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Thread: Some Charlotte area new urbanism

  1. #1
          ablarc's avatar
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    Some Charlotte area new urbanism

    SOME CHARLOTTE AREA NEW URBANISM

    Vermillion is a New Urbanist project in Huntersville, NC, a town whose council has committed it to neo-traditional architecture and development. The designer is Andres Duany, and the product is dull as dirt.











    The on-site “downtown” office of renowned New Urbanist, Andres Duany:



    His product, proudly displayed in the developer’s office:



    Less than a half-mile east of the interstate, after you have left behind the clutter of motels, fast food joints and convenience stores, you are greeted by the brand new neo-traditional Huntersville Town Hall, decked out in vaguely Italian duds. Below the balustrade, it could be a sandblasted Carnegie library, but the architect added a blocky tower from a Romanesque church. This might have been a dome if the budget had been higher. It made my jaw go slack with amazement:



    Directly across from it on the two-lane state highway lies Cashion’s Quik Stop in a pre-engineered metal building:



    The third corner of this intersection features Lupie’s Café in a building that predates Huntersville’s conversion into a suburb (the parking’s in back):



    And in the fourth corner, down in the gulch, a double pre-engineered establishment that might be a daycare or might be plumbing supplies (I can’t remember):



    This is Downtown Huntersville.

    It used to be about two hundred yards away, stretched out along the tracks where they loaded cotton:



    Looking at the two downtowns you’d never guess that Huntersville’s population is 28,017. That is because:

    1. Most residents of Huntersville live on or towards Lake Norman, an artificial lake with a nuclear plant, on the other side of the Interstate.

    2. Huntersville has grown by annexation to a vast 31.1 square miles—two thirds the area of the City of San Francisco or the City of Boston.

    Prosperous Huntersvilleans shop in the usual assortment of strip centers near and across the Interstate. Here are the facts:

    HUNTERSVILLE
    Est. population in July 2002: 28,017 (+10.0% change in three years)
    Population (year 2000): 24,960
    County: Mecklenburg
    Land area: 31.1 square miles, exactly the size of the Borough of Manhattan
    Density: 901 per square mile, a bit less than 1/4 the density of Carmel, California (3754) and about half-again the density of Germany (604)
    Median resident age: 33.0 years
    Median household income: $71,932 (year 2000)
    Median house value: $182,800 (year 2000)
    Races in Huntersville:
    • White Non-Hispanic (86.1%)
    • Black (7.5%)
    • Hispanic (3.9%)
    • Two or more races (1.1%)
    • Other race (1.1%)
    • American Indian (0.6%)
    Ancestries: German (18.0%), Irish (14.0%), English (13.5%), United States (8.5%), Italian (6.1%), Scotch-Irish (5.2%).
    For population 25 years and over in Huntersville
    • High school or higher: 91.6%
    • Bachelor's degree or higher: 46.5%
    • Graduate or professional degree: 12.1%
    • Unemployed: 2.5%
    • Mean travel time to work: 29.6 minutes
    For population 15 years and over in Huntersville town
    • Never married: 19.3%
    • Now married: 67.9%
    • Separated: 2.2%
    • Widowed: 3.6%
    • Divorced: 7.0%
    4.5% Foreign born (2.3% Latin America, 0.8% Europe, 0.8% Asia).
    Nearest city with pop. 50,000+: Charlotte, NC (14.2 miles, pop. 540,830).
    Abutting towns: Cornelius, NC (5.0 miles to center), Davidson, NC (6.0 miles to center)

    Crime in Huntersville (2002):
    • 0 murders (0.0 per 100,000)
    • 9 rapes (34.9 per 100,000)
    • 12 robberies (46.5 per 100,000)
    • 30 assaults (116.3 per 100,000)
    • 162 burglaries (627.9 per 100,000)
    • 590 larceny counts (2286.8 per 100,000)
    • 32 auto thefts (124.0 per 100,000)
    • City-data.com crime index = 203.1 (higher means more crime, US average = 330.6)


    Huntersville compared to North Carolina state average:
    • Median household income above state average.
    • Unemployed percentage below state average.
    • Hispanic race population percentage below state average.
    • Foreign-born population percentage below state average.
    • Renting percentage below state average.
    • Length of stay since moving in below state average.
    • Number of rooms per house above state average.
    • House age significantly below state average.
    • Percentage of population with a bachelor's degree or higher above state average.
    • Population density below state average for cities.


    * * *

    Vermillion lies half a mile by two-lane rural highway from the remnants of the little town that—before it became a suburb-- used to be strung out for a block or two along the tracks. So it, offers no infill opportunities; Vermillion is disconnected. This is a green field project, even gated-- though to its credit, the gate comes without a security guard:



    It also comes with signs to contradict your impression that this is just another residential subdivision without commerce. I’d guess it’s a hard sell, probably requiring subsidized rent. And if you tuck away your parking, you have to reassure your customers that it exists:



    Though, truth is, curbside parking is allowed, in true New Urbanist fashion, and plentiful. Consequently, speed bumps are not needed:



    Neither, really, is the sidewalk; with one exception, I was the only pedestrian. I doubt that a dozen people have warmed these stone benches since they were built. Why would they?:



    The free-standing houses in Vermillion look like bog-standard builder specials, such as you’ll find in a supermarket house plan catalog. Then you realize that the garages stick out the back instead of the front. This keeps the streets from being lined with driveways and garages, but it also robs the occupants of some backyard orientation and requires space-consuming service alleys. According to the developer this has resulted in sales resistance. “They just don’t get it,” was his refrain:



    You can see that once you put in the two-car garage (really a storage building for barbecues and canoes), plus the two-car parking pad (the real garage), you’re left with precious little backyard living space.:



    So there you have it: suburban living without the advantages.



    The developer proclaimed that he was hung over the morning I spoke to him. For some reason, this made him unusually loquacious; he gave me an earful -–even more than I really wanted to know, punctuated every few sentences with the petulant leitmotif, “They don’t get it.”

    “They”, in this case, were his potential customers. They didn’t understand the attractions of New Urbanism. Consequently they resisted buying his houses. He had to offer them at fire-sale prices, under $100 per square foot. You can pick up quite a bargain in Vermillion if you’re willing to live in a suburban house on a postage-stamp lot. Most people are not.



    Only Phase I of Vermillion has so far been built. It has been a learning experience for the developer, a seasoned New Urbanist, as he embarks on Phase II, which will be four-and-a-half times as big. For this phase, he has mandated much bigger lots and washed his hands of unalloyed New Urbanism. His underlings can handle that; it’s like what they’re used to in standard suburbia.

    The lesson learned? In this part of the world, people aren’t ready for New Urbanism, “they just don’t get it.”


    * * *

    Some people are already moving out:



    Maybe you have to see things through the eyes of a Charlottean. When he looks at this scene, he sees an attractive-enough streetscape, but he also sees an unnecessary sidewalk that robs him of front lawn; and the houses are too close together. Plus he’d rather plant his own trees, thank you:



    Then there are the parts of the neighborhood that look so… er, moderate-income:



    Plus you regularly find yourself driving past Garbage World:




    * * *

    The approach to downtown was promising:



    Here I saw a pedestrian. He was delivering the last of his advertising circulars:



    Town square (when the project maxes out at ten times its present size, I was assured by the developer, this would be just a neighborhood pod):



    The yawn-inducing little square features grass and French style-gravel, and is bounded by a mix of commercial and residential buildings:



    The north side is residential, with perfunctory neo-traditional town houses:



    With a little jockeying you can find the photogenic parts:



    The square itself looks like it had a fair budget, but nobody cared much about the design—not even enough to hide the electricals behind a bush:



    Some sides are commercial:



    Here you’ll find a cleaner:



    A bar and grill:



    A post office set into some superb concrete formwork:



    A purveyor of budget window blinds:



    The New Urbanist developer:



    And his world-famous architect:



    The world-famous architect was not in, but through his shop window you could see a display of goodies, including his best-selling book:



    And the Charter of the New Urbanism:



    The developer’s office occupied the new old-fashioned and loft-like ground floor of a neo-traditional building:



    A retro bike functions as a prop to evoke small-town America of yore:



    Also featured is a large aerial photo. The attenuated amoeboid shape of the property suggests that the compact shape of a traditional, pre-transport town will not be achieved. Linear usually means transport-based. The area already built is in the upper left of the main mass of the property:



    A drawing from the office of the world-famous architect:



    And a model by the world-famous architect’s student, who is also the developer’s son:



    “They don’t get it,” muttered the developer, “We’re going to have to make it more Market.”

    I looked across the street at three townhouses that lazily relied on variations in stoop and railing design for individuation. One had dormers, and one had a bay:



    And I remembered some signature scenes of adjacent townscape:





    I allowed myself to wonder whether maybe it was the developer who didn’t get it.

    Now I want to clarify my position with regard to New Urbanism. I am totally in favor of it, and think that eventually it will be the salvation of our environment from sprawling Suburbia. I think the principles are sound, since in their purest form they are not new at all. And we all know that old cities work.

    But these principles need to be applied with much more zeal and commitment than you will find at Vermillion; much less compromise, and much more design competence. Not a gryphon, half suburban and half urban. No hedging of bets; the project needs to be frankly urban. As the developer of a less compromised-- and wildly successful-- project told me, pleased as punch: "I only do projects no one else will do. That way I don't have any competition."

    If design competence cannot be mustered for a fresh design, just build an exact replica of Quebec, Newport or Annapolis, and charge the premium prices these would require; in a market as affluent as Charlotte, I can’t see these standing empty for long. Beauty carries a premium, even if realtors cannot identify it scientifically. And if this means building for the elite, so be it. When these go through the near-inevitable cycle of decay, there will be something worth saving.

    It seems plain to me that where the developer (and his architect) erred was not in going too far, but in not going far enough. Elsewhere in Charlotte, the small but wildly successful little development does it a whole lot more propitiously:



    Here, highly-individuated town houses went for well over twice per square foot; in fact, with their minuscule lots and one-car garages, these houses sold for more per square foot than anyone in Charlotte had ever gotten for any kind of housing, including McMansions—and the speculatively-built units sold well before they were completed.





    Setting aside “location, location, location”, which undoubtedly played a part, some salient differences that here separate success from failure are:

    1. total absence of suburban compromises
    2. much higher quality design and construction
    3. a genuine sense of place
    4. connection and integration into the greater (sub)urban context
    5. walled, usable back yards, like roofless living rooms







    http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...nism+Charlotte

    When you’re trying to sell something new and unfamiliar, you have to be especially careful to put your best foot forward. It’s easy to forget this when doing something over and over leads you to know so much that there’s nothing left to learn.

    Vermillion looks tired and it's barely started; there isn’t any of that Seaside edge from the world-famous architect. (Or maybe that came from Leon Krier all along; he obviously wasn’t involved in this one.)


    * * *



    In eight or ten years, the developer hopes, Huntersville will be connected to Charlotte by commuter rail. Or not.

    Once it was:





    Six miles up the track and a world away, you can find the real thing in Davidson:

    http://p196.ezboard.com/fcafeurbanit...tart=1&stop=20

    .
    Last edited by nerudite; 09 Sep 2004 at 11:16 AM. Reason: fixed image tag

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Below is a pet peeve of mine, and I totally agree with ablarc:


    I think the attached 2-car garage on small lot, off the alley is a terrible design - It completely kills any useable rearyard.

    Now, the below is a nice design that needs to be in a more ubran infill context:


    I like the design of these live/work units. I could see these easily selling in my hometown of Oak Park. They are great designs for urban infill, and the neo-traditionalism is palatable and not overly nostalgic.

    At least Vermillion is adjacent to an existing town (albeit small and seemingly insignificant). Check out Cherry Hill, Michigan. This is another greenfield NU development similar to Vermillion, but at least 7 miles from the nearest sidewalk (that is not in the development). Connectivity?....nah.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

    You know...for kids.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Come on guys… work with us here! New Urbanism is a great cookie cutter design that will work in every case. People by nature are stupid and don’t know what they want. As for a yard… why do we need yards. Kids can play in the streets! True they might get a bit more scratched up when they bounce their skulls off the curbs, but hey, Kids heal, and you will hardly see the scar on their face! They just don’t get it.

    Ok… for real, like the idea, I like the concept, I like the intent. I don’t like how it is being applied here. The downtown looks sweet, but the rest of it just does not work. If New Urbanism has its roots in traditional design, houses 100+ years ago had big yards in the back unless they where “downtown” in which case it was apartments. My parents have a detached 2 car garage on an ally way. As do most of the people in our community. But here is the thing, we still have a big back yard. It is 6 blocks from downtown, and 6 blocks from the park on Lake Michigan… (note, this is just a typical residential neighborhood) The best part, is that the house and most the construction in the area is well over 100 years old.

    I too think that New Urbanism is going to be a great idea. But it can not be cookie cutter, it will not work in all places, and particular things need to be done to make it competitive with the Suburbs.

    As for Cherry Hill... I would love to move there.
    If you want different results in your life, you need to do different things than you have done in the past. Change is that simple.

  4. #4
          ablarc's avatar
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    Green field New Urbanism can easily be seen as just a slightly denser version of suburban development with a few extra ingredients thrown into the mix. It doesn’t promise to do a whole lot to cure sprawl. In fact, some accuse it of being just another form of sprawl, since—like Vermillion-- it usually involves the development of former farmland.

    True urbanists say the litmus test is whether New Urbanism can address itself effectively to infill: healing the rifts in urban fabric that exist everywhere in America just outside the urban core. Here little patches of close-knit urban fabric (often remnants of when there were streetcar suburbs) huddle forlornly among the parking lots of the more recent car-based suburbia that we all know so well (and that most of us deplore, I hope). Here entrenched zoning prevents reurbanization.

    I know the details of a current infill project in the works for such a setting. Like most such places, this property is burdened with standard suburban commercial zoning with all its car-based commitment to promoting sprawl: parking ratios, setbacks, buffers, landscape requirements, height limitations and all the other familiar junk enshrined in zoning. This guarantees that this undertaking will be as nearly impossible as a project can get.

    The developer understands cities and has a history of doing the impossible. His program includes 90 apartments, 5 shops, a 230-car parking garage and a small amount of professional office space. If it is built it will be in one of those little eruptions of urban one and two-story storefronts that characterize early 20th Century commercial development along a streetcar line (long gone). Street life is beginning to appear here, as this place starts to appeal to the trendy. Tattoo parlors, bars, a coffee shop and gay furniture emporiums have moved in, but all space is now spoken for.

    The biggest obstacle is the suburban zoning, which mandates the usual crap that normally generates a McDonald’s. The giant hurdle will be changing the zoning, which the nimbys will oppose. This may take a year of effort and fail. In which case, they may as well build the McDonald's.

  5. #5

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    I can't dispute anything in your above post, except to note that as long as the United States insists on accomodating/encouraging significant population growth, SOME greenfield development will be needed. Vermillion beats standard suburbia-maybe not by much, but it still an improvement.

    McDonalds-type urbanism may be awful, but its what most people seem to want/path of least resistence. The zoning codes should certainly be relaxed, but given that people will still be driving for the near future, even if the parking requirements, setbacks, etc are not mandatory under a code, most national chains will still provide big parking lots, wide driveways, and the like. Parking lots and the like evolved under the market-codes followed to regularize what the markets actually were already providing. Delivery trucks and drive-through lanes and convenience-oriented require the design you criticize, not only zoning codes. Try to reduce parking requirements, you get residents coming to city council meetings complaining that they have to walk an extra block or two because their apartment developer didn't provide enough parking.

    The only difference is that even the feeble attempts to "mitigate" the horrors of the "National Automobile Slum" (parking lot trees, landscaping along the street frontage, etc) will disappear without codes and zoning ordinances. And, the local guys that try to "skate" on such parking lots do nothing but impose the parking demand on their neighbors and adjoining residential development. The NIMBYs are right-a large store on a commercial street with no parking will indeed park up their neighborhood. Even if the NIMBYs themselves drive everywhere and create the problems that they complain about in THEIR neighborhoods.

    I am the first to admit that the mitigation measures we impose are but tiny bandages for the overall problem, which is auto-centric urbanism, but I am not willing to admit that the codes BY THEMSELVES cause the overall social/economic/transportation problems. They aggravate the problem and encourage the status quo, but they also address the unfortunate realities of the Drive-In Utopia.

    We are not really in opposition, ablarc. I am just more cynical that Americans really WANT (frankly, OUR) your type of urbanism.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian permaplanjuneau's avatar
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    no cookie for me

    Given that most developers are inherently incapable of doing anything other than making cookie-cutter homes, and most regulatory boards are likewise incapable of adopting original regulations, it seems that the real trick for a national planning network will be in developing a cookie-cutter that assures that the horrors of suburbia and bad new urbanism are not repeated indefinitely.

    Not that I have any such a cookie-cutter or similar widget to share, but it seems that the discussion in this thread is already roughing out the basic form of such a regulatory device. First, small lots (and large) ought to have maximum coverage limits to preserve useful yard area and prevent residents from using the yard for parking cars and the garage for parking adult toys. Second, walkable neighborhoods have to be near something worth walking to. The vacant sidewalks shown throughout the "slide show" of this abysmal development attest to the uselessness of sidewalks that are only within a single development--especially a gated one. Third, the cookie-cutter needs to have a built-in means of evolving, and thus reducing the cookie-cutter effect. To draw from the work of another famous Architect/Planner, Peter Calthorpe is working on a large greenfield development in South Jordan, UT (Salt Lake County) called Daybreak, where not only will each lot have a particular type of house mandated for it (small lot, large lot, townhome, green court, etc.), but "Each builder must produce a minimum of three plans for each housing type they build. Different plans are defined as those with significant variation in floor plan, garage access, and massing. Builders must incorporate at least two different garage placement options for each housing type. If the builder has both alley and non-alley lots, one of the plans must accommodate both a side
    drive and an alley accessed garage for flexibility of placement." The design guidelines for Daybreak go on to require additional variation in exterior treatments and finish materials, further ensuring that each cookie is different, although the same cookie-cutter is always used. It appears (at least from my vantage point several thousand miles away) that Daybreak will be a large new urbanist, transit-oriented development that looks neither like Disneyland nor like Vermillion, but like a relatively organic community that accomodates various lifestyles without making a mockery of planning or or the lives of its inhabitants. (I'll leave points 4 through 8,000 to someone else for now)

    Perhaps all that we can do is to keep trying to make things better, and to try to avoid burning out and creating mockeries such as Vermillion after we are rich and famous planners

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally posted by permaplanjuneau
    Given that most developers are inherently incapable of doing anything other than making cookie-cutter homes, and most regulatory boards are likewise incapable of adopting original regulations, it seems that the real trick for a national planning network will be in developing a cookie-cutter that assures that the horrors of suburbia and bad new urbanism are not repeated indefinitely.

    Not that I have any such a cookie-cutter or similar widget to share, but it seems that the discussion in this thread is already roughing out the basic form of such a regulatory device. First, small lots (and large) ought to have maximum coverage limits to preserve useful yard area and prevent residents from using the yard for parking cars and the garage for parking adult toys. Second, walkable neighborhoods have to be near something worth walking to. The vacant sidewalks shown throughout the "slide show" of this abysmal development attest to the uselessness of sidewalks that are only within a single development--especially a gated one. Third, the cookie-cutter needs to have a built-in means of evolving, and thus reducing the cookie-cutter effect. To draw from the work of another famous Architect/Planner, Peter Calthorpe is working on a large greenfield development in South Jordan, UT (Salt Lake County) called Daybreak, where not only will each lot have a particular type of house mandated for it (small lot, large lot, townhome, green court, etc.), but "Each builder must produce a minimum of three plans for each housing type they build. Different plans are defined as those with significant variation in floor plan, garage access, and massing. Builders must incorporate at least two different garage placement options for each housing type. If the builder has both alley and non-alley lots, one of the plans must accommodate both a side
    drive and an alley accessed garage for flexibility of placement." The design guidelines for Daybreak go on to require additional variation in exterior treatments and finish materials, further ensuring that each cookie is different, although the same cookie-cutter is always used. It appears (at least from my vantage point several thousand miles away) that Daybreak will be a large new urbanist, transit-oriented development that looks neither like Disneyland nor like Vermillion, but like a relatively organic community that accomodates various lifestyles without making a mockery of planning or or the lives of its inhabitants. (I'll leave points 4 through 8,000 to someone else for now)

    Perhaps all that we can do is to keep trying to make things better, and to try to avoid burning out and creating mockeries such as Vermillion after we are rich and famous planners
    I still don't see Vermillion as that much of a mockery. Few American sidewalks have any activity right now-how can they, Patio Man drives EVERYWHERE. We at least provide sidewalks throughout the community, but only the poor and the inebriated (i.e., those who have lost their drivers license after too many DUIs) use them. That's not the developers' "fault."

    Our codes and design guidelines do many of these things. Its like pulling deeply rooted, cancerous teeth. Given the market demand for three car garages, the houses still look numbingly the same and ugly. The streets are still too wide. And everything bakes in the sun because the new homneowners are often too lazy to even rake a few leaves in the fall, so the trees are all killed or die because of neglect. We get slammed for demanding costly improvements. And, the population growth and demand for "newer, bigger Housing" means that the market in a place like California can get away with almost anything. Of course, we COULD unleash the amrket and get rid of land use controls altogether, which would mean that the amrket might eventually provide "enough" housing (The Homebuilders' Association position) But, look for taxes (or give private companies toll road franchises) so that the vast new freeway capacity can be provided, drain the rivers and the Paciifc Northwest, and wave good by to American fruits and vegetable production-maybe then we could build enough housing-but California wouldn't be a very nice place to live. My lungs are burning at the thought of 50 million commuting Californians driving to job centers from Turlock.

  8. #8
          ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Few American sidewalks have any activity right now-how can they, Patio Man drives EVERYWHERE. We at least provide sidewalks throughout the community, but only the poor and the inebriated (i.e., those who have lost their drivers license after too many DUIs) use them. That's not the developers' "fault."
    How right you are. That particular problem you can chalk up to human nature. The new urbanist infill project I referred to was also considered for a site one block separated from the streetcar-suburb commercial vestiges mentioned. That site was bigger, already assembled and would have generated less squawking from the nimbys.

    But the developer, understanding the nature of the beast, recognized that a block is too far to walk in the suburbs, past parking lots and planted buffers. A block away, the project would have been off in the suburbs, not reinforcing any urban fabric. Everyone would have driven to it; It might as well be on the moon.

    In Manhattan, forty blocks is not too far to walk.

  9. #9
          ablarc's avatar
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    Vermillion has not quite shaken off the suburb’s influence; part of the problem is the mediocrity of the residential architecture, not really distinguishable from mail-order houseplans. They need to get genuine architects in there designing the houses, as at Seaside.

    An infill project, the town center of Rockville, MD was designed by New Urbanists, Torti, Gallas and Partners, with SOM.Here from their website is their presentation (italicized comments are mine):

    Twinbrook Commons
    Rockville, Maryland


    Note that outside the immediate project area, Rockville’s land area is about half parking lots. So far to go…”

    The design of Twinbrook Commons is the result of a composite of ideas with one overarching concept: to seamlessly connect existing neighborhoods with a pedestrian-friendly transit-oriented environment. It achieves this goal through a clear hierarchy of streets and spaces and a dynamic mixing of uses. Through the joint effort of designers, county officials, transit authorities, and private investment, this revitalized public transit station will become the model for transit-oriented centers throughout the entire region.

    Focused around the Twinbrook Station, along the Metro Red Line, Twinbrook Commons has organized streets and blocks that facilitate the use of public transit. The juxtaposition of bus and rail lines and commuter parking with commercial uses attempts to activate the streets and make using public transit a comfortable and efficient mode of transportation.


    Handsome streetscape.

    With public and private parking concealed by office, residential, and retail uses, the plan emphasizes the pedestrian realm. The main streets have formal edges with wide sidewalks and ground floor retail uses while smaller local streets have a more idiosyncratic feel with residential entrances and small courtyards.

    With a variety of building types, Twinbrook Commons hosts a wide range of income levels and lifestyles. High-rise residential buildings form the edges of a central plaza and signify the arrival at an urban center. Small four-story residential buildings form a transition zone between the transit plaza and the surrounding neighborhoods.


    That patch of grass in the middle needs footpaths to survive. Presently it’s an obstacle to pedestrians. “Keep off the Grass” signs?.

    This mixed-use environment is a prime example of how carefully-crafted urban fabric can connect isolated neighborhoods as well as creating an environment that enhances the experience of using public transit. Services

    Congress for the New Urbanism Charter Award, 2004

    Project Data

    26.2 acre site
    620,000 sf office space
    805 high rise units
    490 low rise units
    160,000 sf retail space
    A visit to the firm’s website, http://www.tortigallaschk.com/index.asp, reveals a surprising epiphany and a mea culpa:

    Torti, Gallas History

    Founded…in 1953, the firm helped to build Washington’s suburbs…the firm designed more than 300,000 residential units in the Washington Metropolitan area in a variety of types and styles. Our success in residential design led to a 1972 Washington Post article which proclaimed the firm the “Architects of the Suburbs”. Throughout the next two decades the firm enjoyed continued success in the residential, commercial, senior living and educational areas. The ‘90s, however, brought hardship, both professionally and personally. First came the recession in the early part of the decade, taking us from 165 to 37 people. Then, in 1993, came the death of the firm’s President…

    Architect John Torti, who joined the firm in 1973…knew something had to be done. Along with Tom Gallas, the firm’s Chief Financial Officer he changed the course of the firm “180 degrees”, turning it into the “reformers of the suburbs”. We became a firm dedicated to cleaning up the mess that we had helped to create. With a commitment to the principles of the New Urbanism…to not only reflect a new era of leadership, but also a new dedication to urban design and architecture which resembles that of the best traditional American cities and towns.

    Torti and his creative partners have built a firm that understands the inextricable tie between urban design and architecture, between great cities and great buildings, and between conceptual thinking and creating value within individual buildings as well as how to enhance that value through the design of the surrounding environment.”


    Philosophy

    As architects, we design residential, commercial, and institutional buildings to be in context with their environment, to be functionally and aesthetically innovative, economically sensible, and a delight to the user.

    As master planners and urban designers, we create the neighborhoods that integrate architecture and the public realm, and we ensure that our buildings, neighborhoods and campuses contribute to the cities and towns of which they are a part, physically, socially, and economically.

    As a market-focused firm, our principals have specialized experience in refilling and revitalizing inner cities, densifying the suburbs and designing responsible greenfield communities.

    With continuing involvement of our firm’s principals on each project our new towns and villages, neighborhoods, homes for all phases of life, main streets and workplaces are designed with industry leading expertise and market sensitivity. We, the principals and staff of Torti Gallas and Partners, fully embrace the design philosophy described in the following paragraphs and agree that the principles embodied therein will inform all of our work. Torti Gallas is dedicated to the practice of good community design. Simply put, that practice might be defined as the art of creating location. The concept of “location” or “address” or “sense of place” has been the subject of many discussions and its principles might be distilled as follows:

    • That the region, the city, the town, the block, and the building establishes a comprehensive framework for our built environment and that, as designers, we are aware of and responsive to the impact of our work at these levels.

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    • That all built artifacts, whether they be individual works of architecture, or large-scale town or urban plans, should be sensitive to the natural environment, the traditions of the place and the region, and that with architecture, this necessarily means the embracing of a multiplicity of styles. While we embrace these philosophical principles, we also understand that in our work we are engaged both in creating communities for people to live, work and play in, and, more often than not, in producing productive real estate.

    To that end, our success as a firm must be cognizant not only of our larger social obligations and aesthetic goals, but also of the forces of the marketplace. We recognize the capacity of good design to create ‘value’ at all these levels, communal, aesthetic and economic, and strive toward it in all of our work.”

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Albarc--thanks for another insightful and interesting post. Vermillion looks like a great project and nice place to live (based on your pics), but it saddens me to think that the developer, who was obviously not your "normal" developer, was so bummed that people didn't get it. Understandably so, though. But his reactions made me think about a question we were discussing in my comp planning course, my prof asked us why planning will, a lot of times, go un-noticed and other times create such controversy. My initial thought was that people are quick to complain about the bad and rarely commend the good. But, maybe, in this instance, it's that some people don't care about having a sidewalk and being within walking distance of things--or, to take a J.H. Kunstler view, perhaps we've dilluted our architectural creativity/framework to the point where more people want the "Georgian" or the "Haley" or the "Oakbrook" (insert some stupid name that supposed to evoke stature and be reminiscent of americana ) model/style house because that's what everyone else has.

  11. #11
    Member
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    Incorrect Information

    While I have very little opinion on the topic at hand, I find many of ablarc's comments disturbing. I was really only looking for statistical information on Huntersville NC....when I was scrolling through the pictures and saw myself walking across the town square. What was interesting was that I was described as a guy delivering advertising circulars...when in fact I was a resident walking to my girlfriend's house. I remember the occassion when the picture was taken. I also remember that the photographer didn't talk to me or stop me to ask me what i was doing. So, I began to ask myself how many of his conclusions and facts were outright wrong.

    Now, I am not a fan of the development of Vermillion....I like the idea....I like the concept. In fact, I enjoyed living there. I think far more places should have a corner pub. However, it has taken far too long to develop and too many sacrifices had to be made. With that said, many of the facts and conclusions that are presented in ablarc's pictoral diary are simply wrong. I would guess this is because he failed to check those facts as well. The garbage alley's that he mentions, for instance, are against ordinance and only occur on trash day (duh ). The picture depicting "double pre-engineered establishment that might be a daycare or might be plumbing supplies" is actually a thrift store/consignment store. To answer his question about the stone benches....well it is a bus stop So, there are a ton of kids there every morning.


    Anyway, I wonder if all of the conlusions and facts are as faulty. With that said...the developer of this community did NOT pay attention to detail or follow through on promises. In fact, there is supicion by many of the residents, that this particular developer misappropriated home owner's dues. As a result, the only community that has really developed is one that distrusts the developer and his myriads of empty promises and unfulfilled dreams. Hopefully, it will turn around and become what it was supposed to be.

    LES

  12. #12
    Why do so many New Urbanists think that the architetcure has to be some cutsie fake historic style? After all it is a planning movement not an architectural movement.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Urban Design for Suburban Town???

    The vermillion example is a good example of why New "Urbanism" should stick to "URBAN" areas....I guess that's why its not called New "Suburbanism" Sure the locals are "not ready" for what was offered, but the developer should have known this.....I guarntee the main reason this developer chose this site is due to relatively low land cost and lack of regulatory resistance to the "anointed world famous architects plan". The motivation was more out of greed and wanting to make a quick buck and to a lesser extent sell this type of living.

    The other examples were in real "Urban" areas and work much better. If I have to commute 30 minutes to work from a suburban-even exurban area, why live in urban density with urban architecture (in some cases) when a lot of my neighbors have an acre or more for the same money....On one hand its a good idea to promote density where density is due....but promotion of density in suburbs and rural areas will be a disaster from a marketing stand point....The commercial appears to be doomed because there most likely isn't the critical mass of users needed to support what must be high rents for a suburb when compared to the typical Crap Box strip centers...

    Thanks for the great pictures...
    “The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But, the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    - See more at: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-ph....r7W02j3S.dpuf

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    Was the developer Nate Bowman?


    I delt with DPZ and Nate in Greensboro NC I strongly dislike both of them and how they run their dog and ponie shows.

    Intresting to see the alleys are already patched and grass killed from my guess trash trucks that are too large to fit. Note Greensboro NC had to buy new trucks to fit the alleys that the developers INSISTED had to be X width never mind none of the service trucks could fit that.

    blood is going to boil again...
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

  15. #15
    I like the alleys we have in Chicago. With the trash out back the streets always look good. Trash day in cities without alleys can look pretty bad. All the power lines are back there too. The City does not plow the alleys though.

  16. #16

    Registered
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    I'll Stick this here (Celebration)

    Interesting little essay defending Celebration.

    You prefer Celebration, ablarc, if I remember, to Vermillion.

    http://www.intbau.org/essay8.htm

  17. #17

    Registered
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    Ablarc's critique is insightful and fair (Les' comments serve to confirm the most important points), though a bit harsh. Surely, as BKM says, Vermillion is a bit better than most developments. Still, as others say, not the best application of New Urbanist ideas, and I guess that that is Ablarc's main complaint...One greenfield New Urbanist project that has worked is Kentlands in Gaithersburg. Even it, however, has flaws (I'm sure that these have already been discussed in this forum). Rockville's King Farm has gotten some attention too, but I hadn't heard about Twinbrook. This does have some potential...For Maryland planners, has your state's Smart Growth initiative had any discernible effect? The Post ran a rather pessimistic piece a while back...

  18. #18
    Quote Originally posted by PlannerGirl
    Was the developer Nate Bowman?
    .....
    I believe it was and he was the reason that Vermillion eventually failed as a New Urbanist development and instead ended up being a bunch of cluster homes, and condos stuck on the east side of Huntersville disconnected from everything else.

    Nate had negotiated a deal with the city in the mid-90s that would have extended Vermillion to the town center and would have included a restored anchor mill (not shown above) which would have included retail offices and a commuter rail station for the proposed North Commuter Rail line. However, he kept wanting to re-negotiate the price and successive town councils got tired of his deals and eventually the entire set of plans fell through.

    Now Vermillion sits there by itself and all the people who bought in there who thought they would be getting Nate's vision of new urbanism are left there holding the bag. The city recently unveiled a new plan for this area which does not include Vermillion. See http://www.huntersville.org for more information on this.

    Small correction to the above. Vermillion is not a gated neighborhood.

  19. #19

    Registered
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    Quote Originally posted by PlannerGirl
    Was the developer Nate Bowman?


    I delt with DPZ and Nate in Greensboro NC I strongly dislike both of them and how they run their dog and ponie shows.

    Intresting to see the alleys are already patched and grass killed from my guess trash trucks that are too large to fit. Note Greensboro NC had to buy new trucks to fit the alleys that the developers INSISTED had to be X width never mind none of the service trucks could fit that.

    blood is going to boil again...
    Well, but Europe gets by fine with smaller utility trucks-and fire trucks. I would rather see new utility trucks than excessively wide streets that encourage speeding and other antisocial activity (note-I said "encourage" not "cause")

  20. #20
          ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Interesting little essay defending Celebration.

    You prefer Celebration, ablarc, if I remember, to Vermillion.

    http://www.intbau.org/essay8.htm
    Good find, BKM; this essay is really thoughtful and precise. Duany has an excellent grasp of the issues. Too bad he was saddled with the developer at Vermillion.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    King Farm

    I visited King Farm in Rockville a few times when my cousin lived there last year. I enjoyed the place and vastly prefer it to Kentlands.

    The advantage of King Farm is that it is just outside the Shady Grove metro stop, so it is one of the rare new urbanism communities that has easy access to public transportation, as opposed to Kentlands which is in a more isolated area.

    What interests me in King Farm is that a large percentage of the units are high density multifamily apartments, condos, and townhouses. The design scheme and construction quality is only marginally better than a standard new development, but the spatial layout is excellent. The main drag, King Farm Boulevard, is lined with largish multifamily blocks and is somewhat reminiscient of older pre-war boulevards lined with middle class apartments. The boulevard leads to a neighborhood center that has a supermarket and a ring of shops/restaurant (and yes, a large parking lot). On the other side of King Farm is a corporate office park.

    What is fundamentally appealing about King Farm is that is not a pretentious community. Kentlands definitely is, with its neo georgian and neo victorian houses and fake town center resembling Main Street Disneyland. Hell, Kentlands even has blocks of "brownstones," and too many of the houses have the fake dormer windows which I abhor. King Farm has none of these, it is suburban architecture but placed on a high density, walkable and sensibily organized site plan.

    New Urbanism often falls into the trap of wanting to resemble some mythical small town, and certainly many Americans express sentiments about wanting to live in a small town. But when you get down to it, what people genuinely want are the carefully planned interwar suburbs and King Farm is more closely aligned to the site planning principals of 1910s and 1920s communities.

  22. #22
    Member
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    Two thoughts:

    1.) It's pretty bad form to take someone's picture and not stop to chat, especially if you're going to post it and take a SWAG as to what they were doing when you pushed the button. Yes this is just a message board but if only for your reputation, you have an interest in taking the extra few minutes to be accurate in what you say.

    2.) I agree that a there's a lot more Kentlands than King Farm being built and billed as "New Urbanism"; my $0.02 there is that this is the price the developers are demanding to build grid streets, alleys and town squares instead of regular subdivisions. They're an extremely small-c conservative lot, and what I've heard from everyone who's commented on the subject is that they WILL NOT BUILD something completely new. There has to be a visual tie-in to what customers who have already cross-shopped ten other sprawl houses are expecting to see. If it looks weird, most John and Jane Q Publics aren't going to take the time to figure out what it's all about and then decide; they'll just race the SUV to the next open house.

    Personally, I do like the new and different in urban housing, and for the same reason I bet a lot of you here do--all else being equal, suburbia is just plain bland and boring. And it sucks to have to drive every single time you walk out your front door. But you have to realize that a lot of other folks here and around the world "don't get it", and that's who you have to sell houses to.

  23. #23

    Be patient...this thing is not done yet...

    OK folks,
    You all make great critics, but I have to admit that from my POV many of you are basing your criticisms on misinformation and pessimism. Thankfully, I am able to benefit from an insider's perspective, and very much appreciate the efforts and intitiative this project demonstrates.

    Vermillion is a proud addition to the Town of Huntersville, and a project (like Birkdale) that we can point to and offer others an example to learn from. "The developer" has been an asset to this community, and, more often than not, is willing to go the extra step to integrate this projetc into the existing fabric.

    There has been some frustration on all parts that this project has not moved more quickly, but I am pleased to say that two new phases have just been approved, and are beginning construction. The addition of these phases should help establish the "critical mass" to this project that will really bring it alive.

    In the end, I believe the development community would greatly benefit from more optimists like "the developer," who are willing and able to try something new.

    Remember, we are all in this together, and should therefore share the enjoyment of small successes.

  24. #24
    Quote Originally posted by metroboi
    I believe it was and he was the reason that Vermillion eventually failed as a New Urbanist development and instead ended up being a bunch of cluster homes, and condos stuck on the east side of Huntersville disconnected from everything else.
    .
    The project cannot really be defined as "failed," because there are still successive phases to be developed. As for "disconnected," these phases will improve the connection to Huntersville's town center, and WHEN the North Corridor CATS rail gets here, the western extent of the project site will easily be within a 1/4 mi walk of the closest commuter rail station.

    As for the downton plan, Vermillion was not included in the study area, though it was it was considered as a complementary piece of the equation; the developer was actively involved in the charette and planning process for that document.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Disturbing...

    Am I the only one that finds it disturbing that ablarc's commentary was so riddled with inaccuracies or unwarranted assumptions (about the benches, for instance?).

    I'm sure I am as guilty of it at times but it should serve as a warning. Not having a go at you personally, ablarc but maybe one should be a little be more careful?

    I think it is undeniable that NU applies better/more properly to infill and regeneration but greenfield sites WILL be built and I think a lot of the architecture in the pics is way above the average. Some of the crowding is unnecessary, I agree, given the location. I.e. back-street garages are fine...if yer yard is big enough. They just squeezed too much in, maybe. I also wonder how the shops do, given the unavoidable lack of connectedness...is there enough critical mass for them. The 'library' building, from picture I thought look great (again, relative to the trash you usually get). I also think it's a bit jejune to always be lambasting 'the world famous architect'.

    Plannergirl seems to loath Duany. OK, you know him and I don’t. But frankly the idea that we should design towns around the size of monster trucks seems counterintuitive.

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