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Steps to creating high-performance communities

As Charlotte prepares to update its growth and development policies, some urban experts have recommendations on what can be successful long term.

In an article published on ArchDaily, an online publication for architects, urban designers Noah Friedman and Kristen Hall said that as more people choose to live in urban environments, “We need to think more creatively about how we link our various modes of transit, and make sure to invest in our walking infrastructure.

“Comfortable spaces are well-loved by workers, residents, and visitors alike, and attention to social vibrancy injects round-the-clock life into a community.”

The designers, both with Perkins and Will’s San Francisco’s office, recommend several principles to shape “wonderful high-performance communities” in which to work and live.

Many are being debated in Charlotte.

They include:

*Increased mobility: High performance communities, by design, require access to local and regional transit as well as ease of movement for multiple forms of transportation, such as walking, cycling, or other forms of alternative mobility, the designers said. “But it’s not enough for cities to have public transit; often the challenge is transporting people between that transit and their home or other destination,” they said. To achieve a new level of “connectivity” in communities, two changes are needed, they said. “First, there’s the widely-held mindset that streets are primarily used for driving,” the designers said. “Instead, we need to establish a hierarchy of streets, where some streets are car-focused, others emphasize safety for cyclists, and others are wonderful spaces for people to just walk. “The more connected a community, the more likely that people will feel comfortable switching between different modes of transit.”

*Focused intensity: When it comes to transportation, another performance-related design consideration is to develop communities where the highest intensity of uses – whether they are commercial or residential – is within a 5-minute range of public transit, with development intensities tapering off the farther away you get from the stations, Friedman and Hall said.

*Pedestrian focused: “Great walking streets are wide enough for two or more people to walk next to each other comfortably, include trees and other landscape features, and are lined with retail and other active uses at the ground floor or stoops, stairs, front porches and doors in residential areas,” the designers said. To further encourage people to walk, neighborhood centers and other hubs of activity should be no more than a comfortable 5-10 minute walking distance from homes and workplaces and include a variety of uses giving workers and residents the opportunity to fulfill their daily needs and enjoy urban life without using their cars, the designers said.

*Well-loved public places: Creating a high-performance community “is to cultivate well-loved public spaces as a central part of a neighborhood,” the designers said. “People love and are attracted to high quality public places that are comfortable, vibrant and accessible to all,” they said. A well-developed network of open spaces, such as green spaces, plazas or waterfront areas, regardless of climate, establishes a valuable community asset, the designers said. “These spaces which allow people to relax and decompress year-round positively contributes to highly livable and healthy residential and workplace neighborhoods now and into the future. A robust public realm framework where a variety of open spaces are within a short walk of all workers and residents will ensure our health and well-being and greatly add to the livability of urban neighborhoods. As we ask more and more people to work and live in higher density communities it is critical that we provide public places where workers and residents can enjoy the outdoors, exercise, find a quiet place to sit, or allow their children to run around and play.”

*Social vibrancy. Will the community be a quiet residential district, or a thriving hotspot of activity? Will the community be an 8-hour, 12-hour, or 24-hour neighborhood? “These questions are objective and do not place a greater value on one type of neighborhood over another,” the designers said. “They simply help designers and policymakers determine the appropriate strategies necessary to achieve the desired outcomes.” The last half century of urban development throughout the United States has been characterized by low-density, suburban sprawl, they said. “This has created a loss of social vibrancy in our cities and communities. More and more people are seeking out and asking for places with a greater sense of vibrancy.” With large, multifamily buildings developers can often be more thoughtful about choosing a unique ground-floor cornerstone tenant, rather than a safe bet like a large well-known national chain store or bank, the designers said. It not only sets the tone for the rest of the street, but also has the power to generate higher value for uses above, they said.

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