URSI 100--Introduction to the City

City Comforts: How to Build an Urban Village by David Sucher (Rev. Ed., 2003)


  I. How to Build an Urban Village

a.       Principles

                                                               i.      Build to the sidewalk (property line)

                                                             ii.      Make the building front “permeable”

                                                            iii.      Prohibit parking in front of the building

b.      How this book came to be

                                                               i.      Some design solutions are better than other—patterns are a way to solve an environmental problem in making the world comfortable.

                                                             ii.      We should talk to each other by referring to specific details of the city

                                                            iii.      Land use codes are phrased more to prevent bad things than to encourage the good.

c.       What to expect of this book

                                                               i.      Urban village—mix of intimacy and anonymity

                                                             ii.      Look for small things—city comforts—that make life pleasant

d.      How to use this book—the four groups

                                                               i.      Neighbors too often start from a viewpoint—more accurate as an exception than as a rule—that development can actually be stopped.

                                                             ii.      Developers (and architects) often create awful buildings that would be quite acceptable if only they had attended to the details and been aided with examples (design standards rather than building codes)

                                                            iii.      Municipal officials need to communicate with proponents and opponents to show them possibilities and how a project might work better

                                                           iv.      Property owners are the initiative that will create the environment of the future

e.       How to build an urban village

                                                               i.      Urban villages can’t be built in one fell swoop—they evolve out of a multitude of individual actions over a long period of time.

                                                             ii.      Buildings and roads and parks are the means; the goal is improved relations between people

                                                            iii.      Critical to identify those things about our neighborhoods that we value and want to preserve.

                                                           iv.      Above all, attend to details

                                                             v.      Copy the successful—consciously identify what is desirable in a particular built environment, deduce the specific rules that make the place desirable, and write land use codes that favor such patterns.

                                                           vi.      City comforts are in public

                                                          vii.      Density is a by-product of creating interesting places

                                                        viii.      Some uses do conflict with each other, but they can coexist close together if the conflict points are identified.


II. Bumping into People

a.       Introduction

                                                               i.      The city’s job is to bring people together

                                                             ii.      Look for “third places,” great good places

1.      Food or drink is essential; so is proximity to home

b.      The rules

                                                               i.      Provide seats (at bus stops, public places—everywhere)

                                                             ii.      Let people purchase food or drink

                                                            iii.      Offer a conversation piece (do it discreetly)

                                                           iv.      Put public places in the sun

                                                             v.      Encourage the chance encounter

                                                           vi.      Build neighborhoods for the social stroll

1.      continuity (continuous loop)

2.      Length (people should be able to pass each other more than once)

3.      Width (two groups should be able to pass each other)

                                                          vii.      Put your cards (or chess pieces) on the table

                                                        viii.      Build close to the sidewalk

                                                           ix.      Gather ‘round the hearth

                                                             x.      Provide a place for music

                                                           xi.      Reclaim and people the parking lot

                                                          xii.      Build bus shelters with public services

                                                        xiii.      Use sound to permit conversation

                                                        xiv.      Permit growing

                                                         xv.      Allow strangers to sit together

                                                        xvi.      Use movable chairs

                                                      xvii.      Let readers sip


III. The Three Rules

a.       Introduction

                                                               i.      Site plan trumps architecture

                                                             ii.      Key decision is the position of the building with respect to the sidewalk. This decision determines whether you will have a city or a suburb.

                                                            iii.      The rules are a start, but by themselves they are insufficient (there are unhealthy neighborhoods that also follow them).

b.      Rule 1: Build to the Sidewalk (property line)—create a strong “streetwall

                                                               i.      Locate the inside floor level as close as possible to the level of the sidewalk outside

c.       Rule 2: Make the building front “permeable” (no blank walls)

                                                               i.      Prohibit mirrored glass or window coverings that block visibility

d.      Rule 3: Prohibit parking in front of the building

                                                               i.      Park above or below the building

                                                             ii.      Park behind through an alley or from the stree

                                                            iii.      Park beside the building

                                                           iv.      Allow on-street parking. Stop-and-go parking is essential to real shopping districts.

e.       Problems

                                                               i.      Arterials (on-street parking restricted)

                                                             ii.      Major institutions (they seek to separate themselves, by distance or style)

                                                            iii.      “No demand for retail space”

1.      often developers have experience with retail or residential, but not with both simultaneously

2.      retail space may be very shallow

3.      other uses may be permitted in interim (eg, office space)

                                                           iv.      Shopping mall “moats” (fill them up)


IV. Getting Around

a.       Traffic calming

                                                               i.      Curbs

                                                             ii.      “Bulb” corners for more pedestrian space

                                                            iii.      Build streets on the grid

                                                           iv.      Short blocks

                                                             v.      Use shortcuts to create a grid

                                                           vi.      Don’t let drivers everywhere on the grid

                                                          vii.      Mix cars & people

                                                        viii.      Decrease turning radius

                                                           ix.      Traffic circles & roundabouts

                                                             x.      Raised crosswalks

                                                           xi.      Curve the road to narrow sight lines

                                                          xii.      Narrow streets

                                                        xiii.      Jog in road

                                                        xiv.      Vehicle size in street design

                                                         xv.      Shortcuts in parking lots

                                                        xvi.      Changes in paving material

                                                      xvii.      Plant trees to slow traffic—highway as boulevard

                                                     xviii.      Two-way traffic on commercial streets

                                                        xix.      Break up parking lots with trees

                                                         xx.      On-street parking

                                                        xxi.      Park in the commons

                                                      xxii.      Build with alleys—let cars use the servants’ entrance

b.      Bicycles

                                                               i.      Carry bikes on mass transit

                                                             ii.      Provide bike storage

                                                            iii.      Let users control traffic signals

c.       Access for all—“Universal Design”

                                                               i.      Increase signal length/decrease wait time

                                                             ii.      Build ramps with subtlety

                                                            iii.      Make busy sidewalks wider

                                                           iv.      Provide midblock crossing

                                                             v.      Provide curb ramps

                                                           vi.      Make special considerations


V. Knowing Where You Are

a.       Give people the time of day

b.      Tell time by the sun

c.       Use foreign tongues

d.      Amplify streetlights

e.       Reveal destruction and redemption

f.        Enhance neighborhood identity with street trees

g.       Make signs speak directly

h.       Identify the crop & plants

i.         Let individuals & groups take “ownership”

j.        Warm pedestrians

k.      Create gateways for neighborhoods

l.         Let pedestrians see from bridges

m.     Detail the grade

n.       Explain the rule

o.      Elucidate temporary and small-scale relationships

p.      Orient with music

q.      Explain signal synchronization

r.        Build bulletin boards

s.       Encourage people to leave their mark

t.        Identify watersheds

u.       Remind people where the water goes

v.       Put maps on sidewalks

w.     Leave no black holes of information

x.       Divulge transit schedules

y.       Allow workplace to be seen

z.       Explain unusual equipment


VI. Feeling Safe

a.       Cops on bikes

b.      Scatter police

c.       Open the storefront to the street

d.      Use interesting shopfronts to engage walkers

e.       Allow street vendors

f.        Keep an eye on things

g.       Make main entrance visible

h.       Open stairways to visibility


VII. Children in the City

a.       Place playgrounds in shopping districts, restaurants, and unlikely places

b.      Provide simple toys

c.       Single-family neighborhoods are not exempt

d.      Build in baby-sitting

e.       Build to child scale

f.        Let infants (and parents) travel in comfort


VIII. Little Necessities

a.       Shelter the telephone

b.      Pay parking with charge card

c.       Provide ashtrays

d.      “Have a drink on us”

e.       Public toilets are a comfort

f.        House the garbage can

g.       Keep your head dry

h.       Make it easy for pets to be polite

i.         Keep your feet dry


IX.       Fitting In

a.       Look next door for context

b.      Respond to modern preferences and fit in

c.       Plant your building so it looks like a hill

d.      Use a similar roof line

e.       Mimic the older buildings’ details

f.        Use similar materials

g.       Look smaller from the sidewalk

h.       Camouflage the parking garage

i.         Make rules but allow them to be broken

j.        Celebrate the banal

k.      Sometimes the issue is a minimum rather than a maximum


X.       Smoothing Edges: Buffers & Shields

a.       Soften walls

b.      Screen the parking lot with display cases

c.       Hedge in the entrance

d.      Shield with elevation

e.       Plant street trees for premium value

f.        Narrow the parking lot entrance

g.       Maintain the parking lot landscape

h.       Build green walls when needed

i.         Soften with green

j.        Build a grassy berm

k.      Make fences low enough to see over

l.         Trellis blank walls

m.     Raise property values with walls

n.       Use glass to block noise

o.      Use white noise from a waterfall


XI.       Waste Not, Want Not: Old Shoes Are More Comfortable

a.       Use side yards for seating

b.      Consider the alley (as a retail street)

c.       Allow alley houses (for economy & safety)

d.      Use roofs for play

e.       Small retail spaces work well

f.        Reclaim the International Plaza style

g.       Bridge freeways to relink neighborhoods

h.       Place shops on bridges

i.         Turn leftovers into parks

j.        Use storm drainage channels for bike trails

k.      Bring dead corners to life

l.         Use the air as well as a garden

m.     Save even one tree

n.       Build around the tree

o.      Use front yards for uban backfill

p.      Daylight the buried creek

q.      Make recycling second nature


XII.       Personalizing the City with Art: Kilroy Was Here

a.       Have artists work in public

b.      Sometimes even gild the lily

c.       Decorate the street’s surface

d.      Decorate blank walls with murals

e.       Embed things

f.        Art can be temporary

g.       Let art raise a smile

h.       Teach dance steps

i.         Art can clarify

j.        Refer to art

k.      Art can protect us

l.         Let children confuse art and toys

m.     Decorate space under bridges

n.       Sing in tunnels

o.      Fit art to the place


XIII.       What to Do?

a.       Feel, observe, analyze

b.      Tours

c.       Listen

d.      Read

e.       Let people spend their own money: revive the Local Improvement District process

f.        Carry a carpenter’s tape

g.       Use small words to discuss the landscape

h.       Choose an appropriate standard of review

i.         Children should read the plan of their city

j.        Applaud good work with precision

k.      Do simple things now

l.         Final Challenge: Sleeping in public


2003 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 14March 06