000 square feet of commercial space, including 3,000 square feet of incubator space for resident entrepreneurs; and a childcare/community center. Located in San Francisco’s popular North Beach area, with proximity to both transportation and employment, this complex is a model for transit-oriented urban infill developments.  ..." -Builder's Summary                     

"PGA’s green roof concept allows for underground parking, street-level shops and 341 apartments interwoven with inviting outdoor spaces, including courtyards, gardens, seating areas and six childrens’ play areas, all designed to enhance urban life. PGA was also responsible for the design of surrounding urban streetscapes." -Landscape Architect Summary

Renaissance Place at Grand, St. Louis

The developer's website does not describe the design approach.  However, this project recently won LEED-ND certification:

"Renaissance Place at Grand neighborhood was recently Certified in the U.S. Green Building Council LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) Pilot program.  Renaissance Place received outstanding LEED-ND scores in the areas of “Smart Location & Linkages” and “Neighborhood Pattern & Design” rising from its connections to amenities in the surrounding community—a variety of retail stores, cultural institutions, schools and recreational options—all accessible within a ½ mile walking distance or convenient Metro transit lines. Renaissance Place also met its “Green Construction and Technology” targets by using environmentally sensitive construction techniques and by ensuring that brownfield contamination, storm water runoff and pollution from construction activities were significantly reduced or completely abated. The site also avoided environmental disruptions by using pre-existing water and wastewater infrastructure, restoring the historic street grid and using a dense design that helps to minimize unnecessary land use."


  1. Good work, Charlie. The Google fish-eye street view tends to make some of the projects look less like an urban neighborhood than they would on the ground (New Columbia, Knoxville, and High Point) — but overall, a good selection of HOPE VI projects to counterbalance the one that was criticized last week.

  2. Something that jumps out at me: The narrowest streets, in general, which are usually (always?) 50 ft. with 30-ft. carriageways (see the Philadelphia image for a textbook example) are those which pre-existed. New project streets always seem to have at least 40-ft carriageways, no matter how much traffic the street is supposed to carry. These over-wide carriageways have been narrowed, via bumpouts, in at least two projects--most notably Portland, and also Broadway Overlook (Baltimore). The second issue that jumps out is the excessive amount of back-of-house autocentrism--Atlanta being by far the worst offender, while Broadway Place looked to be the greenest while maintaining attached housing. (This is also an issue with poorly-designed New Urban and--more often--New Urban-esque developments.)

    Knoxville was pure sprawl--New Urbanism at its worst--and the St. Louis example surprised with its detached housing, which would in theory make the project stand out like a sore thumb in that city's core.

    The weird thing, though, is that while most of the projects "fit in" to their respective cities' urban environments, St. Louis' stands out. St. Louis vernacular is quite distinct, and the housing in that project looks nothing like it.

  3. Just to be skeptical: all the images are very spiffy-looking because the projects are newly-completed. How will they age? The red-brick ones will probably last well with desultory maintenance, but how will the clapboard and stucco ones survive?

    If one must have public housing (and as I've said, the idea has been a disaster) why are the designers mimicking the worst traits of subdivision developers?

  4. If you are talking curb-to-curb distance, I don't think any of them are 400 feet wide. The St. Louis one is the widest, although I bet it is closer to 35-36. The knoxville one looks to be less than 30 feet, and you call it pure sprawl. I don't think so. Narrow lots, alleys, connected street network, no garages in front. Far from sprawl.

  5. @Robert and Steve: The design guidelines for the Knoxville project show a curb-to-curb width of 26 feet for that project. High Point looks to be a bit narrower, and has these very interesting clusters of single-family attached homes (to the west of the collecting pond) along shared-space streets of no more than 15 or so feet which I might have pictured as well:,-122.372273&spn=0.000004,0.002191&hnear=High+Point,+Seattle,+King,+Washington&gl=us&t=h&z=19&vpsrc=6&layer=c&cbll=47.549302,-122.372252&panoid=0uwWQ1JmzqXH4g9rk1GBKQ&cbp=12,65.89,,0,-0.75

    That is basically traditional urbanism, but the designer only dabbled in it on this project.

    @Steve: as to the architecture, I agree it is odd the St. Louis developer did not seek to imitate the form of the surrounding neighborhoods,even though as you say St. Louis has a distinct urban vernacular, as much so than Philadelphia or Baltimore (though worse hit by decay and neglect). The Built St. Louis site talks about this phenomenon quite a bit, as it is not limited to this project but seems to be common to most downtown redevelopments in that city.

    @Cambias: poor construction may be an issue over time. In some cases it is evident that the new structures are of lower structural quality than their midcentury predecessors -- cost savings in the short term in exchange for long term maintenance issues may not come out to be a good trade.

  6. @Robert: If you've followed this blog for some time, you'll know that there's been an ongoing issue of how "urban" back-of-house autocentrism is (alleys, etc.) Frankly, I don't know what to make of it, because there are examples I can think of with alleys and urbanism, and examples with alleys and sprawl. The best conclusion I can come up with ATM is that it's what's out front--the depth of the front and side setbacks, minimal buildable properties, etc., that are more important.

    But in any case I'll gladly recant my initial observation about Knoxville. It is definitely not urban center, but it is definitely not cul-de-sac sprawl. The building density looks more Levittown, but with better spatial connectivity.

    Perhaps it was the curve + the fish-eye lens which fooled me. I thought that carriageway was much wider than 26 ft.

  7. @Steve: The lens does not give the most accurate impression in the Knoxville example, but I think the sidewalks and setbacks also combine to make the roadway look wider than it is. From one outer sidewalk edge to another is 50', and homes are set back another 20' to 25' from those edges (that is, not counting protruding porches). The horizontal emphasis seems to trick the eye into seeing a wider street than is actually there. It is also difficult with no cars or people to scale.

  8. Thanks for this further exploration of the effect of Hope VI. My guess is that on balance the program resulted in more bad projects than good, but that is probably a matter of timing more than anything - it was kicked off in the 90s, in my opinion the nadir of urbanism in the obviously already anti-urban US.

    Another factor may have been the fact that many of the early Hope VI projects were initiated by the wave of concentration lawsuits that spread across the country in the 90s - you'd think that an agency that didn't really want to redevelop in the first place may not have done the best job redeveloping.

    That's just speculation, but based on my experience in Minneapolis - we ended up on with a Hope VI project that is at least no better than the housing it was ordered to replace as a result of the lawsuit. Here's the original:

    And google shows what replaced it:,+mn&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x52b333909377bbbd:0x939fc9842f7aee07,Minneapolis,+MN&gl=us&ei=DsylTvGHMsiNsQKIt9jCBQ&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=image&resnum=1&ved=0CCgQ8gEwAA

    But the Minneapolis PHA has gone on to do better stuff, including some stuff that is hopefully replacing some of the dreck in the master plan that didn't get built. Unfortunately for armchair theorists, it seems to have been a change in personnel that did it here - the developments got much better when the agency changed directors of development.

  9. The residents of some of these developments have the privilege of being surrounded by automobile dedicated infrastructure on THREE IMMEDIATE SIDES of their home. Look at all the parking @ Centennial Place, Atlanta & Renaissance Place at Grand, St. Louis!

  10. For most of these I recognize the tell-tell results of 2 parking spaces / dwelling unit. It's typical where I live. "Urbanism" lining the parking lot. I call these Potemkin urbanist villages. It's the hybrid result of form based planning (or form-focused urban district zoning/overlay) and suburban parking standards.

  11. It was said before, but I think it needs repeating: Great work!

    I just thought I'd share a Hope VI project in my neighborhood: Heritage Park, Minneapolis.

    It shares a similar story to those posted above (and one from last week). The place had a great design process with lots of community input. The final results are mixed, but the biggest criticism is that it's too suburban looking. From the photos – this looks very true. The reality is that is mirrors most NU developments (minus the office/retail elements) and abuts downtown (albeit cut off slightly by Interstate 94).

  12. Thanks, Nathaniel. I agree with your comments about Heritage Park -- also, the amount of paved surface looks extravagant.

    @Eric: That's a good point and I like the terminology. A seemingly pedestrian-focused facade only conceals the automobile addiction. In the case of the Atlanta development, this is in spite of the fact that the apartments are directly on a bus line and only a 15-minute walk from the center of downtown Atlanta.

  13. I'm not 100% sure, but it seems as if one or more of those have one way streets with on-street parking on both sides.

    Oh the joy of the cyclist riding down a one way street with on-street parallel parking facing the same direction from both sides. That pushes the experienced transport cyclist into the middle of the lane to avoid the attack of the killer door zone ~ and for the inexperienced transport cyclist who hugs the edge of the lane for fear of overtaking traffic, it just result in the attack of the killer door.

  14. Most of these are basically 19th century hypertrophism with more parking, mostly in the form of parking areas behind the houses. Basically they are trying to imitate a typical 19th century large city -- in other words, the sort of city that drove people into the suburbs! Failure all around.

    The one interesting example was in San Francisco. It is also basically 19th century hypertrophies, but 19th century style -- no extra parking! The text says that they incorporate underground parking.

    Underground (or ground-level shared) parking is something that might be quite interesting going forward. The problem with the modern townhouse is the garage door. However, some sort of shared parking arrangement basically allows you to have fewer garage doors. You can have parking for twenty cars, with one or two doors. You can build something on top of the garage, either a building or some sort of open area/patio/garden etc.

    Otherwise I see nothing of interest in these examples, except as a record of contemporary failure. (Charles pointed out the "Narrow street" section of the Seattle example, which is promising although problematic due to the wall of garage doors at street level.)

  15. I will point out another aspect of the San Francisco example, as I have been thinking about this "shared parking" format for some time now. Because the parking is "underground" (actually at ground level), then on the inside of the block you can design a space which doesn't need to make any concessions to automobiles. A totally pedestrian area. This is indeed what they did, a sort of garden area with those funny skewed buildings. I think this was a good solution for the space they had, which was a little too big for a garden but too small to start breaking up into streets and so forth. However, I can imagine a larger area, about twice the size perhaps, where you could have that interior area devoted to what amounts to a proper Traditional City walkable space, with Really Narrow Streets of the sort we see in medieval European villages, maybe ten or twelve feet from side to side. Plus some small parks and gardens perhaps. Ideally this would be a "mixed use" place, not just residential but perhaps with some shops and restaurants and so forth. It could become quite a destination and very popular, as pedestrian places tend to be.

  16. Nathan: I think that's feasible, although mostly in downtown type environments.

    It's already been demonstrated that the decked back lane style of parking works. There are probably a dozen such examples in the downtown of my suburb (Oakville). There are even one or two that are mixed use. However, these always have retail facing the mains streets, not interior streets. Example:,+ON,+Canada&hl=en&ll=43.440752,-79.673989&spn=0.008226,0.01929&sll=43.640928,-79.425691&sspn=0.004286,0.009645&vpsrc=6&hnear=Oakville,+Halton+Regional+Municipality,+Ontario,+Canada&t=k&z=16&layer=c&cbll=43.440802,-79.674063&panoid=SFiCjSc1MxoEJOxmJH66-g&cbp=12,186.51,,0,-9.11

    The developments that have pedestrian only sidewalks with underground or decked parking often have a bit of a gated community feel. Even if they're not gated, I think a lot of people don't feel like they should go there, even if they can. North Americans expect retail to be on the major thoroughfares. So, especially if this would be built into the existing fabric of a North American downtown, potential customers won't expect to find anything in an alley off to the side. It would have to be well indicated to draw people in.

    But... I just found out about a small development with a traditional city layout in Burlington:
    My understanding is that it has one landowner who rents out various retail units. It doesn't seem to have any onsite parking or residential units, but it seems to succeed at pulling shoppers off the main streets and into its narrow pedestrian streets. I guess it's a bit like an open air shopping mall with turn of the century architecture. I'll have to check the place out next time I'm in Burlington.

    I wonder if its success is due to its uniqueness though, or if this kind of retail will be able to catch on and become more common.

    If it does catch on though, then combine it with the townhouse developments with shared parking and pedestrian only interior streets and you might get something that looks a lot like the traditional city.


  17. Hi Nicolas,

    Your example from Burlington is excellent. In general, there is a bit more progress on these matters in Canada than in the U.S. A quick perusal of the photos shows a very attractive pedestrian space with a "traditional city" look. The streets are Really Narrow Streets, often in the twelve to twenty foot width I often recommend, and paved nicely with bricks or cobblestones.

    I heard the "townhouses with decked parking" (i.e. a shared parking space with something like a patio or garden on top) is already becoming a common format in Toronto.

    Your Oakville example is also excellent. The townhouses are very attractive and the parking entrance is just about how I imagined it. The decked interior area is probably not large enough to allow for much besides a patio or garden. Since these projects fit into existing blocks, for the most part, the blocks usually aren't large enough for what I am proposing, just as the San Francisco example also isn't large enough to support some sort of "interior village" but only a couple odd buildings.

    After all these junky examples from the U.S. which miss the mark, I have to say these are some of the very few examples I've seen in North America which come close to what I have been imagining.

  18. ^
    There are some "narrow street" developments in the US that are somewhat similar. Here's an infill project in Federal Hill, Baltimore - it's not public housing but it is new construction:,+Baltimore,+MD&hl=en&ll=39.279374,-76.615157&spn=0.001705,0.002156&sll=39.279374,-76.615159&sspn=0.000856,0.001589&vpsrc=6&hnear=50+Churchill+St,+Baltimore,+Maryland+21230&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=39.279374,-76.615159&panoid=SiG14yp9n2GGriXgo-O3-A&cbp=12,89.3,,0,1.01

    The street's narrow even though it still feels a bit "stiff." That might improve with time as the street organically ages like the surrounding old, narrow streets:,+Baltimore,+MD&hl=en&ll=39.27947,-76.612004&spn=0.001705,0.002156&sll=39.27947,-76.612004&sspn=0.001713,0.002156&vpsrc=6&hnear=100+E+Churchill+St,+Baltimore,+Maryland+21230&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=39.27947,-76.612004&panoid=C1_8I--UEy_sLKNiQJJNaA&cbp=12,93.48,,0,-0.9

    The project has decks over minimal parking, but they're not shared. While it would have been nice to incorporate some mixed-use programming along the street to enliven it, that stuff is still within easy walking distance in Fed Hill.

    I would argue that a flaw in modern streetscape design that's even more deadly than obese (wide) streets is the "19th century hypertrophic" development pattern. The second (preindustrial) example I linked above is lovable not just because it faces a narrow "outdoor public room" but because the buildings were built piecemeal on a fine-grained development pattern by individuals over a long time, and they reflect that organic and humane growth pattern. This was before gigantism took over and homogenized the streetscapes (which affects all the examples cited in Charlie's original post). We're still engaged in gigantism today, and it results in unreal streetscapes and developments.

  19. Yeah, I'm the one who emailed you about the townhouses with the shared parking. While the lots in Oakville seem to have been too small for what you're proposing in downtown Oakville, there are developments like that elsewhere in the Toronto area, but as I said, they have no retail along the pedestrian walkways.
    This is one of the better examples:,+Toronto,+ON,+Canada&hl=en&ll=43.756607,-79.40618&spn=0.002251,0.004823&sll=43.639204,-79.413943&sspn=0.004511,0.009645&vpsrc=6&hq=Bathurst&hnear=Toronto,+Toronto+Division,+Ontario,+Canada&t=h&fll=43.757705,-79.406964&fspn=0.002236,0.004823&z=18&layer=c&cbll=43.756607,-79.40618&panoid=HQhRpW9hejU5DCPWZ8bcSA&cbp=12,333.88,,0,-10.44

    It seems like they mostly occur in developments where the townhomes are back to back (ie no backyard) and 3-4 stories tall, so quite dense. Usually the parking is underground in these cases, or at grade with the walkway on top of the driveway. At lower densities, the garages are typically accessed by a back lane.

    Vancouver has similar developments to the one in Toronto, although they seem to be even more privatized (ie they walkways are gated):,+BC,+Canada&hl=en&ll=49.265043,-123.119321&spn=0.002034,0.004823&sll=29.758845,-95.386659&sspn=0.005411,0.009645&vpsrc=6&hnear=Vancouver,+Greater+Vancouver+Regional+District,+British+Columbia,+Canada&t=h&z=18&layer=c&cbll=49.265038,-123.118971&panoid=MTfL3fnh8bqRz1n9Ftl3VQ&cbp=12,0.46,,0,-8.61

    I was wondering about bungalow courts too. They're pretty common in California and often involve having a common walkway providing access to the bungalows.,+CA,+USA&hl=en&ll=36.978081,-122.032134&spn=0.003521,0.004823&sll=34.402377,-119.447479&sspn=0.653786,1.234589&vpsrc=6&hnear=Santa+Cruz,+California&t=h&z=18&layer=c&cbll=36.978081,-122.032134&panoid=Q2R7LYGKn3AtEQQNwR5Mlw&cbp=12,347.14,,0,1.5
    This example seems to have a very narrow driveway instead of the walkway, with the garage at the end of the driveway. I think that's a pretty good solution since the garage is basically tucked away and not very visible. The walkway/court can provide an intimate little common area for the neighbours. You could have something similar but with additional storeys and/or townhouses for greater density (or similar density but more yard). The advantage is that it's cheaper (but idk how much) not to bury/deck the driveway, and this way, you don't have to have a wall of garage doors.

    The Burlington example is the only one like it I'm aware of in Canada, but it's actually on a pretty small piece of land, about 200x400ft, or 300x400ft if you include the 5 storey condo, which is the size of an average San Francisco city block. You don't have to start with a empty lot either. The Burlington development has some historic buildings, it looks like they just build more behind and in between them.


  20. ^Marc: Those are some nice neighbourhoods in Baltimore.

    As for the homogenized streetscapes, I think it's mostly a problem with large uniform walls.

    Example: Royal York Court, Toronto, ON

    But you can have small identical buildings with small customizations like different colours or different flowers in front and it will look good.
    Example: Alpha Avenue, Toronto, ON

    I don't think something like Alpha Avenue would be too difficult to reproduce. If the development was very large, there could be a few different designs, and I think it would be ok.
    Laurier Avenue, Toronto, ON even has identical buildings, although the individual buildings that were repeated are a bit more complex. But if you combine identical, bland architecture with HOAs that force the landscaping to be uniform and wide streets, then the result would be pretty dull.


  21. Thanks Marc and Nicolas for the great examples.

    @Marc: About the Baltimore infill project, a couple thoughts. Part of the "stiffness" you refer to I think comes not only from architectural qualities, but from the design decision to create a planted buffer of low shrubs between the sidewalk and the buildings -- a typically suburban touch which feels forced and artificial in this context. It reinforces a feeling of sameness. The potted plants and climbing vines in the older section are much more effective in my opinion, and more urban, plus they allow for more individual expression and variety (being easy to move and replace).

    Also, and Nathan has brought this before in response to an earlier post of mine, but with streets so narrow, and traffic so light, that very narrow sidewalk on either side isn't serving much purpose (in places it is totally obstructed by utility poles). A shared space format might be something worth considering here, but that seems very rare in Baltimore.

    @Nicolas: Agreed about differentiating identical buildings. Generally, over time, different owners take each building in a different direction (so long as an HOA is not there to intervene), and variety will assert itself in spite of a monotonous initial design.

  22. @Nathan: About the SF example, I do think the developer could have created at least one narrow street subdividing the block, if not two. Whether or not commercial might go there could be left to the market to decide.

    As is, although the interior space is at least not being used for parking, those three buildings are rather randomly scattered and don't define the space well at all -- the arbitrariness of their orientations is reminiscent of suburban apartment complexes.

  23. Nicholas,

    That's certainly true - small customizations can begin to break down the monotony, and in the neighborhoods that manage to retain their value over a long time this does tend to happen (the famous Levittown doesn't look anything like it did in 1950 anymore.) The same process might happen with the Churchill Street rowhouses as well. For example, a rowhouse block in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore looked very monotonous when it was brand new:

    But now it looks like this:

    (Of course the street is still way too wide.)


    I definitely agree on the landscaping strip; I suppose it would be what Kunstler would call a "nature band aid." A more organic and varied application of street trees, window boxes, vines, and potted plants looks better, as in the older example. Right now the uniform planting beds just look forced.

    The architecture too feels a bit flat - there aren't any relieving bays or oriels or similar things to break up the flatness, but this is a problem that goes way back in B'more, all the way back to the 19th century "hypertrophic" rowhouse builders. I suppose these architectural features wouldn't be as necessary if the street wasn't laid out orthogonally (i.e. - if the flat walls were relieved by bends in the street a la Boston or Europe) but here the straightness and flatness definitely feels a bit weird (that's where street trees can help, as in the older example).

    Your note on the sidewalks is interesting. This is a new street, but the tiny gestural sidewalks on the sides of the carriageway are a clear carryover from the similar surrounding older streets. I sometimes wonder whether these were actually meant to be sidewalks at all:

    Ultimately I don't think a segregation between the carriageway and "sidewalk" is necessary, but as the above link argues, these "sidewalks" may have actually been "transitional zones" for the pedestrian. If you look at very old photos or lithographs of urban scenes, the illustrators always depict the people walking in the middle of the carriageway even though there were still apparent "sidewalks" that were rarely used. The author of the link above argues that what we now know as "sidewalks" were originally transitional zones that were only used to cross from the carriageway to the building. I can't help but agree when seeing scenes like this:

    In both the derelict and fully-restored streetscapes above, the sidewalks are so narrow (and so frequently obstructed by objects like street trees, lampposts, and stoops) that it's hard to imagine anyone walking on them before the auto era; they would have walked in the middle of the street.

    The derelict example is interesting - since it has been abandoned for a long time, it hasn't been modified and it retains the original red-brick paving. The stoops almost completely block the "sidewalks" here and I imagine most people would have walked on the brick carriageway.

    The curbside step-up onto the narrow "sidewalk" with the stoops was probably a psychological cue to the pedestrian that they were leaving the public zone of the street and beginning to enter the private zone of the house or shop. The "sidewalks" were kind of like urban "front porches" and indeed many people still use them as such today, with lawn chairs and chess tables and barbecues and everything (especially when it's hot), hence the term "transitional zone."

    Whether these kinds of step-up transitional zones are actually needed (many cities elsewhere do fine, better even, without them) is another issue I guess.

  24. The original purpose of sidewalks, as far as I can tell, was to pave a little bit on the side so people could walk without stepping in the mud. The original, early-19th century Hypertrophic street was typically unpaved, and often very muddy. Before long, people wanted to walk on pavement. There wasn't enough wagon traffic in those days that people felt they needed to be segregated from it. It was only with the advent of the automobile that the central roadway became a "no go zone" for pedestrians.

  25. Interesting article on pedestrians' gradually surrendering more and more of the street here...


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