How should we pursue good urban design?

I’m not an urban designer or an architect – economists are famously bad at that sort of thing – but I do pay attention to the way places are built. Some places work well for people, and some places don’t. That matters. A few weeks ago, I spotted a few interesting conversations (in Transportblog and on Twitter) about how we approach urban design issues. I thought they were worth highlighting as they pointed out some important distinctions and challenges we face in pursuing good design. First: in a response to a study on the health value of architectural features that encourage social contact (eg porches, stoops, etc) that Kent posted …
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The plans for Albert St after the CRL

The plans for Albert St after the CRLThe City Rail Link is now under construction and will see most of Albert St dug up in the process of building the cut and cover tunnels. That presents Auckland Transport with a great opportunity on what is effectively a blank slate to reinstate it to a much higher standard than exists now. The Auckland City Centre Advisory Board (ACCAB) have endorsed spending $20 million from the City Centre Targeted Rate towards doing just that. A presentation to the ACCAB last week showed their latest design. But there are some major concerns about the design from the council and their comments suggest the CRL team have been operating too much in a silo. Albert …
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The linear city and other science fictions

Last week, urban designer lecturers Dushko Bogunovich and Matthew Bradbury published an article on their vision for transforming Auckland into a “linear city”: Instead, we suggest a linear, city-region that follows the opportunities and respects the constraints in the landscape. Its central spine would connect many nodes of density, functioning as centres of commerce and production, with high-rise living. There could be 20-odd nodes between Whangarei and Hamilton. This is what we call the “working city”. In contrast – the “lifestyle city” would be situated on the glorious east coast. We see it as part of the larger “NZ Riviera”, stretching from Whangarei to Whakatane. Here, the world-renowned qualities of …
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Volunteers wanted: Auckland public life survey

Five years ago Gehl Architects enlisted a team of volunteers to document public life across the city centre. The work culminated in a summary report (1, 2) and a great Auckland Conversation event. Since that time there have been remarkable changes across the city. Here are a few things that stand out: Shared spaces across the city A resurgence of retail and hospitality offerings Introduction of global flagships stores on Queen Street Two urban supermarkets (how did we survive without these?) Britomart Quarter (see photo above) Wynyard Quarter HOP ticketing Massive non-car travel increases into the city EMU’s and rail electrification In addition to all these changes it seems like the city has …
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Postcards: Street Facing Units

One of my favorite aspects of  Vancouver urban design is the way that buildings meet the street. This reminds me of classic urban neighbourhoods of New York and Philadelphia with their stoops or the humble porch of bungalows and cottages across California. Great attention is paid to the interface between public and private realms. The tension and interaction is resolved through a variety of design patterns and features both in the vertical and horizontal plane. Individual unit access is located immediately from the footpath and private space is provided overlooking the street both from the steps and also from small porch-like terraces. Here is an apartment building built in the 1990’s in the Downtown South neighbourhood next to the Roundhouse Community Centre. …
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Prince Charles’ 10 Principles for Urban Planning

In a 2,000-word essay in the latest issue of The Architectural Review, Prince Charles has come up with 10 “important geometric principles” for urban masterplanning. He says we need to “reconnect with traditional approaches” and said “It is time to take a more mature view” as he lays out his vision for the future of architecture and planning. “All I am suggesting is that the new alone is not enough. We have to be mindful of the long-term consequences of what we construct in the public realm and, in its design, reclaim our humanity and our connection with nature, both of which, because of the corporate rather than human way in which our urban …
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Highway Teardowns

Unfortunately, while freeways did provide vehicular access to downtown, they also disrupted the existing urban grid and street system. Freeways severed local commercial activity from customers, and many once vibrant streets now stand with shuttered businesses and negligible street activity. -Mayor’s Innovation Project It is conventional wisdom that motorways or other high capacity, limited access roads have no place in productive urban environments. Increasingly, cities across the globe are pursuing projects which attempt to mitigate the problems and re-insert a transport structure that supports local accessibility and high value land use outcomes. In addition to the famous tear out projects in Portland (above), San Francisco and Cheonggyecheon, there are also …
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Brent Toderian on “Density Done Well”

Former City of Vancouver Chief Planner Brent Toderian was in Auckland last week and spoke at a very well attended Auckland Conversations event on a range of planning issues that Auckland has much to learn from. We will elaborate on some of the key messages for Auckland coming out of this event during the next week, but for now here’s a different presentation given by Brent back in 2012 which touches on many of the same issues: While the Unitary Plan does enable some level of increased intensification and certainly places a far greater emphasis on requiring good urban design, the jury is probably still out on whether it truly …
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Parklets coming to Auckland?

One of the interesting urban development’s happening in some places overseas – most notably in San Francisco – is the development of the Parklet. They are effect mini open space designed to enhance the local environment and are created in the space of one or more on-street carparks. But rather than me re-inventing the wheel, here is a description of them from the San Francisco Parklet Manual: A parklet repurposes part of the street into a public space for people. They are intended as aesthetic enhancements to the streetscape, providing an economical solution to the need for increased public open space. Parklets provide amenities like seating, planting, bike parking, and …
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Urban Revolution

“..the revolutionary rhetoric of Modernism passed a death sentence on the street.”– Stephen Marshall, Streets and Patterns I lobbed a few easy questions at the end of my last post: “What has happened to Great North Road that makes is so low scoring in this analysis and so seemingly low value on the ground?” One correct answer, as many suggested, is that Great North Road is affected by motorway severance thus leading to reduced network connectivity. The other answer, one that is not depicted in the simple network analysis, is that the actual accessibility conditions on the ground seriously limit local trips and these two structural conditions work in tandem to yield a …
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