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Pedestrian Streetscapes

A Representation of History, Architecture and Iconography

By Elizabeth Batchelder, EDAW

The architecture at Kierland Commons in Phoenix, Arizona, strives to replicate desert rock strata and the rainwater that gets caught in the recesses. The parking is along the perimeter, to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.

With their varied roles in the urban and suburban contexts, streets cannot help but reflect the complex relationship between people and the built environment. Streetscape is often the most visible representation of site aesthetics and community identity. There are also the practical functions of promoting safety, encouraging desired traffic circulation and behavior, absorbing and conducting stormwater runoff, and integrating with other outdoor spaces and transit corridors.

The new streetscape design, such as more angled parking and the four corner bump outs, blends seamlessly with historic elements of the area.

In the past, streetscape was often treated as an afterthought, its chief goals being navigability, safety, and infrastructure. But as pedestrian-friendliness emerges as a key aspect of quality of life, streets that create a specific identity or personality can make an indelible contribution to a community's urban fabric. Three recent projects undertaken by landscape architecture firm EDAW, Inc.--Newnan, Georgia; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Phoenix, Arizona--illustrate the importance drawing upon local history, architecture, or iconography for streetscapes in new and infill development.

New "Old" Streets for Newnan

Named in honor of General Daniel Newnan, the city of Newnan, Georgia traces its organized history back to 1828 and boasts a variety of historic buildings, including the majestic Coweta County Courthouse with its expansive lawns and mature oak trees. To complement this strong architectural legacy, the new pedestrian environment needed to merge seamlessly with its precedents. "The streetscape would be considered a success if residents felt that it 'always looked that way,' " says Ray Strychalski, the project's lead designer. "The major elements needed to be designed to last for a 100 years while being essentially classic, so as not to look dated as soon as they were finished."

Increased parking and new brick and concrete sidewalks improve access to local merchants.

Early in the design process, the preservation and inclusion of the existing angled parking spaces was identified as a way to maximize downtown parking. Through efficient layout and design of new, similarly angled parking spaces along with corner "bump-outs," the overall parking count was upped by 10 percent, an increase appreciated by the downtown merchants.

The design of the corner bump-outs had a variety of benefits to the overall plan. They reduced the length of the pedestrian crosswalks to and from the main square, and helped to calm vehicular traffic through the downtown area. Additionally, once enhanced by period-style benches and shade trees, the bump-outs provided areas for conversation and people-watching. By expanding the pedestrian zone on the courthouse block, the city also gained additional flex space to use for downtown events and annual festivals.

The new streetscape in Newnan, Georgia complements such strong architectural legacy as the Coweta County courthouse. The intersection “bump outs” shorten pedestrian crossing distances and calm traffic.

The design team went to great lengths to provide details and specifications that would help the streetscape improvements blend with the historic look and feel of the downtown. To avoid the harsh look of new concrete sidewalks and curbs, an ochre additive was specified to produce a mocha tone. Wood-molded, clay-based paving accents band the main sidewalks and add texture to large corner bump-outs, where residents can pause and interact with one another as they wait to cross the street. Across from the Coweta County Courthouse, one of the few remaining Carnegie Library structures is still extant. In front of this historic building, the design team was able to salvage an entire section of the two-toned hexagonal concrete pavers that once lined Newnan's sidewalks. Though it was not possible to use them throughout the project, the pavers were carefully stored during construction and then replaced in their original pattern. A new hexagonal granite plaque was placed in front of the steps of the Carnegie Library to document the preservation of the pavers, and "2001" date stamps were used to differentiate the newly-constructed sidewalks from the older ones.

The design team set out to match Newnan's original downtown streetlights, manufactured by a local foundry, R.D. Cole. Working with the custom light division of Holophane, the design team was able to recreate the historic look.

Throughout the design process, the team worked closely with an energetic and dedicated streetscape steering committee. Comprised of a cross-section of Newnan's residents, the committee provided valuable insight into the community's values and priorities. In fact, it was committee member Ms. Georgia Shapiro who helped to convince Newnan's mayor that celebrating the city's history was worth a little extra expenditure--even when it came to custom streetlights.

Lighting can enhance the day and nighttime vitality of a streetscape. In keeping with the goal of synthesis with Newnan's cultural fabric, the design team examined historic streetlights manufactured by local foundry R.D. Cole, in old photographs of the downtown area. The last remaining samples of the original streetlights had been relocated from the downtown streets to a local park in the 1980s, but the steering committee and the design team felt that matching these fixtures as closely as possible would be a valuable effort. To accomplish this, detailed measurements and photographs of the streetlights were taken to record their unique shape and finish. Working with the custom light division of Holophane, the design team was able to recreate the historic R.D. Cole look.

The generous sidewalk design in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is constructed of fired clay bricks in several colors to create a quilt like look.

The resulting streetscape plays on linkages to Newnan's history and its day-to-day life. By creating an inviting, people-friendly exterior, Newnan's streets promote outdoor socializing and enhance the experience of citizens and visitors. The public "face" of Newnan is now human as well as monumental--its current energy as palpable as its eminent past.

Patterning Downtown Kalamazoo

Sometimes, as in the case of Newnan, distinguishing characteristics are evident in the existing architecture, and the guidelines for a corresponding streetscape are relatively simple to distill. However, as exemplified by recent work in Kalamazoo, Michigan, streetscape can also serve to unify areas where outdated design and planning decisions have led to disorganization and neglect.

Streetscape furniture included benches, umbrella tables and integral seats.

Situated midway between Detroit and Chicago, Kalamazoo is a major center for the arts and education, and bears the distinction of having the first downtown pedestrian mall in the United States. Despite these assets, Kalamazoo's central business district was in decline, suffering from traffic flow problems and a lack of linkage between the city's six districts and its downtown area. The remedy was "Projects Downtown," a 10-point revitalization plan launched in 1998 to stimulate development, create a sense of community, and position the central business district as the destination of choice for residents, businesses, consumers and visitors.

In the city's initial surveys, respondents indicated that they found the one-way streets of downtown Kalamazoo daunting – this ranked among the top five reasons given for not coming downtown. To remedy this, the city commissioned the conversion of several major downtown streets to two-way, with concurrent streetscape and engineering improvements to enhance pedestrian linkages and wayfinding. An extensive graphics and signage system, developed by Corbin Design, helps to orient pedestrians and drivers and to direct them to landmarks and areas of interest. Each of Kalamazoo's six districts now has directional and environmental signage, and the downtown area is now advertised by trailblazing signage from the Interstate and outlying roads. Directions to public parking and mass transit are also incorporated, elements which assist in traffic calming.

The mall's streetscape incorporated brick pavers, art deco luminaries and street furniture. Opposite: The stone inscription on this luminaire tells the story of Burdick Street, Kalamazoo.

Chief among the goals of Kalamazoo's streetscape improvements was the need to use site furniture, paving, and plantings to create a consistent and positive outdoor aesthetic. To this end, EDAW looked to the area's historic and community context as well as its heartland locale. The resulting theme is one of a "community quilt," paired with Native American design elements extant in the arts and crafts of the Ottawa and Chippewa. A singularly American art form, quilts can function as historical records and symbols of family and community. The amalgamation of old and new fabrics also suggests a joining of past and future, an idea that fits neatly with Kalamazoo's ambitions for its downtown.

The east gateway to Kalamazoo features a 10-foot precast concrete wall, light columns, and a fountain. The design is accented by a grid of seasonally-updated plantings.

The South Kalamazoo Mall was redesigned in 1998 with a new one-way lane for vehicular access, while drawing on the quilt theme for its pedestrian environment. The walking surfaces were a primary concern, as the concrete was cracked and damaged from years of use. The sidewalk paving was redesigned with fired clay brick in several colors, used to provide patterns and accents which reflect the "quilt" theme. During winter months, the paved surfaces are kept snow-free by an innovative snow-melt system that extends from building face to building face. The mall's streetscape was enhanced with plantings, brick pavers, art deco luminaires, street furniture, and a river plaza.

Kierland Commons in Phoenix, Arizona, is a pedestrian-friendly streetscape that encourages strolling and shopping.

The North Kalamazoo Mall, located adjacent to the Kalamazoo Valley Community College campus, was conceived as a venue for art. In 2001, it was upgraded with new landscaping, brick paving with snow-melt system, lighting, and street furniture, as well as several pieces of outdoor art intended to further establish a unique experience for residents and visitors. One such piece, by sculptor Mark Lere, is a monumental wheel, 16 feet in diameter, located in one of the mall's plazas. Iconic markings in the plaza paving suggest the wheel's "path" through the history of Kalamazoo.

The contrast of light and shade reflect the desert theme of Kierland Commons.

To create a sense of arrival for pedestrians and cars, Kalamazoo has also established two gateways to the downtown area essential to the visitor experience. The East Gateway Project, completed in 2001, features a 10-foot high precast concrete wall, light columns, and fountain, accented by a grid of seasonally-updated plantings intended to reflect the agricultural and farming heritage of the region. The community quilt and Native American patterns are emphasized on the gateway structures wall and columns. Similar, ongoing development of the West Gateway will maximize the potential of Kalamazoo's new downtown, while supplementing improvements to vehicular circulation and pedestrian connections between the downtown area and several local college campuses.

Pavement patterns in walkways and streets were inspired by the folds and spine patterns of saguaro and barrel cactus, and other desert vegetation.

"Whenever possible, plantings, street furniture and paving should be integrated in a way that provides seasonal interest and reinforces gateways, as well as visually unifying the streetscape," notes landscape architect Bill Kuhl. "This is particularly important in the context of urban revitalization: by providing a setting that attracts people, you attract new businesses as well." Kalamazoo's new level of visual coherence and organization has brought the city's atmosphere up a notch. It's paying off not only in drawing people but also in business recruitment efforts, attracting new retail, entertainment, and arts to further subsidize the city's renaissance. The new "main street" is alive with social and cultural, as well as commercial, activity--and it all starts curbside.

Unpacking the Big-Box Mall: Kierland Commons

The competitive mixed-use development market has always relied on streetscape to encourage shoppers to linger and explore. While strip and indoor malls continue to spring up, many shoppers are discovering the appeal of destinations in their own communities that offer the same level of convenience, coupled with a more pedestrian-friendly environment. Kierland Commons, a wildly successful mixed-use project located in Phoenix, Arizona, has gone above and beyond the traditional retail environment to create a pleasing pedestrian experience. The project, which features open, outdoor public spaces and a winning mix of retail, restaurant, hotel, and office uses, is a sterling example of an intimate, complementary streetscape.

Site furnishing details, like the barrel cactus trash cans, add a touch of desert novelty.

Kierland Commons caters to a growing desire among consumers to combine work, shopping, dining, and entertainment with the simple social interaction offered by a neighborhood stroll. Located within the 730-acre Kierland master-planned community at the edge of Scottsdale, Arizona, the 30-acre development's clean, traditional Main Street encourages street interaction. The three-block, linear retail area has parking situated around its perimeter, allowing customers to park nearby and walk from store to store at the street level. The second and third floors of the development are reserved for office tenants.

Recognizing that when people are connected to a place emotionally and culturally, they are more apt to patronize it, EDAW's landscape and environmental design for the site incorporates the unique forms and textures of the native Sonoran Desert. Pavement patterns in walkways and streets were inspired by the folds and spines of saguaro, barrel cactus, and other desert vegetation. Similarly, an eight-foot-wide walkway circumnavigating a small park feature.

The Kierland Commons fountain area simulates a desert oasis.

es paving patterned after diamondback rattlesnake markings. The pavement was custom-etched, stained, dyed and stencil-sandblasted by a concrete specialist.

A lushly landscaped town square with a unique interactive fountain helps to create an intimate gathering place at the center of Kierland Commons. EDAW's design for the fountain is based on desert rock formations, with the water's detention and movement suggesting that of rainwater in the rock's recesses.

Due in part to the familiarity of the plant palette, the streetscape has a welcoming, comfortable feel, while the multiplicity of attractions makes Kierland Commons a destination in and of itself. Convenience and variety are reflected in the customized window canopies of the individual storefronts, all of which mimic the sharp contrasts of light and shade found in the desert. Such variation on a theme eliminates the tendency toward a drab "strip mall" ambiance, and creates synergy that draws visitors from storefront to storefront.

Marking the entrances to Kalamazoo's downtown mall area are luminaries inspired by the art deco lanterns that adorned the City Hall in the 1930s. Each brushed aluminum and frosted-glass luminaire is seated on a granite base and represents a theme important to the city.

Kierland Commons was the first urban village to be built from the ground up in Arizona, and it has been a resounding success. Since opening, it has become one of the hottest new shopping districts in the Phoenix area, with a wide variety of upscale retail and restaurant tenants. With the elegant Kierland Westin Hotel adjacent, the development has also captured revenue from tourists drawn to its combination of small-town charm and big-time convenience. It owes much of its success to the memorable streetscape, which manages to translate sand and saguaro into a unique leisure, entertainment and shopping experience.

In the fast-paced twenty-first century, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the simple pleasure of walking has become a commodity. As more developers tap into streetscape as an amenity rather than a simple conduit for cars, landscape architects and urban designers are presented with the chance to provide this commodity in a variety of contexts – from the neighborhood to the downtown to the local retail center. The success of streetscapes in Newnan, Kalamazoo, and Kierland Commons demonstrates that, given the opportunity, people will come out from behind the wheel to enjoy fresh air, neighborly conversation, and the qualities that make a place special and unforgettable. Streets are utilitarian, but their very indispensability allows them to be emissaries of local character, heritage, and civic pride.

Newnan Streetscape
Principal-in-charge: Ray Strychalski

Kalamazoo Streetscapes
Principal-in-charge: Russ Butler

Kierland Commons
Jim Hyatt and Dave Brockman

Elizabeth Batchelder is a writer
who has been with EDAW since 1999.

Founded in 1939, EDAW is oneof the world’s largest land and environment-based planning and design firms. Its core services-landscape architecture, urban design, environmental and economic planning – form a continuum of disciplines whose fusion enriches the solutions that we develop with our clients.

Visit them on the web at

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December 9, 2019, 10:13 am PDT

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