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Thread: 'Suburban' urban design elements

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    'Suburban' urban design elements

    Hello Everyone,

    I am working on improving streetscape of a small suburban node in our township. I need to put some good urban design elements. I found that most urban design guidelines and documents talk about 'urban' elements but this is 'suburban' urban design at a smaller scale. We have couple of supply shops, convenience store etc at the corner and then all single family housing around it.

    I am thinking about adding a sitting area, landscaping and trees, new sidewalks, signage and some facade treatments.

    Any ideas or suggestions for references?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    good start.

    Brick crosswalks always add a nice touch.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    -Add street lighting for attractiveness and safety at night
    -Large, lively sidewalks, crosswalks, or any type of walk that will connect pedestrians to the commercial areas.
    -Add the sitting area in front of or outside of the convenience store, supply shops etc..preferably on the sidewalk which is why wide sidewalks are best.
    -Landscaping such as trees and plants should be placed in the parking lots to make the lot less open and unattractive and it also creates a smaller feel.

    Hope this helps.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Let me ask one question first.

    Does anyone walk in this corridor? If noone utilizes the already existing sidewalk or crosswalks what would be the purpose of improving those areas? In that case I would probably go with something to make the area look cleaner to the passing motorist, better lighting, street trees & green, and flags. Why waste your money on improvements that won't be utilized is my point.

    Now if you are trying to create a 'downtown' feeling adding benches and crosswalks is a fix but probably not your first priority.
    @GigCityPlanner

  5. #5
    Is the more urban part of your suburb older or is it new? If it's new, I'd say it's possibly part of "New Urbanism"... You can find various links to NU, here are a few references:
    http://www.cnu.org/
    http://www.newurbanism.org/

    But if it's older, then it's probably a traditional design pre-50s...

    New sidewalks can be nice, as can trees along the sidewalk, benches etc...

    I personally like to see trees on sidewalks. When you have hot weather like we are having here, I'm sure it really hurts any pedestrian traffic that might occur. Adding trees not only helps keep the temperatures cooler when it's hot, but they also serve as wind and rain breakers, though the rain still comes through, it wouldn't be beating down at the rate it could be.
    Another good touch are awnings on the first floors of buildings.

    If you have any restaurants, and if the sidewalks are big enough, maybe you could start letting them place tables and chairs outside during good weather? I know I saw Ann Arbor, MI did this and it's successful there.

    Another good idea IMO, is if you have multi-story buildings there (2 floors and up), you could possibly allow some of them to convert their upper floors into residences.

    Another good touch, not only for sidewalks, but streets are brick streets. They cost more than concrete, but they look nicer, and give the area a more older and IMO distinguished look. Also, you don't have to patch them up, except for buying new bricks over a period of time.

    Also, depending on how many people use and support the shops, I'd try to increase the amount of residents, at least right near them within walking distance. Simply to insure they make enough money to stay open and improve.

    I personally live in an area similar to what you might be talking about, it's got a dab of urban and rural elements. Our center once held a lot of people, but people then began moving out once our city gave up on it's tourist main attraction (at the same time white flight was occuring in the metro's anchor city). I've walked around down there, and saw plenty of opportunities for improvement of our little urban area in a suburb.

    However it's kind of hard for me to get a good picture, not knowing what kind of buildings are there, what the sidewalks are like, what the streets are like, what the design is like etc...

    This is what I have pictured right now, I'm not sure if the area you're talking about is like it:

  6. #6
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Actually, HCB, Veggie is probably referring to a location like the following link:

    Suburban strip form
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  7. #7
    Ahh ok... Then I don't know what to do to improve the area if that is the case.

  8. #8
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    You know, this thread is a little similar to one I started a week or two ago about redeveloping strip centers.

    http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=30466

    I think you are on the right track. I think street trees are almost always a good investment as well as some border landscaping. Once that is in place, assuming you already have decent sidewalks, you can evaluate to see if pedestrian traffic picks up and determine whether things like benches or even a small plaza area would be a worthwhile investment.

    I like the idea of facade improvements, but how will you get existing businesses to participate? Or is this more of a "wait for it to redevelop" type of thing?

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Ok let me post some pictures here. They show the shops and exisitng parking lot on one of the corners of the crossroads.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails DSC00913.jpg   DSC00912.jpg  

    DSC00921.jpg  

  10. #10
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Well, It looks like this isn't really "suburban" in actual form, though it may be "suburban" in economy.

    I would say you have a small town urban form there. Definiately, street trees, brick paver crossings, and corner curb bump-outs at intersections would go a long way. Then start introducing some seating areas at nice corners and certainly a centralized plaza/square would be nice.

    HCB's comments then would actually fit.

    I'll have to dig up some pictures of the urban design work we are completing in our small downtown area.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    A few immediate concerns,

    Repave and restripe the road.
    Facade improvements
    Weed and repour the sidewalks and curbs where needed.

    Those three things off the bat will make the area seem less run down and hopefully encourage some pride from the tenants and users.

    Next step is contacting your economic development agency if you have one and looking at what reinvestment you can afford in this area.

    I see there are benches already and someone walking.

    Is there enough parking currently? What kind of stores could be attracted to this area?

    There are many questions but cleaning up the area is priority #1.
    @GigCityPlanner

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Yes, It is in a bad condition. We have neighborhood prepservaion grant coming in from the state that can help finance some of the streetscape. We are in the process of forming an economic development commission. That will guide us on what types of business strategies to employ in future. Currently no new business is anticipated in this area. We will be imrpoving the outside spaces and some of the facades.

  13. #13
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Oh, Ok, that wasn't what I was expecting. I was thinking more along the lines of some 1980s era strip center.

    More than anything, it just needs some spit and polish. It looks like the city really hasn't maintained the area, which has contributed to its decline.

    I think I've got some pictures as well that might help.

    Here's a big if... you might consider burying those utility lines or relocating them to an alley--they are really distracting and a major detractor to the aesthetics in that area.

    Also, you might consider a very low interest RLF for facade improvements, perhaps even a grant program. It really wouldn't take a lot to dress those buildings up.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Plan 9's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    A few immediate concerns,

    Repave and restripe the road.
    Facade improvements
    Weed and repour the sidewalks and curbs where needed.

    Those three things off the bat will make the area seem less run down and hopefully encourage some pride from the tenants and users.

    Next step is contacting your economic development agency if you have one and looking at what reinvestment you can afford in this area.

    I see there are benches already and someone walking.

    Is there enough parking currently? What kind of stores could be attracted to this area?

    There are many questions but cleaning up the area is priority #1.
    What Tide said, plus underground some of those overhead utilities.

    Are the poor street conditions a sign of another underlying issue, ie poor drainage?
    "Future events such as these will affect you in the future."

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    Does anyone walk in this corridor? If noone utilizes the already existing sidewalk or crosswalks what would be the purpose of improving those areas? In that case I would probably go with something to make the area look cleaner to the passing motorist, better lighting, street trees & green, and flags. Why waste your money on improvements that won't be utilized is my point.
    Improving the sidewalks and crosswalks will be more appealing to citizens and make more people utilize them. Isn't that the point to get more people on the sidewalks? (Sorry, Jane Jacobs is kicking in)

  16. #16
    Would it be ok if you told us what town it is? Photos are nice, but for me I like to also look at places in GoogleEarth and on maps. (GE allows me to see the terrain, the aerials, the roads, and lets me measure accurately)

  17. #17
    It's going to be hard to overcome the fact that the stores have turned their backs on that intersection. That will leave people feeling uncomfortable and less likely to linger, even with a nice place to do it. Any chance of dollars to help re-open storefront windows?

    Plan 9 is right about the overheads. Exceptionally unsightly.

    I'd suggest some form of hardscape on that island between the bench and parking lot so that folks sitting there don't feel like their backs are exposed to the parking lot.

    I'm not a fan of brick pavers in streets: they get dirty, uneven, and utilities often tear them out and toss 'em away. They can be a maintenance headache as well. I'd prefer a slightly raised intersection to calm traffic and create a pedestrian friendly environment.

    Just a couple of my $.02's for ya'.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    I tried to post aerial photo of the interesection but it doesn't allow me to because of the size. If you go google earth, you can search North Middletown in NJ. It is close to the coast line and it is an intersection of Port Monmouth Road and Ocean Avenue.

    I will let you guys know about the improvements in detail when I draw the actual plan/sketch. Will post that too.

  19. #19

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    Judging from those pictures, the area could probably benefit from some traffic calming. Is the stretch long enough to accommodate chicanes or chokers?

    It seems like a Main Street model or approach may be appropriate in this situation.
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    HCB,

    How old the second link for the aerials you sent is? early 1900's?

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    I see there is a municipal parking lot on the corner. Worst spot for it, see if econ-development can't make anything happen with that parking lot.

    I would also try to play off your direct link to the ocean only 3 blocks away.
    @GigCityPlanner

  23. #23
    I doubt the second is very old... It's just sometimes they have them as black and white because they don't cost as much.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    Tide, That parking lot will have to stay there. I am thinking of screening it till certain height with some innovative landscaping techniques. Not too expensive though. I was looking at some pictures online and in books for ideas.

  25. #25
    Veggie, you said it'd have to stay there, is the parking needed at that location?

    Something else that many of these types of areas do, is have parking on the street. Most of the parking would be angled or parallel.

    But if it really can't be replaced and has to be kept, then I'd do like you said and kind of cover it up with foliage... Maybe even fencing.

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