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Thread: Today's thinking on superblocks

  1. #1

    Today's thinking on superblocks

    My local borough is proposing a redevelopment plan (Quebec equivalent of an urban renewal plan) for a large parcel of industrial land (225 000 square meters or approx. 15 city blocks) located near the CBD. This plan is modelled on a local developper's plan for the area and includes rezoning from industrial to mixed-use (residential and commercial) as well as modifying the historic city grid to close several streets. Although, the rezoning of this area has been long overdue and is welcome by many, the issue of closing streets to allow for a suburban style mall at street level seems a little old school.

    I was wondering what the lattest thinking on street closures is? Do any of you know of examples of cities who have re-established traditional street grids to create circulation through superblocks (the WTC is a prime example here). I am drafting a breif for the public consultations, so any pointers (litterature, pertinant projects) would be greatly appreciated.

    Cheers,
    Cath

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    West Palm Beach, Florida Has a policy in their Comp Plan Future Land Use element that says "The City shall highly discourage street abandonments in order to preserve the interconnectivity... (Policy 2.6.3) Their plan is online under the planning department page on the City's website.

    With fuel cost going up andup and climate change, I agree that the superblock idea is more than ol;d school. It may be an economic nightmare for the developer before he is even finished. People may demand walkable communities.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    In the 1970s, downtown Albuquerque allowed a number of large apartment developments to vacate some streets. Majorly bad idea, particularly in a downtown area where congestion relief is directly tied the how many small streets can trickle traffic through a busy area. G_d forbid there should also be a temporary street closure somewhere. Then the stuff can really hit the fan if there is a scarcity of connecting streets.

    I think, when planning development of new, large parcels of land (even redeveloping areas within the CBD), one quickly becomes aware of just how much space is taken up by streets and ROWs, leaving less for actual development. The temptation is to cede less land to streets to maximize housing units, retail, or whatever one wants to see there. But the problems of how such a place will function once built out is probably not worth the extra land, IMO.
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  4. #4
    the latest thinking is that while there are some reasons why superblocks are attractive (they keep traffic out of important areas, reduce street costs, protect pedestrians) they are actually worse in many ways (they promote higher traffic on other streets, promote crime, hurt retail, isolate communities).

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    How many floors are the proposed buildings to have?
    I'm not a fan of really tall skyscrapers, butnear the CDB should be at least 4-6 IMO. That he[ps mute the need more land for development argument.

  6. #6
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Superblocks are a constant source of regret in the Buffalo, New York of today. In the 1970s, the city's downtown plan advocated superblocks and removing spoke streets as a way of making the central city's historic street grid, which combined both the spoke-and-radial and grid schemes, easier to navigate. The spoke streets radiating from Niagara Square provided some classical terminal vistas, and superblock projects (Buffalo Convention Center, Main Place Mall, Hyatt Regency hotel) destroyed them.

    Many residential neighborhoods in Buffalo were platted with very long blocks, many over half a kilometer long. Breaking up these blocks has never been mentioned in any of the city's comprehensive planning or urban design efforts.

  7. #7
    maudit anglais
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    Quote Originally posted by Cath View post
    I was wondering what the lattest thinking on street closures is? Do any of you know of examples of cities who have re-established traditional street grids to create circulation through superblocks (the WTC is a prime example here). I am drafting a breif for the public consultations, so any pointers (litterature, pertinant projects) would be greatly appreciated.
    Toronto's new(ish) Official Plan I think has policies regarding the closure of pulbic streets and requirements that new streets serving development be public streets wherever possible. The Regent Park redevelopment would be a great example of a plan which seeks to re-establish a traditional street grid in an area that was converted to a superblock in the 1950s.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by Richi View post
    How many floors are the proposed buildings to have?
    I'm not a fan of really tall skyscrapers, butnear the CDB should be at least 4-6 IMO. That he[ps mute the need more land for development argument.
    Proposed maximum heights vary between 44 and 80 meters (approx. 132 to 240 feet) with a street wall of max. 25 meters (75 feet). Maximum FARs vary between 7,5 and 10,5. This is a high density developpement.

  9. #9
    maudit anglais
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    Would that be Griffintown then?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian southern_yank's avatar
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    The State Center TOD plan in Baltimore is doing exactly that; reintroducing parts of the historic grid network on a site that was 'superblocked' in the 60s.

    www.statecenter.org

    An increased street grid density is preferred for this plan to create a neighborhood feel, slow traffic down in an organic way, and provide frontage for more development. Win, win, win.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    One exception I would see as desirable is if there is a particular use that cannot fit within the space of a typical block. Then, the siting should be careful consideration. Which streets would it be preferable to close. For example, many cities are attempting to keep or develop new industrial uses. These often require a large floor area that may be deeper than a typical block. In this case, selectively abandoning streets to create appropriately sized development sites may not be a bad idea.

    I think I would also consider the character of the development itself. If the streets were closed because there is a strong pedestrian orientation and large amount of greenspace in the development, it may have merit. For example, a developer may want to close the street to replace it with an pen-air plaza. That may not be bad. It is all a matter of context.
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  12. #12
    In this particular case the streets are being closed to allow for a mall (indoor pedestrian mall not uncommon to downtown Montreal)! There is much fear in the community that Wal-Mart is the main reason behind the street closures! The developer backing the project has denied this -the Wal-Mart part. However, there will be anchor tenants needing large floor plates, hence the street closures!

  13. #13
    Quote Originally posted by Tranplanner View post
    Would that be Griffintown then?
    Yup! Any enlightened thoughts on the project?

  14. #14
    Here in Milwaukee I know there have been various project where they have pushed to put the streets back in, often related to former industrial sites. I know there are specific examples of re-connecting the grid I just don't the names. Not exactly reconnecting the grid put in the Menomonee Valley they pushed Canal street through and are building a new street along the river in association with the North End development.

  15. #15
    maudit anglais
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    Quote Originally posted by Cath View post
    Yup! Any enlightened thoughts on the project?
    Not really, sorry - I've heard about it, but don't know any of the details.

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