This design is a work in progress.
I have been interested in urban design since my second year at university, and it’s an interest that has only grown over the past several years, evidenced by the many urbanist articles on my blog, reCities. It’s an interest that was sparked by my time in London, my favorite city largely for its myriad of excellent urban architecture and beautiful urban design. After many of years of studying, researching, sketching, and thinking about the urban ideal, I’ve finally decided to put my ideas into practice and design a small neighborhood.
The pale buildings are residential (mainly attached housing, with some semi-detached and the odd apartment building) while the yellow buildings are commercial or mixed use (shops, restaurants, offices, some with apartments on the upper floors) and a school in the southeast corner.
The premise and constraints of the design are that the middle and two wider streets are the existing context.
I think it’s inevitable that an urban designer’s personal preferences, and even personality, should find their way into a design, and you see a lot of that in the plan, a mix of formal and informal elements. The street layout is strongly influenced by the terraces/row houses common in London and throughout the UK (and some American cities such as Boston and Baltimore). These are either single family homes or divided into apartments. I also wanted to incorporate more traditional narrow streets, often to the rear of the terraces (like a mews), but with streets only 2-3m wide and more hodge-podge in their layout (think Greek or Italian village). Here you’ll find the smaller, more affordable homes, and independent workshop spaces.
The neighborhood is divided by a small stream, flowing through a linear park anchored by an elliptical garden. Immediately to the east of the garden is the main commercial stretch of the main street, with shops, cafes, offices, and live/work spaces. The large building in the southeast corner is a school, just off a wider plaza which hosts a farmers market and local events. The western portion is more residential, and more elevated (this will become more clear in future updates).
The neighborhood is mostly reserved for pedestrians, with many streets too narrow for cars. You’ll notice on the plans that the inner streets are connected with the main street’s sidewalk/pavement, not the road itself. Cars can enter some of the wider streets, but only at very slow speeds, and long term parking is not allowed.
While ultra dense developments seem to be all the rage today, I believe strongly that the most beautiful and healthy neighborhoods are of medium density with buildings that rarely exceed 6 stories. Hence this is a neighborhood of streets and houses, with only one or two apartment buildings interspersed here and there. Many families leave inner cities for the suburbs when they have children, so most homes have their own small garden to encourage families to stay.
I find it likely that one of the reasons terrace houses have retained their popularity in the UK is thanks to the small gardens most of them have, whereas home styles without gardens, such as back-to-back houses, were far less valued and mostly demolished. It’s plausible that one of the reasons the suburbs took off like they did in the US is because American rowhouses rarely have sufficient gardens in the back, even in affluent areas like Boston’s Back Bay. For many Americans, a suburban home was the first time they had a garden at all. Personally, I believe having your own piece of land, even if very small, is very important for mental wellbeing, and one of the key benefits of having your own home. A home without a garden is just a vertical apartment. That being said, some homes in my plan do not have their own garden, but these abut communal, private garden squares.
This is a very green neighborhood, full of trees, bushes, and flowers. Many of the houses have a 1m setback from the street, to act as a buffer between the public and private and to encourage planting. There will be a foot and bike path along the stream, and further footpaths in the garden squares.
Below you’ll find a selection of sketches of the design process thus far.
More updates are forthcoming in the weeks to come. Eventually it is my intent to design at least some of the buildings, time permitting.