Urban Planning 101
Really, urban planning is not hard. However, based on the countless urban planning disasters since WWII, one would think urban planning is some incredibly complicated and obtuse thing to understand.
For example, in designing a building for an urban location, like a Main Street, there are just three rules:
1) Make sure the building kisses the sidewalk. No setbacks.
2) Make sure the building has retail along its entire frontage.
3) Make sure the first-floor windows are contiguous.
The next two things are not really rules but are really nice to have:
4) Make sure the building is more then one-story.
5) Create apartments above.
Yet it is amazing how often architects cannot process these simple things. I find this baffling. Is it ego? Do architects distain the idea of THIER building lining up with all the other buildings? So, do they push THIER building back a few pointless feet to make it STAND OUT? Hey! Look at me!!!!!
I dunno. But I think all communities across the land should smack, hard, any architect who comes froward with a urban structure violating the above simple issues. Oh, and also deny them a permit. Please.
In Emporia, there are a handful of new structures on its main street, Commercial. This is good, as the majority of main streets across the land have not seen new construction for many decades.
However, two new structures violate the rules. Egregiously.
ABOVE: Most people walk by this building without even noticing what an urban affront it is:
Affront #1: It has a pointless setback, breaking the all-important street wall. A street wall is an unbroken line of main street buildings. As one walks along there should always be a consistent line of storefronts offering a pleasing pedestrian experience. While most people will not be entirely conscious of it, as you walk along this block the experience is less pleasing when you pass this building.
Affront #2: Look at the three windows. Classic main street buildings have walls of glass not stucco facades with a few small openings punched in. The latter is a suburban-style aesthetic, not urban.
Affront #3: Pointless planters.
Affront #4: Pointless planters…with no plants.
Affront #5: Gee, just what people enjoy on main street. An exposed, cracked party wall that was never meant to be visible.
Affront #6: Note all the two-story structures? So, why is the new-ish one just one-story? Do you find this attractive?
Affront #6: In short, this is a suburban-style structure that has been dropped onto a classic main street.
My problem is not really with the architect or developer but rather the city. Such a structure should not be allowed. It is that simple. The building diminishes the whole block and streetscape. If I were looking to open a retail business on Commercial, I would NOT want to be on this block.
Well, on to another urban disaster:
ABOVE: The new county courthouse.
The courthouse was built about ten years ago. I cannot express enough my loathing of it, and my anger about its existence. You see, about ten gorgeous two-story buildings were demolished to build this bloated monstrosity. I was in a state of shock watching these fine late- and early-20th-century structures be knocked to the ground. And for…this?
The building is, again, suburban-styled. It is the kind of structure which really really really wants to be surrounded by a sea of asphalt and parked cars. It also TOWERS above everything; its scale relates to nothing else on Commercial. The titanic-sized arched windows offer no sense of scale, either. Is the building two-stories tall? Three? Four? One has no idea looking at it.
And it gets worse. Much worse.
ABOVE: This just makes my eyes hurt. Intsead of having retail stores along the sidewalk, the courthouse has this utterly pointless arcade. WTF?
ABOVE: WTF????? WTF????? WTF????? WTF?????
WHAT were they thinking?????????? WHAT is the point of this arcade?????????? There are no doors leading anywhere. The wall-o-windows is so dark that you cannot see in. It is an exceptionally unappealing space. And to this day I am still in a state of shock that something SO bad got approved.
Now, by way of contrast:
ABOVE: At a glance the above structure, built a few years ago, does not look like much. But it brings joy to my heart. You see, it does everything right:
1) It is built out to the sidewalk.
2) It has retail on the first floor, and with contiguous glass. All the retail spaces are rented, too!
3) It is more then one-story high.
4) It has apartments above, bringing people downtown which means that there will be more customers for main street restaurants, stores, and theaters. This is good!
ABOVE: This structure is even newer and it also does everything right. Whenever I walk by I smile.
So, things ARE getting better. I pray that the first building in this post will be demolished and replaced with a a structure like the one directly above.
Sadly, there is no hope for the courthouse. It will be with us for a long long long time. Oh, want to know what the old courthouse looked like? OK, but be prepared to cry:
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