Friday, May 30, 2008

Understanding Urban Development

I get a bit frustrated when I read through various proposed city developments and some of the criticisms of them. On the development side the frustration is because good urban development isn't really that complicated, and I remain puzzled at why developers so often fail to do it or why the city fails to force them to do it. On the critics' side I get frustrated because I think many well-intentioned people lack a basic sense of things. Don't misunderstand, I'm not telling people what they should like, just think that they tend to focus on things which aren't quite as important as they imagine.

Neighborhood residents tend to focus on size (height), traffic, and parking. These are all reasonable concerns, and if your view or sun exposure is going to be blocked I sympathize, but for the most part they aren't really the prime concerns. More than that, often legitimate height and parking concerns are addressed by making a project drastically worse. Smaller is not necessarily better, and more on site parking is quite often worse.

The important thing to focus on for a big urban project is whether it knits into the streetscape, or if it turns inwards, creating a pedestrian dead zone. More parking garages/spaces tend to work against this, requiring larger curb cuts and ramps, making the sidewalk a hazardous space.

People see a big project coming and they worry about disruption to their neighborhood and an increase in traffic/decrease in local available parking. But worrying too much about minimizing disruption leads to people wanting to simply shrink a project, rather than thinking about how to make it better.