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Prefurbia, Part III

by Rick Harrison, Rick Harrison Site Design Studio




Figure 1: This is the layout of a coved single-family area and retail/office land use along a north boundary. Lot lines are layed out last. Meandering streetscapes vary angles of the home, stretch the setback line and increase space and density without adding to the street length. Note how many homes fit with little constructed street length.
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Prefurbia is a way to design sustainable neighborhoods. In part one (Sept. issue) www.landscapeonline.com/research/article/13882 we began with an existing site plan to create a before benchmark. In part two (Oct. issue) we introduced the Prefurbia concepts of pedestrian-oriented design, flow and diffusers for vehicular traffic, architecture in relationship to layout and architectural shaping. This installment introduces more methods of Prefurbia.




Figure 2: The commercial area design preserves the auto-centric convenience that makes retail in strip-style commercial centers successful. Prefurbia calls this neighborhood marketplace. The design ties the main trail into the retail center.


Coving
With coving, the lot lines are not layed out first, but last. A meandering streetscape varies angles of the home and stretches the setback line, increasing space and density without adding to the street length. Note how many homes fit with little constructed street length (Fig 1). The evolution of coving included home architecture with a floor plan layout that takes advantage of the views and architectural shaping, providing a home that fits the lot. In this case architecural shaping was used to create a home of increased value, but it can also be used to increase density upwards of 20 percent without violating existing ordinance minimums!

Note also how we applied coving to the straight street along the easterly boundary. This creates the feeling of openness and eliminates monotony. The entrance of a neighborhood sets the critical first impression. Homes flair at the entrance to create a welcoming open feeling and to hide home rears. We decide not to create an entrance island, but instead use the shapes of the homes for that first impression. A main trail ties the single family region to the remainder of the neighborhood. The broken lines in purple (Fig. 1) signify the minimum front, side and rear yards. They are at 1 degree increments, so when we set the lot lines through these guidlines they will be at even bearings, such as N 36 E, instead of N 35 45'56.8" E, emulating clean plats of the old days. All of the surveyed trees will be preserved in this design.

The commercial area is designed to be a function of the residential neighborhood and preserve the auto-centric convenience that makes retail in strip style commercial centers successful (Fig. 2). Prefurbia calls this "neighborhood marketplace." The premise is to tie the main trail into the commercial and avoid situations where residential overlooks unsightly commercial servicing (loading docks as an example). Retail must be visible for the best chance of success and needs to be convenient to access, which is why we relocated it to a main road.

As one drives past eateries, the hunger starts. Convenience and easy access is what drives the success of retail along main roads. The interior layout of the retail shops flow to a rear pedestrian entrance. The shops have a main auto-centric front entry, with a secondary rear entry for pedestrians strolling through the neighborhood. The southerly building does not have major exposure to the main street and would be for office use. We choose to have a single two-way entrance from the north road (a matter of style) because it aligns with a two-way street to the north (reducing maneuvering) and the first island creates a diffuser and identity for the commercial area. Some of these elements are more for neighborhood character building than absolutely necessary, but they create additional elements of value that tend to raise the present and long-term value of the homes and nonresidential uses. With a significant 30 percent or more reduction in public street paving, we release both area and funds to be used to increase value in other ways.




Figure 3: A pond separates single-family homes from offices. The offices block the view of a large parking lot. At this stage the 8-ft. wide main trail is set and we begin designing the 6-ft. wide meandering walkways.


Prefurbia vs Smart Growth
Prefurbia and Smart Growth are very different in commercial design. In the original plan, there was no perimeter visibility to shops and it was not easy to drive to parking for shopping or service. In Smart Growth, to encourage walking and hide the cars, the parking areas are placed (out of sight) behind the stores.

Prefurbia introduces a menu of new commercial design options that include new zoning that blends residential and office, as well as prescribing the concept of the Cyber Village. This new method, by George Van Hoosen of Springfield, Mo., aids home-operated businesses with neighborhood community facilities. This particular plan could easily facilitate a Cyber Village approach.




Figure 4: Home fronts are showcased, with the back of homes hidden from those driving through the neighborhood. Pedestrians and vehicles are kept as far away from each other as possible. Subdivision platting is simple. With the offset command walks are easily created.

Buffers
The next step is to design the town home area and figure out a buffer from the sea of paved areas on the southwest corner of the site (Fig. 3). The town homes (architectural elements were explained in part two of this series) are now designed to emphasize the front porch and views from inside the homes. We need to balance space and yet achieve profitable density. Space is relative. It's what one feels on the ground. This is called "human scale." What is indicated on the plan may be much different than what one feels on the ground. Because of the architectural blending of space within the home to create views (Prefurbia), the feeling of space will be much greater than if we ignored architecture.

The townhomes provide affordable housing for the area oil field-based economy. The residents are not likely to drive vehicles that enhance the character of the neighborhood, so we design the townhomes to hide parked cars and garage doors from the roads and pedestrian ways. The original plan separated cars and did not allow stacking spaces behind the garage doors, requiring a long walk from the parked car to the unit and adding an enormous amount of extra paving, increasing environmental impact and construction costs and making the housing less affordable.

Offices buffer the single-family homes from viewing a large parking area (Fig. 3). A pond is placed behind the residences, with views of offices across it. At this stage the 8-ft. wide main trail is set (we set these at even bearings as well) and we begin designing the 6-ft. wide meandering walk. The reason behind using straight main trails in this particular plan is because the site is relatively flat. Building a straight walk and then planting young trees (low cost) along each side will eventually form a beautiful canopy within a few decades. This tree-lined walk will be enjoyed for generations to come, and provides a strong visual element that clearly indicates how the neighborhood is interlinked.

As residents and visitors drive through the neighborhood the home fronts are showcased and back yards hidden. Suburban back yards tend be cluttered and unsightly.

Another area of office parking is across the street from the single-family homes (Fig. 4). The added green areas in the parking area are intended to soften the view. Ideally, this proximity should be avoided, as a parking lot near single-family homes can have a negative effect on home values.




Figure 5: This pleasant 6-ft. wide meandering walk is along Dean Parkway in Minneapolis. If you think it's too much work to design, to create easements and stakeout a gently meandering, graceful walk that adds character and value to all homes in a neighborhood, then think of Dean Parkway. This area is almost a century old and of course designed long before CAD and total stations, just raw, manually hand-calculated geometry with tedious stakeouts.

Meandering Walkways
We choose to design neighborhoods with a minimum walk width of 6-ft. wide. The main trail is wider, in this case 8-ft. wide, to handle the extra traffic and signify this is the main walk. A signature of our planning firm is meandering walkways. The meandering is not critical as much as the concept of separating pedestrians and vehicles.

Want to create a safe neighborhood? Keep pedestrians and vehicles as far away from each other as possible.

Subdivision platting is simple. Use the offset command and walks are easily created. If your municipality requires a minimum walk width of only 4-ft. wide, that is not enough for a couple to comfortably walk side by side.




Figure 6: Most detailed site plans show driveways full width to the street. Typically the entire space gets paved. For a three-car garage that means paving 30 x 40 ft. (1,350 sq. ft.), i.e., overpaving.


Fig. 5 shows a beautiful 6-ft. wide meandering walk along Dean Parkway in Minneapolis. If you think it's just too much work to design, to create easements and stakeout a gently meandering graceful walk that adds character and value to all homes in a neighborhood, then think of Dean Parkway. This area is almost a century old, designed long before CAD or total stations, just raw, manually- calculated geometry with tedious stakeout. If a surveyor a century ago pulled this off, surely surveyors today would have no problem!

On less traveled throughways, we place a walk only one side of the street. Compare a single 6' wide walk to having two 4-ft. walks each side of the street. The 6-ft. wide walk will encourage use with 25 percent less total paving width.




Figure 7: This nearly 90-year old home was built with a driveway serving a rear garage, typical of the platting in the '20s and '30s. Note how beautiful this Minneapolis driveway is even after almost a century of winters. Driveways are priced per square foot of paving and this one has about 25 percent less square footage of typical driveways, also lowering the environmental impacts by the same amount. The visual impact is also less.


Driveways
What of the driveways? They are longer than the conventional plan using coving. Doesn't that increase both volume and costs? Not necessarily. Fig. 7 shows a home that is almost 90 years old built with a driveway serving a rear garage. Note how beautiful this Minneapolis driveway is even after almost a century of winters. This driveway has about 25 percent less total square footage. It is "easy" to pave the full width of the garage to the street (Fig. 6). Most detailed site plans show driveways full width to the street, which encourages over paving. After all, to create individual geometry on every driveway to show a taper to the street creates more geometry than the effort of creating the lot geometry! Which home would you want to come home to?




Figure 8: This driveway represents more attention to detail that has been missing in land development. The driveway has only 650 sq. ft. of pavement and serves a two-car garage, but it's 80-ft. long! We achieved this large decrease in paving by mapping the tire paths as one enters and exits the garages.


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August 19, 2019, 10:34 am PDT

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