Made for Walking: Density and Neighborhood Form
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
113 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138;
2012. 176 pages. $50 paperback.
It is not just a question of whether one can walk these neighborhoods—it is whether one wants to. Here, urban designer Julie Campoli judiciously weaves photography, text, and mapping to define the essential characteristics of 12 compact, low-carbon prototypes in central city locations. Her final selection, gleaned from field trips to 34 cities in Canada and the United States, is a coherent and a visually stunning product. Made for Walking: Density and Neighborhood Form communicates with ease on several levels for the benefit of a broad reading audience.
This book is saturated with images, offering more than 450. Most stunning are the multiblock elevations where the consistent alignment of facades defines the streetscape as a public realm. To achieve the desired effect, the author shot images at 20-foot (6 m) intervals and then combined them with the aid of Photoshop into seamless montages. The montages are complemented by photo vignettes that range from community gardens to intermodal transit hubs. Together, the images and vignettes bring focus to both human and architectural scales.
Mini-chapters explain the components of each neighborhood: LoDo and the Central Platte Valley in Denver; Short North in Columbus, Ohio; Kitsilano in Vancouver, British Columbia; Flamingo Park in Miami Beach, Florida; Little Portugal in Toronto; Eisenhower East in Alexandria, Virginia; the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon; Greenpoint in Brooklyn, New York; Little Italy in San Diego; Cambridgeport in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Old Pasadena, California; and downtown and Raynolds Addition in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Pearl District and Eisenhower East are the result of recent, developer-driven efforts on brownfield sites, while other neighborhoods, such as Greenpoint and Little Portugal, appear to date back at least a century. Moreover, it comes as no surprise that these center-city examples have undergone extensive changes in resident mix because of the prevailing market shift from blue-collar to white-collar inhabitants.
These neighborhoods are virtually identical in size—125 acres (51 ha). This corresponds to a leisurely walk of about 20 minutes and serves as the benchmark for analytical comparisons in the diagrammatic maps digitally generated by the author.
These maps compare population in persons per square mile (ppsm), housing densities for each block expressed in units per acre, quantity and configuration of city blocks, access to transit and neighborhood services, extent of street trees and parklands, Walk Score ratings, and other factors. Building densities on a block-by-block basis are generally very tight—a characteristic made possible in part because off-street surface parking lots are rare—block sizes are generally small, and lot-by-lot construction is not subjected to onerous setback requirements.
A 13th prototype discussed in detail is Dockside Green, a refreshing reinterpretation of garden city motifs. Designed by Busby Perkins + Will, it is located on vacant industrial land across the harbor from downtown Victoria, British Columbia. By combining 100 percent of the wastewater treatment located on site, energy consumption that is 45 to 55 percent less than the Canadian Model National Energy Code, and other state-of-the-art environmental benefits, Dockside Green has been certified Platinum under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system by the U.S. Green Building Council. As primarily a residential community, however, Dockside Green lacks the diversity shown in the other prototypes.
Jane Jacobs said in 1963 that “dwelling densities should go as high as they need to go to stimulate the maximum potential diversity of a district. . . . Densities can get too high if they reach a point at which, for any reason, they begin to repress diversity instead of to stimulate it.” Campoli’s concern is at the lower end of density—namely, the minimum population density that “makes public transportation viable and services available” (i.e., readily accessible without auto dependency). To make this happen on a metropolitan level, she sets a baseline of approximating eight dwelling units per gross acre; at 1.3 persons per unit, this equates to 7,000 people per square mile. She reminds readers that this is still “more than twice the density of most American cities.” But at the neighborhood level, achieving the robust mix highlighted in this book implies densities beginning at 11 dwellings per acre or 10,000 ppsm. The challenge of reforming prevailing low-density development patterns—even at Campoli’s thresholds—continues to be most daunting.
An abundance of books champion the cause of compact form. But one is hard-pressed to ferret out a better effort at distilling its essentials than Made for Walking.