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Thread: First impressions

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    First impressions

    When you are driving through a relatively small town, say under 50,000 population, and you realize that was a nice town you just went through, what were the impressions (first impressions) that made you think it was nice?

    Was it:

    Nice homes with generous setbacks viewable from the road?

    Mature trees and nice landscaping?

    Absence of utility poles and wires?

    Absence of sign clutter?

    Small scale of commercial buildings?

    Gently rolling terrain?

    Occasional vistas or views to the horizon?

    Visibility of occasional water features such as rivers, lakes, or streams?

    Absence of (or screening of) parking lots?

    "Cleanliness" (no noticeable trash in gutters or on grounds)?

    Other?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I live in just that kind of town. Population is just under 50. I can't say mine is a "nice" town. More of an over sized truck stop. If you pass by on the freeway you see gas stations, hotels. and some big retail. If you actually go into town you'll find some interesting art and crazy lights. The part I like is the mature landscaping in the older part of town along with the variety of older style homes. A nice downtown is also a winner for me (we don't have one). I look for the old courthouse plaza style parks surrounded by businesses.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  3. #3
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Streck View post
    When you are driving through a relatively small town, say under 50,000 population, and you realize that was a nice town you just went through, what were the impressions (first impressions) that made you think it was nice?

    Was it:

    Nice homes with generous setbacks viewable from the road? Not really.

    Mature trees and nice landscaping? Yes.

    Absence of utility poles and wires? Yes. Although most of the time this is more subliminal. You don't realize it until after you are gone

    Absence of sign clutter? Yes.

    Small scale of commercial buildings? No.

    Gently rolling terrain? No, although Kentucky is nice.

    Occasional vistas or views to the horizon? Not really.

    Visibility of occasional water features such as rivers, lakes, or streams? Not for me.

    Absence of (or screening of) parking lots? Yes.

    "Cleanliness" (no noticeable trash in gutters or on grounds)? Yes.

    Other?
    I also find that if I am in a city I am unfamiliar with the first thing I notice is scale. Are there large blocks with buildings? Are their parks and greenery? I also notice public art. Maybe that is just me, but a community with great public art always makes me get a good first impression.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dvdneal View post
    I live in just that kind of town. . . . If you actually go into town you'll find some interesting art and crazy lights. The part I like is the mature landscaping in the older part of town along with the variety of older style homes. I like the old courthouse plaza style parks surrounded by businesses.
    Thanks dvdneal and Hink.

    I am looking for a systematic (prioritized) way to approach the visual improvement of our streets.
    Last edited by Streck; 19 Aug 2016 at 4:27 PM. Reason: Added pen names of commentors.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    I enjoy seeing small towns with these:

    1. Compact design
    2. Vibrant and current businesses, such as coffee shops, cafes, locally owned shops
    3. Lots of walkers, leading to . . .
    4. Pedestrian amenities
    5. Signs in scale with the setting
    6. Public art
    7. Brick clad, historical facades

  6. #6
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    The quality of infrastructure usually registers just below the conscious level for me. The most obvious tipoffs for 'nice' neighborhoods are usually related to the character of the housing stock.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    I find it difficult to determine what a nice town is these days is because, I don't know, I have been a professional planner for so long now. I detect things that turn on my bullshit radar. There's so much faux "nice town" stuff going on, like the landscaping, streetscape, gateway entry signs, and the DDA storefront, that it seems forced, all in for "best practices." I like to see people walking around, I like to see people loitering, I like to see cars double-parked, I like to see sites under construction, I like to see newspaper racks, I like to see the waitstaff in the back sneaking a smoke - to me these are signs of a busy, active, interesting town.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I'm going to refer to my time in the southwest here, since a lot of the population lives in rural (not urban) centers. If you view Santa Fe, the first thing you'll notice is that the town looks like it organically grew out of the high Chihuahuan desert. Landscape is preserved to match the natural setting, open space is preserved, all development has a consistent style (pueblo revival) via form based coding, signage is minimal and matches the architectural style, small streets in residential neighborhoods, residential setback is minimal due to popular spanish style walled courtyards which facilitates a pedestrian scale, generous public amenities and urban design in the urban core, commercial area has generous ROW to facilitate traffic, cultural events that encourage outdoor activities, good integration of institutional structures, artistic center, etc. etc. On the contrary, a lot of people consider the town to be contrived due to the above but in reality, it's one of the most successful facades I've ever witnessed, and it works!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Yes to cleanliness, absence or minimization of aboveground utilities, absence of streetside parking lots, and mature trees. And I was already thinking about vitality, active storefronts, people on the streets (both those with businesses & community things like churches and purely residential streets) before I got farther down the thread and saw that Wannaplan? and Coragus had said much the same thing, only better than I just did. But my idea of "nice" is more about healthy than pretty.

    Honestly, "generous setbacks" is something that will only register with a planner, and a suburban or rural planner at that.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by B'lieve View post
    Honestly, "generous setbacks" is something that will only register with a planner, and a suburban or rural planner at that.
    Ya know, this makes me think about all the times I talk about community planning with the lay people. They are actually pretty smart and in tune with how a community is ordered. For example, in talking about neo-traditional development, many people have said to me, "Oh yeah, like little Fisher Price towns, right?" The term "Fisher Price Towns" seems apt as it captures a memory of youthful delight, maybe a little naivety, combined with a perception of something that is pre-packaged or themed, but ultimately something is overall "good" or maybe more to the point, something "not bad.".

  11. #11
    Cyburbian RandomPlanner's avatar
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    As for setbacks, I'm always drawn to the small setbacks, large front porches, and sidewalks in a small town that people are actually using.
    How do I know you are who you think you are?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    I am surprised that small setbacks are desirable by planners.

    I am reminded of traffic noise (and echoing of traffic noise against close buildings), lack of foundation planting, lack of mature trees, lack of rainwater water soil re-charging area, lack of space for placing utilities underground, and loss of bucolic settings.

    There is also an over abundance of shading (and early evening darkening) caused by buildings three or four stories high adjacent to typical narrow street right-of-way.

    Also, when buildings are allowed to be close to the street, they are usually built with narrow or no side yard/windows, which preclude sunlight and views of the weather.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    Planning is a no win game. We just go for what we can do best for a specific area and for what people want. If we look at downtown areas with giant setbacks you'll see a lot more parking lots which creates impermeable surface for water runoff and other problems. If we really started talking about every impact that a single building downtown can have it would paralyze everyone trying to make a decision. The best we can do is try to design a proper scale between the building, the sidewalks, and the street width. Do things like create a street cross section wide enough to allow light. Make sure there is a landscaping strip or some kind of planting area. Make sure sidewalks are big enough to handle people and a little more. The best thing to do most often is find a place similar to yours that you like and try to design like that. Figure out what makes the good place work and start changing requirements to meet that.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Actually, the #1 thing I look for in a city is lots of people out on the streets. Nice streetscape and buildings can have some relation to that, but I have seen ugly cities with packed streets and attractive cities with no one out walking around.

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