Urban Architecture | Philosophy of Urban Design

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Imagine a vibrant urban streetscape. People walk the wide sidewalks, window shopping and going from store to store. Sidewalk cafe's and restaurants are packed with happy customers watching the passing streams of people, sipping latte's, chatting and laughing with friends or texting and tapping away on their favorite portable device. Other locations feature laughing patrons sipping a beer or savoring a fine wine while enjoying a tasty morsel of sushi or cheese. Sidewalk vendors and artists proudly display their wares as the crowds of people ebb and flow as the day moves on.

At night, the scenery and tempo changes as the nightlife gains dominance over the tempo of the day crowd. Nightclubs and bars fill up with dancing, laughing people, swaying to the beat of their favorite DJ, cheering on their favorite sports team or scoring points in the eternal game of romance.

This is the essence of a dynamic, successful streetscape which urban planners often miss while others sometimes come close. Some locations seem to generate this dynamic almost by accident, while several locations have achieved this vibrancy intentionally.

The urban streetscape is characterized primarily by two dominant features: One, the number of people visiting the streetscape throughout the hours of the day and throughout the days of the year and Two, the number of people that live within a walking distance of the street. Of these two characteristics, the former is a result of the latter. And it is this latter point which many urban planners neglect.

A successful urban core features numerous visitors strolling the sidewalks and exploring the sidewalks and shops, restaurants and nightclubs, spending their money along the street. The success of a city core depends on several features, each of which must be present for the intangible dynamic of a successful streetscape to occur.

These features include wide, user friendly sidewalks, narrow one or two lane streets, small, human scale establishments, friendly police presence, density of residential population within walking distance, total population within walking distance, density of residential population within one mile, total population within one mile, exteriorly oriented establishments, ease of public access, safe and secure parking and hours of operation. Additional features help to leverage these essential characteristics and provide for a greater vibrancy. These two additional features are the presence of sidewalk vendors and artists and light rail or subway access.

Several of these features bear further clarification. Small, human scale establishments refers to shops and stores scaled to the human presence. They should not be imposing nor grandiose, but rather be of a size and scale that typifies the comfort and walkable scale of people. Each establishment must be of a size which is comfortable to view, walk and browse. Exteriorly oriented establishments is the moniker used to identify the orientation and signage of the shops and stores along the street. Each facility must bear in mind that the pedestrian traffic along the street is literally where the money is and its store orientation and signage must reflect this fact.

Hours of operation covers all the establishments within the urban core and refers to the hours that each shop or store is open as well as the number of days a year that the majority of facilities along the street are open. Most successful urban streetscapes feature facilities that are open from approximately 8AM or earlier to late at night, often 1 or 2 AM. Generally, these successful urban centers are available to customers 365 days a year. This produces the necessary tempo of activity a dynamic, exciting and vibrant streetscape requires.

A friendly police presence helps people to feel safe and secure, prevents minor theft and crime and provides the sense of security necessary for a safe and secure environment. Police must be trained in customer service and crowd control as well as the usual police training. plus have knowledge of the area to provide helpful directions and advice to visiting tourists and visitors.

Light rail and or subway access is not a necessary component of a successful cityscape but helps to leverage and magnify the effects of the components which are required.

A dynamic streetscape presents a quality of life that only an urban lifestyle can promise. A vibrant urban center provides people with the excitement of city living with the scale of a small town. Living near such a location is one of the better benefits of urban life.

Perry Jones is a successful author and urban philosopher.

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