I would love to see small scale, infill development designed to maintain the walkable environment which already exists in my neighborhood. Ooh, and a leprechaun, I’d also love to see a leprechaun…riding a unicorn. That’d be swell! Unfortunately, in my world, a world which is much more walkable than most and which has somehow retained an incredible core of traditional buildings and streets, small scale infill development means this:
Those were ALL along Main Street, mind you. And they all replaced what were perfectly scaled and aligned structures.
In contrast, here are Main Street’s “Silver Bullet-Mega Structures” from multiple downtown shopping malls to a convention center and (“ha-ha”) a casino:
Notice anything? Yup, they all better align with the sidewalk, none of them create ANY surface parking or even garage parking at street level on Main Street or on side streets.
All of them were also designed specifically TO BRING VISITORS to the downtown as well as to service existing residents: the convention center speaks for itself in that regard, but the other mega-structures include three 250+ room hotels as well. Each one of them has been tweaked over time to better “treat the street” also. Examples?
The Civic Center/Convention Center used to sit well back from the street and featured a low-slung concrete plaza that failed to close off the outdoor room that is Court Square:
Now the view down Main Street is clear and 3/4 of its street level and second story façade is glass.
The ONE mega structure with a setback recently upgraded the pedestrian plaza at its entrance to perfectly conform to a PPP design with much higher ledges around its plantings and so, come Spring, will be a great place to sit and take in the sights.
Evan Plotkin turned what was a dead space into downtown’s most delightful public space…in front of a building which is the furthest thing from a small scale infill development:
Large scale or small it’s the design that matters. Of course smaller scale bets are less likely to result in catastrophic losses but we know walkable design isn’t “a gamble” anymore, not because of aesthetics, but because its opposite, auto-oriented design is a guaranteed loser. Look, “urban renewal” wasn’t bad because of its scale,(Haussmann’s Paris was a mega project on the scale of any American city’s Plan Voisin Corbusier-siation) it was bad because everything from hot dog stands to concert halls that was built at that time with a sprawl mentality (Yes, sprawl. It’s a meaningful word. It describes very well what it is and does, that some people don’t use it correctly doesn’t obviate its use.) was shit. If the government had used the same resources to rehabilitate those same districts I doubt we’d be complaining about it now.
Over a half a century these enormous projects have actually proven their worth. The Civic Center was built almost 50 years ago for a few million dollars. It has been home to an AHL franchise every season since as well as serving as a venue for thousands of concerts, competitions, conventions, and events. The newest mega project is even incorporating it into its operations; I’d say it has proven its value. Baystate West, Monarch Place, One Financial Plaza, and even the TD Bank building have brought thousands of workers downtown every day for decades and their hotels have housed millions of guests, even their excessive retail spaces have been repurposed for university classrooms.
Even building the quintessential “bad punchline” development: a casino, can be a boon to a neighborhood if its physical plant is well designed and its investment well harnessed. More on that in part II.