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Good urban design for people
November 15, 2013

Years ago, when I first got into the real estate development industry, I came across a book titled City Comforts, How to Build an Urban Village, by David Sucher. It’s a common sense, straightforward catalog of best practices in urban design. I want to just share with you the three primary rules it covers. 

Good design is all about what makes people feel good. Site plan trumps architecture, meaning the basic arrangement of the site is far more important than what usually passes for architecture, the exterior appearance of a structure. Think about where people like to go to on vacation, like New York, Paris, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Prague, and even Disneyland; all those places seem to follow these three simple rules:

1.  Build to the Sidewalk

Create a strong “street-wall” in which each building meets or comes close to the sidewalk. The sidewalk is important because it channels pedestrian movement and forces people into closer proximity where they may bump into each other and act neighborly.

2.  Make the Building Front Permeable

Connect the inside of the building and the sidewalk outside with windows and doors. Life attracts life. Of course, not only must people be able to see in and out, they must also be able to enter. Therefore, put your front doors where they are visible from and directly face the sidewalk.

3.  Prohibit On-Site Parking in Front of the Building

Put on-site parking above, below, behind, or aside. Parking lots are crucial, but unless one is at a tailgate party, no one wants to hang out in them; therefore tame them. Reserve the front of the building for people. Do, however, allow for on-street parking. Stop and go traffic is essential in our car oriented culture. On-street parking also makes the sidewalk safer for pedestrians, creating a buffer from the traffic on the street. 

By themselves these certain design relationships are not enough to create healthy communities. But as a general rule these patterns are essential to create built environments that have a sense of interpersonal community.

Kirk Moorhead
Kirk is a housing development project manager with Beacon. His work here includes new construction at Nicollet Square and work in progress, Prior Crossing. His large-scale renovations include Abbott View, the Nokoma, Kimball Court and American House and coming soon, The Lonoke.