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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It's more fun in Indianapolis!

I just heard a terrific quote about our city on Tavis Smiley....interviewee and actress Teri Garr was speaking about how there's no fun in Hollywood "people are coming in droves," but it's no fun.  She proceeded, "It's more fun in Indianapolis, I was just there."



Condos: Location, location, location!

I just found this great quote from Brad Beggs, Principal at St. Louis consulting firm Development Strategies.

"Location is paramount to the condo buying decision, allowing groups of individuals to buy a much better location than most could afford in a single-family home. The product that has sold the fastest is located where people want to be--not just Miami Beach, along Central Park or Las Vegas, but in almost every vibrant downtown and in the best neighborhoods in cities across the country." (emphasis added)

Perhaps most intriguing is the suggestion that the "best neighborhoods" are good locations for condos. I have a friend who lives in an apartment building nestled into a charming historic neighborhood on 6th and Pennsylvania in Denver...that's the kind of location we're talking about for both conversion and "best neighborhoods."


These apartments are on Pennsylvania Street in Denver. The house next door would probably sell for $350,000 or more.

In Indianapolis, this might be more condos in the Old Northside, or Meridian-Kessler, or Broad Ripple, or even Nora (within 1/4 mile of the Monon). Someone might even insert condos into gold-paved Meridian Street itself, allowing folks to live in those areas for less than a mil. (Don't tell the neighbors)



Good urbanism for good mental health

Tonight, a frazzled friend told me that, "it's sad, but my mental health is so dependent on good friends, and sunlight, and cardiovascular activity." 

I shared with Jenn that really, everyone has those needs, she just happens to be aware of it!  What a profound set of criteria she uttered.

I could pontificate on this subject on a number of levels, but from the standpoint of an urban designer, our goal should be to create places conducive to making friends, experiencing sunlight, and engaging in cardiovascular activity.

How might this be accomplished in the built environment?

1) Making friends: create places where people cross paths, on foot.  Co-locate common amenities together Create places conducive to habit and ritual. Create places to "hang out."  Loitering encouraged.

2) Sunlight: plenty of studies now show the benefits of exposure to daylight. It's been less than a century that we have been so dependent on electricity, and fluorescent lights in particular.  Not that long ago, all buildings were designed for daylight. Factories with their sawtooth roofs, narrow office buildings with transoms allowing light to pass through, and courtyard housing.  I'm told that in Germany, there are actually regulations requiring access to daylight for employees.

3) Cardiovascular activity: it's no longer a secret that America's becoming obese and diabetic, and the CDC has jumped on the bandwagon promoting walkable communities.  In addition to better planning for a walkable lifestyle, "park once" shopping, and neighborhood parks, organizations like YMCA's and churches (past clients of mine) need to be more intentional about how they site their buildings. Ideally, these facilities should NOT locate their new facility on a greenfield site amidst a sea of parking.  However, when they ARE building in new neighborhoods, every effort should be made to offer easy pedestrian linkage to adjacent residential or commercial development. 



Affordable housing: scale or quality?

In a conversation this morning, an associate offered a good observation on one of my pet peeves--cheaply built housing.  Brad pointed out that, once upon a time, folks with lesser means bought a smaller house.  Now, entry-level production builders push big houses that are simply built to a lesser standard of quality. 

In other words, a poor person can buy the same size home as a wealthy person, with the only difference being quality of materials, level of detail, and distance from the regional center.

Of course, the big problem with this is that those homes will require constant maintenance, and not endure until even the first mortgage is paid off. 

(Speaking of affordable housing, check out one of my favorite "affordable" designers on the West Coast: Michael Pyatok. Who says affordable can't be beautiful?

Looking for an architect to develop a unique project?  The author, Jeremy Fretts, works at Niles Bolton Associates, the second largest housing design firm in the United States. 


Charrette of unprecedented scope in Mississippi

100 professionals affiliated with the Congress for New Urbanism are headed to Biloxi this week to offer turbo-charged neighborhood and regional planning.  Read more from here. 

The express permitting that accompanies form-based coding (rather than zoning) is especially well-suited to rebuilding the hurricane ravaged areas.  Also, it is a golden opportunity to replace dead (and now destroyed) commercial strips with walkable neighborhood centers.


Basics of New Urbanism

What makes a "new urban" neighborhood different than a conventional suburb?

Here are some quick (and incomplete) distinctions.

Traditional / New Urban Neighborhoods feature:

1) Streets that go somewhere.

2) Sidewalks that go somewhere, and everywhere.

3) The 5-minute walk.  Your daily needs should be able to be met within a five minute walk.  Some sort of retail, recreation, and socialization should be within 1/4 mile (a five minute walk) of your residence.

4) A center...and an edge.

5) Independence for seniors and adolescents.  Perhaps the best test for a good TND is how it treats residents without automobiles.  Can Senior Citizens and pre-teens live full lives there without a chauffeur, or are they dependent prisoners?

6) Mix of uses.  Housing, shopping, offices all in very close proximity.  This makes it more likely that you can walk to work or the store.  By having uses that are active at different times of day, the area gets the most use out of its streets and parking areas.  And, by being active during more hours, there are that many more "eyes on the street," thereby increasing the safety of the neighborhood.

7) Mix of densities & prices - Can a resident live in the same neighborhood as a single, young family, large family, empty-nester, and senior citizen? Can parents and their adult children and elderly grandparents live near one another?

8) Buildings that respect one another, and (together) create an outdoor room in the space between them.  Many people think New Urbanism is a style of building...requiring old-fashioned architecture.  While a lot of that exists, the most important aspect gets overlooked.  Rather than each building being an "island" surrounded by the sea of streets and parking, buildings are expected to be more like a continuous range of mountains, defining a beautiful valley.

9) "Places worth caring about."  Why do we protest the demolition of an old building, yet cheer the demolition of a dead strip center built in 1980?

Why not let the market decide what people want?

No problem.  But let's make sure that people know what's available.  A vast number of current U.S. citizens grew up in the suburbs, and don't know what it's like to live in a healthy neighborhood in a city or town.  Time and again, when offered a true choice - in the form of a list of amenities, or an actual example dwelling, people prefer traditional neighborhoods.  And, the demand FAR exceeds the current supply, which is why the prices in New Urban neighborhoods get driven up to obscene levels.

Also, another comment on market economics - for decades, the federal government has subsidized construction of new single-family homes and endless highways. Local governments, also, continue to overextend their budgets as they add infrastructure for new development. If we truly wanted to experience market forces, we would need to curtail these auto-biased subsidies.

I still don't want to live in a city!

Great! We have a place for you, too. New urbanists believe in a concept called The Transect....a continuous human ecosystem ranging from the most urban to the most rural, with all stages in between.  Literally, offering something for everyone.  The problem is that most of what has been built in the last 50 years is ONLY suburban. And that suburban development has even encroached on the turf of those who prefer to live rural lives.  

The full range of choices has not been available to the homebuying public, and we want to rectify that situation.


Still confused? Perhaps this satire will's the OPPOSITE of everything described above:  The Sprawl Manifesto


Hangin' with the Prez

CNU President & CEO John Norquist visited Indianapolis and Muncie this week, and I was honored to play host on Thursday.  A small group of Hoosier Urbanists gathered for "Coffee Hour" to discuss light rail, the local Saxony development, and the challenge of building desirable affordable housing.

John also shared his innovative approach to "Public Private Partnerships" -- express permitting, rather than endless political shenanigans and subsidies.  He reported that one developer in Milwaukee, who came to the Mayor's office hat-in-hand, lobbyist at his side, hoping for a handout, was elated by the option to just get busy and build...without any "gimmees." 

It seemed to me a pretty Republican approach for such an outspoken Democrat.  It looks like intelligent, thoughtful government is possible, after all.

John & I toured Massachusetts Avenue arts district, the Old Northside, and Fall Creek Place, all of which Norquist found impressive and surprising. 

John and I also continued the discussion of Faith and Urbanism begun at the CNU'05 session he hosted.

Buy John Norquist's book, "The Wealth of American Cities," here:



Mixed use "good examples" just added

Check out "Good Examples" in the Resource area of this site for new photos of contemporary mixed-use buildings throughout the country.


Rail good office space!

Office vacancy is lower near transit stops, according the the Wall Street Journal and real estate analysts.

This from the CNU September update:

Click to read more ...


New Urban Billboards

You've seen the "billboards from God" reinforcing the Ten Commandments.  What if we challenged conventional development with "Urbanist" billboards?

Here are some suggested slogans for bumper stickers and billboards (copyright 2005 Jeremy Fretts)

  • Demand mixed use.
  • Don't you wish the sidewalk went somewhere?

Click to read more ...