Tag Archives: urban design theory

What is the Heat Island Effect?

Urban Heat IslandsAs urban areas develop, changes occur in their landscape. Buildings, roads, and other infrastructure replace open land and vegetation. Surfaces that were once permeable and moist become impermeable and dry. These changes cause urban regions to become warmer than their rural surroundings, forming an “island” of higher temperatures in the landscape. Continue reading

Is Urban Infill a Sustainable Solution to Development?

Urban infill may be a viable solution for cities seeking to build tighter communities by utilizing space to its fullest potential. Conscious implementation of developments on underutilized land may be an effective sustainable agent that reduces daily vehicular travel time and the resulting environmental byproducts. Continue reading

Innovative Public Transportation Infrastructure

brt_1-imageDeveloping innovative solutions within an existing city layout may be one of the challenges faced by some cities when accommodating for growing populations. It can be time consuming and expensive for a city to rework its pre-existing urban infrastructure. Rather than retrofitting the city’s public transportation infrastructure, it seems to be more feasible for a city to create an innovative solution in collaboration with pre-existing developments. Continue reading

The Architecture of Affordable Housing

232 River Street, Santa Cruz: An Example of Affordable Housing Infill.

As affordable housing developers build in inclusionary zoning areas, cities and residents demand high quality architecture and construction comparable to market-rate housing


One of the challenges that frequently confront market-rate housing developers building in cities with inclusionary zoning ordinances is the requirement that a certain number of affordable units be built alongside market-rate housing to promote a more diverse community. The juxtaposition of affordable with market-rate housing also demands that the affordable housing features a higher level of architectural style to compete aesthetically with the market-rate housing. Continue reading

Why is the Washington Monument Not On-Center?

wamo-cross-axis-highsmith-w-redMy wife and I were fortunate to pass through Washington D.C. during last summer. That being my first visit, as an architect naturally I could not help but admire the Beaux Arts vistas, symbolism, and majesty of the Washington Mall. But something bothered me – the centerline of the White House doesn’t line up with the Washington Monument.

In a city so based on order and symmetry and strong axes, why is the Washington Monument not on axis?! It took me a bit of online sleuthing to find out why. Continue reading

What is Mixed-Use Development?

Traditional zoning was dADC-Sketch3developed during a time when factories and many commercial uses were noisy, smelly, and/or hazardous to the public. To protect public health and residential property values, early zoning focused on separating different uses and buffering them from each other to minimize nuisances.

Continue reading

The Health-Benefits Case for Mixed Used Development

HS-Mbooklet-28 Pages4The term ‘mixed-use development’ refers to buildings that contain a mix of uses – such as commercial, retail or other non-residential uses, maintaining an active commercial and business environment at pedestrian (street) level often in conjunction with residential dwellings on the upper levels in a multiple dwelling configuration. Continue reading

The Qualities of Public Spaces: Four Case Studies

Fra_Carnevale_-_The_Ideal_City_-_Walters_37677Successful public spaces are those places where celebrations are held, social and economic exchanges occur, friends run into each other, and cultures mix. They are the “front porches” of our public institutions – libraries, field houses, schools – where we interact with each other and government. When these spaces work well, they serve as the stage for our public lives.

What Makes Some Places Succeed While Others Fail?
The Project for Public Spaces has identified four qualities generally shared by successful public spaces around the world: 1). they are accessible – the have good connectivity; 2). people are engaged in activities there; 3). the space is comfortable and has a good image; and finally, 4). it’s a sociable place, one where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit. Continue reading

What American Cities Can Learn From Italian Piazzas

Looking down on the Piazza Del Campo from the Torre del Mangia

Looking down on the Piazza Del Campo, Sienna from the Torre del Mangia

When the paradigm of American modernist architecture crumbled, urbanists began a quest for credible alternatives that often took them to the streets and squares of old Italian cities.

Deciphering the code of Italy’s thriving public life became a process of redemption from the sterilizing over-rationalization of the urban landscape that had been carried out by professionals of the previous generation. Continue reading

What Makes a Great Public Space?

b_730_82467935-5807-445b-9193-13ece12c901aIt’s a question that’s often asked and answered by urban planners and placemakers. The current media debate about costumed panhandlers in New York City’s Times Square adds even more grist to the mill. Numerous physical and social qualities that make a great public space have been proposed. These lists often run into double digits. Numerous illustrative examples have also been proffered. Such an exercise, of course, is highly subjective. Scholars and citizens reasonably disagree over the extent to which size, scale, degree of physical enclosure, amenities, aesthetics, and other variables matter. Continue reading