These entries present ideas about how buildings, cities, and landscapes can be made into better places for humans. Humane Design is published by Jeremy Fretts, and is committed to "improving the human habitat." Jeremy Fretts is a designer and project architect at Niles Bolton Associates, and a member of the Congress for New Urbanism.    RSS/XML

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Sunday
Feb122006

Preferred streetlamps

Indiana is suffering from a rash of "historical" streetlamps bleeding their light into the night sky.  Most visible is my own Town of Fishers, where 116th Street looks like a landing strip from incoming aircraft.  Makes it easy to spot my house from the air...

Here's a little diagram I created to illustrate the point...

outdoor lighting.jpg

Monday
Jan302006

"New Suburbanism" getting press...but isn't it really Urbanism?

Two recent articles refer to "The New Suburbanism," a term apparently coined by author & scholar Joel Kotkin.

"...This is what Joel Kotkin calls the New Suburbanism. These new suburban villages, he says, will combine with revived older suburban villages, like Naperville, Ill., and Fullerton, Calif., to create an 'archipelago of villages' -- a new sort of landscape that is neither city nor sprawl. " (1)

Article 1: A Nation of Villages, David Brooks, New York Times 1/19/2006

Article 2: Back to the 'Burbs, Diane Wedner, LA Times 1/28/2006

The question we must ask is, at what point is dense pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use, mixed-density, mixed-price suburban redevelopment not "suburban?"  Suburbia, by definition, is low-density, single-use, single-price homogeneity.  Why are we so afraid to say that an area is "urbanizing," or that we are building "new towns?"

We can HOPE that Kotkin & Brooks are right, that we will develop an Archipelago of Villages.  The big question is what is the sea between the islands?  Is it rural? Is it suburban? Or worse, is it dead suburbia, the dangerous gangland of vacant and neglected real estate?  (beautifully depicted by the Sierra Club in their recent ad campaign - see image below)

The Congress for New Urbanism espouses a concept called the Transect.  If our municipalities were INTENTIONAL about creating an archipelago of villages, the Transect would be the model to follow.  In essence, it encourages a full range of human habitats from fully rural to fully urban.  (more about the Transect)

sierra club outdoors.jpg

 

Thursday
Jan262006

"Reality House" debuts at builders' show

The "Reality House" debuted in early January at the International Builders' Show in Orlando.  At 6000 square feet, it's hardly a realistic size for everyman, though such things are more affordable in Indiana than other parts of the country.

Perhaps most exciting is its focus on usability, with real-world research driving real-world functionality.  And, it's nice that it was designed by the world-renowned home designers & urbanists at Looney Ricks Kiss.

Read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/01/21/HOGSMGPA1E1.DTL

Visit the house here: http://www.realityhouse2006.com/

Or enjoy my bullet points derived from the SF article:

  • We're messy and need places for all our stuff.  Use built-in storage.
  • Create a "drop-off area" for keys and other things that get "dropped"
  • Provide a second master suite on the first floor (rather than a garage apartment) for elderly live-ins or nannies. Include a sink and fridge.
  • Provide places for the (flammable) stuff we store in the garage, perhaps separate from the car and gasoline.
  • Provide for pets, especially when they need to be corraled. Use a dutch door, and if it's near a shower that's a good thing.
  • Provide for working-at-home with cabinets and countertops.
  • 10' is more than enough "greatness" for the great room. Taller ceilings are wasteful and have bad acoustics.
  • Create private spaces....his and hers vanities, away rooms, nooks for kids and adults alike
  • Outdoor living (more than an 8x8 concrete slab!) includes well-considered patios, terraces, balconies
  • Handsome architecture.  (in this case, Arts & Crafts style)

I'm pleased to say that my design for the condos at Lantern Point Plaza address many of these issues already!

www.johnsonrealtygroup.net/lanternpoint.html

 

Monday
Jan092006

Site updated with site planning images & movie

Humanedesign.com is pleased to announce that images of our site planning work has been posted to the "Portfolio" area of the website.  In 2006, site planning and 3D visualization is expected to make up approximately 1/3 of my workload.  (The other 2/3 are building design and project management)

Featured projects are located in Carmel, Indianapolis, New Castle, and Fishers, Indiana.  A small fly-through movie is posted online for the Kroger/16th Street project.

Monday
Jan022006

Newly built Real Urbanism in Pittsburgh is a showstopper!

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For several years, I've tried to get excited about the future of Pittsburgh, since I grew up nearby.  I've visited, intentionally searching for paradigm-changing development. Sure, there's a "Green" convention center and two new stadiums, but nothing to appeal to "Creative Class" folks like myself.  (a term coined by Pittsburgher Richard Florida) For the last calendar year, I've been reading Dr. Florida's book, which also maligns Pittsburgh, pointing out how creative-types evacuate the city upon graduation.

This week, I saw not a glimmer of hope, but a radiant rising star!  The new "South Side Works" changes the urban equation for Pittsburgh.  In addition to charming-but-dingy historic neighborhoods, Pittsburgh now has a spectacular example of new mixed-use development, replete with world-class retailers, good urban form, and handsome architecture.

I believe that this is the finest "new urban" or "lifestyle center" example I have seen, though by no means the largest.  Perhaps it is best because it is the most genuinely old-urban.  The project is fully integrated in the street grid of Pittsburgh's South Side.  A rich variety of local clubs, restaurants, and shops in historic buildings line Carson Street for several miles to the east of this development.  A rich mix of urban housing ("ready for renovation") fills the blocks to the south, and ascends the hill-town slope of Mt. Washington.

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Also, the project is good in its own right.  The streets are gridded, but not perfectly aligned, resulting in everchanging views and revealing surprises.  The Cheesecake Factory, with its enchanting (if boilerplate) architecture anchors a beautiful public square.  A handsome movie cinema also opens to this plaza.  Offices and residences occupy the upper levels of the buildings.  Local and regional merchants are included along with national chains.  A regional bookseller anchors one prominent corner. The only real disappointment is that the parking garages hold a bit too much street frontage, as they are lined on only one side with retail.

I would argue that the South Side Works will have a greater and more lasting economic impact on the City than either of the two new stadiums.  Now, there's a top notch local example of new, mixed-use development.  It should only accelerate the renovations on the South Side. And once its economic success is fully realized, others will race to copy it.

Built like a real city, in a real city, but managed and developed in 21st-century fashion, the South Side Works is real, new, urbanism.  I've heard Pittsburgh called "The San Francisco of the East," with its hillsides, neighborhoods, ethnic heritage, and waterfront views.   Perhaps this project will begin to help the city realize that potential by making it more attractive to urbanites.

Now if we could just straighten out that tangled web of riverfront interstates...

(I'd welcome comments by full-time Pittsburghers)

 

From Benjamin Weaver:

South Side Works, I think, is pretty good.

I've been there a couple time since moving here 6 months ago. The

design is a little imposing, but better than much else out there.

Also, the retail is very "commercial" if that makes sense, with higher-end stores... I guess I like the smaller scale neighborhood feel on Carson St. better. The apartments were a bit out of my range, as much as I'd have liked to move there, so I'm up in Shadyside with the college kids, but they weren't too disastrous. On the whole, it's pretty good. We show it off to clients (I'm working at Urban Design Associates at present) as a good example of a new town center type space, although hopefully with something more civic than a Cheesecake Factory. Glad to hear you liked it, Pittsburgh is a great city that has thoroughly impressed me in the half a year I've been here, and South Side Works helps with that.

 

Click here for more pictures of South Side Works.

Monday
Jan022006

Educating Americans to choose urban life

Urban Planner Kyle Ezell has taken hold of the fact that most Americans don't know what it's like to live in a real city.  Most live in suburbs, perhaps near a city that's only a shadow of what a real, vibrant city can be.

His company, Get Urban America, is committed to educating folks about what it CAN be like to live in a city.

"Big changes will only occur when millions of people want to to live in authentic urban neighborhoods.   Millions don't. They don't know how, and likely, they don't know what they're missing!"

"...shouldn't every city, regardless of size, offer a bustling urban landscape for those people with strong urban values?  Shouldn't Columbus and all cities like it provide a vibrant "Mini-Manhattan," especially in the core of downtown, so locals with urban values don't feel robbed, fleeing to New York or Chicago to find a "real city?"  Cities with weak markets for urban living obviously provide few real choices."

http://www.geturban.com/AboutGetUrbanAmerica.htm

Wednesday
Dec142005

Unaffordable Housing

I just ran across this rather stunning analysis of housing vs. minimum wage.  An appropriate minimum wage to provide a two-bedroom apartment in the US (on average) would be  $15.78.

"81% of American family renters live in counties where two full-time minimum-wage workers will be unable to afford a two-bedroom apartment."

Check this link for more info. http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2005/12/unaffordable-housing.html

Tuesday
Dec132005

Friendly Pedestrian T-Shirts

Just (barely) in time for Christmas..."Friendly Pedestrian" t-shirts!
I got inspired and developed a couple lines of T-shirts.  They'd be great for friends and co-workers who are avid walkers, activists, or urban designers.  They sprung out of the desire to develop "walking billboards" for urban design concepts.  Now, I just think they're sort of cool.  Purchase online at  http://friendlypedestrian.spreadshirt.com, or access the shop through humanedesign.com

There will be luxury versions coming in January, with flocked (velvety) graphics. But they'll cost more, and you can't give them as Christmas gifts :)

Saturday
Nov262005

A quick visit to Atlantic Station (Atlanta)

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(Pictured: The Park District at Atlantic Station)

Atlantic Station is a new mixed-use development in Atlanta's Mid-Town section (MARTA: Arts Center).  The development is now open for business (but still under construction), and I had the opportunity to visit for a few hours in November.

In some regards, it is an outstanding example of "new urban" infill development.  It is arguably better than its sister development, famed Easton Town Center near Columbus, Ohio. Easton is a bit too much "lifestyle center," not quite a "real" place, despite delightful architecture.  Atlantic Station is better because of the complete integration of residential units above the retail and offices.  And, better because it is integrated into a real city grid, built on a brownfield.  Access to the MARTA subway system and the inclusion of mainstream grocer Publix makes this the real deal. 

Another notable feature is the delightful "Park District," which adds a certain freshness to the "condos-on-the-park" idea implemented elsewhere in New Urban developments.  The area features modern--yes, MODERN--condo units fronting what is possibly the most beautiful detention pond I've ever seen. Odd, but somehow appropriate, IKEA terminates the vista.  This area is truly a great success in place-making.

Where Atlantic Station falls short is its disjointed, mis-scaled, misaligned, and sometimes oversimplified architecture. While there are several outstanding buildings, I lost count of missed opportunities for "terminated vistas," a hallmark of good urban design. 


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Where's Dillards? (A missed opportunity for a terminated vista)

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World's least impressive Banana Republic (another missed opportunity)
Dillards department store, for example, holds a terrific location at the end of the street, yet its facade is shifted severely off-center, leaving a fabulous framed view of a couple insignificant windows in an otherwise unarticulated wall.  Elsewhere, a prominent view from major Atlanta streets features a thoroughly dismal cinema building, fronted by an underscaled retail building of incongruous style.  Other streets offer two-, three-, and four- story buildings framing a view of a one story retail building of no consequence.   

As for retail tenants, it appears to be most of "the usual suspects," with a few new entries from the Raving Brands stable of restaurants.  Furnishings retailer West Elm is another tenant I have not yet seen in similar developments.

Even with missed opportunities and (some) disappointing architecture, this stands to become a highly successful development and outstanding example of real mixed-use, traditional neighborhood design in practice. It will be interesting to visit once all the tenants are open and all the condos are finished.

 

Additional photos are posted in the GOOD EXAMPLES area of this website.

(Editorial note: these are observations from a three-hour site visit.  The author is fully aware of the challenges in bringing a design to fruition, and the compromises that occur along the way.  Comments from others knowledgeable about the project are welcome!)

 

Comment from Jacob Lindsey:

I also had the chance to visit Atlantic Station over the weekend. I don't know what percentage of list members have actually visited or heard of this project, but it is the largest-scale infill project I have ever witnessed. The entire retail component (about 5 acres) sits atop one massive parking structure, which intregrates rather gracefully with the street-level experience. And while you're right that the architecture and urban design are mostly regrettable, the developers deserve credit for including retailers such as Publix and the UPS Store in the project's center.

And this project is proof that NU principles have permeated the cultures of finance and development.

Comment from Caleb Racicot:

I believe the greatest lasting formal attribute of Atlantic Station will not be its buildings, but its urbanism. With time, poorly terminated vistas can be repaired and mediocre architecture replaced. But the project's interconnected streets and public spaces will remain and become only richer as it ages and changes.

More significantly, the project has fundamentally changed mainstream Atlanta's notions of the public realm. For the first time in over 50 years, there is, in fact, a "high street" in the city where people can shop, dine, stroll, or just sit and partake in the urban experience. To this extent, I see AS an almost an "incubator" for the re-awakening urbanism a few blocks away. It is an entry-point for suburbanites enticed by city-living, but too scared to move into an older neighborhood.

Last week, Mayor Franklin said Atlantans need to learn how to walk again. It is my belief that this project will lead the way towards that noble goal.

Comment from Lucy Rowland:

Excellent observations and summation. For those who were not around from start until groundbreaking, Atlantic Station was the first EPA brownfield site approved until new development guidelines for nonindustrial uses. DPZ consulted in the original design, but local firms weren't very happy about that and I believe a lot of the DPZ
work was jettisoned very early.

It's about 145 acres that was badly contaminated, but wonderfully located very near Georgia Tech, across the freeway from Midtown and the wonderful cultural and social climate there (although there was a LOT of unhappiness with the bridge from residents on the east side).  Atlantic Station certainly has been through fits and starts, but the developers never succombed to turning it into a gazillion condos and apartments as another almost-Buckhead address (if you've been through Buckhead at 7 p.m. on a Saturday, you'd wonder what the hype is all about--gridlock and worse).
Saturday
Nov122005

Live-work building

I'm working with Adam Thies of Eden Land & Design on a neighborhood plan for the City of Carmel right now, and in the process, developed this cute concept for a live-work building.  As drawn here, it would provide 1350 SF on the first floor for retail / workshop / garage. Second floor would be 1350, with the potential for a third story in the slope of the roof, or a mezzanine level...either of which would be very cool!

If anyone wants to hire me to design it further and actually build it...that would be great!

I'd also welcome photos or examples of other live-work buildings that are actually built. (besides those in Kentlands, MD, with which I'm already familiar)

live-work 3.jpg