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« Elsewhere | Main | Getting Ready for '04 »

August 27, 2003

Guest Posting -- Charles Sestok

Friedrich --

An on-the-front-lines report about the New Urbanism from 2Blowhards visitor Charles Sestok, who left a comment that I can't resist copying and pasting into its own posting. Charles is currently an electrical-engineering graduate student in Boston, but he has split time the last few years between his studies in Boston and summer consulting stints at a large electronics firm in Dallas.

I spent time as a summer intern living in an apartment development designed with some of the New Urbanist ideas in mind. The design ideas produced a more livable community than any of the other apartment "complexes" I've called home.

A typical apartment complex in Dallas is an archipelago of identical two-story buildings surrounded with a sea of asphalt parking lots. A cheap fence rings the complex; the illusion of security it provides is insufficient compensation for the daily difficulties of coming and going by car. Not only is this design pattern bland, the heat capacity of the asphalt and the lack of trees and grass multiply the unpleasant summer heat.

The new development I resided in, Post Addison Circle, struck a balance between a viable street-level pedestrian existence and the realities of life in car-centric Dallas. The buildings, while constructed wholesale on a formerly vacant lot next to a major highway, each had individual style. Each building is four stories high, covers an entire block, and has a parking structure in the rear, disguised to match the style of the front. The buildings of the development center on a boulevard with a park in the middle. Near the intersection of the development's main street with the highway, the ground floor of the buildings had restaurants and convenience stores as tenants. During the day, they drew customers from surrounding offices, and attracted foot-traffic from residents at night.

The design of each individual building enhanced the experience of the residents. The buildings focus inwards on central plazas. The apartments were built on three sides of the square with the parking forming the fourth. The central plazas had either swimming pools or gardens, and an effort to provide harmonious sculpture had been made. The design focused recreational activites and improved my opportunity to socialize with my neighbors.

In total, I thought that the development used several of the concepts advocated by Alexander and Salingaros effectively. It was a terrific improvement over my prior residence, which had a design allusive of Le Corbusier's antiseptic plans.

Now that I live in Boston, I live in a city that embodies these ideas naturally. Actually I prefer the design of Addison circle because it effectively incorporated the use of a car. Ample parking was available there, but was cleverly concealed. The same isn't true in Boston, where car ownership is simultaneously necessity and nuisance. Additionally, the central park of the main boulevard and the plazas gave the development more public space than a comparably dense neighborhood here.

I think that both the Addison Circle apartment development and the Boston walk-up where I currently reside follow the David Sucher prescription too. The buildings front pedestrian-friendly streets and have parking in the rear. Perhaps you've visited Boston as a tourist and seen the Back Bay, so I assume that you have an idea of how the neighborhood looks. The management company has set up a virtual tour of the Addison Circle development here. Looking at the images on the website, there are marked similarities between the conscious design of Addison Circle and the emergent order of the Back Bay.

Our thanks to Charles Sestok.

Best,

Michael


posted by Michael at August 27, 2003




Comments

Below my original post, j.c. pointed out that the pedestrian neighborhoods in Boston are protected from significant changes by heavy zoning regulations. Its inaccurate on my part to say that the Back Bay is maintained solely by emergent market forces, as I say above.

j.c. sparked a few thoughts for me. In short, Boston maintains a city-wide pedestrian style through strict regulation. In comparison, Dallas is fairly unregulated. The housing market there can provide local choices: a cheap, monotonous apartment complex, or a premium-priced pedestrian-centric development.

Not to say that everything is perfect about Dallas, but I liked having the choice of apartment style. I could also get great BBQ with a 5 min drive.

The thread is here:
http://www.2blowhards.com/archives/000994.html#000994

Posted by: cks on August 27, 2003 6:24 PM



It's funny to read such an educated view of Addison Circle. I live 5 minutes from there, and my wife thinks it's absolutely the greatest thing on earth. I personally can't stand it, except for one or two of the bars there. There's just as much a "planned" element to it as there is in any Soviet bloc you care to name. The only difference is it's Cool Planning, and the Central Committee isn't covering the rent. I goggle at what people pay to live there...at least three times my house payment.

And I'm sorry but there is no way you can say that the Addison Circle development is easier to navigate by car than any one of the thousands of apartment complexes in the Big D. They probably aren't where the cool kids live, though, but they do have parking spaces in front of your apartment door. Again, not cool at all, but purely functional.

-- Thus sayeth the old guy who grew up here and remembers when that "space" was a cow pasture before the developers got hold of it.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on August 29, 2003 10:09 PM






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