Reimagining the Future
The move to free ourselves from the automobile and build, rebuild, and sustain walkable communities has been going on for a couple of decades now. But the idea is really starting to take hold, even in the automobile’s fortress—the suburbs—as the reinvention of many suburban malls as mixed-use town centers starts to emerge. It has even taken root in the US military. The Department of Defense’s “Healthy Base Initiative” built pedestrian and bike infrastructure at a lower cost than auto infrastructure, with a greater benefit to health and wellbeing received the 2016 Award for Excellence from the Balanced Scorecard Initiative for significant breakthrough results on 14 pilot sites. While technology, from the car to food delivery apps, has changed the way we design and live in cities, it is critical we consider the holistic impact beyond convenience and access.
Think Space Positive
The lifeblood of any community is not the buildings themselves; it is the activity of its residents. Our job is to envision viable and vibrant uses. To this end, we create spaces that support activity and position them for uses that bring them to life. The buildings are, in fact, last on a list of master planning design considerations.
- Place. What is the nature of the place now, what does it “want” to become?
- People. Who are the people that will want to be in a place like this?
- Spaces and Uses. Which uses support occupant activities, and what spaces do these need?
- Buildings. How should we design buildings to create the spaces and house desired uses?
The first thing to be designed is the spaces that engender an authentic identity, or sense of place, and a circulation pattern that generates footfall patterns for a variety of densities. Retail can’t be everywhere; just where it makes sense. To this end, we design pedestrian-traffic hotspots so retail activities can blossom, having directed enough people to support something economically sustainable.
All of this suggests that investment in the public realm as a success criterion is well worth it, even though it doesn’t necessarily turn up on the rental roles. Public property improvements benefit everyone.
Affect Change and Build a Resonant Brand
Redefining experiences and turning perception on its head can be done at every scale. We do this through Urban Frameworks, designing entirely new cities for hundreds of thousands of people; Catalyst Projects, new town centers for smaller communities; and even Tactical Urbanism, pop-up retail and art installations to activate public spaces, from art walks to food service kiosks along the Pike Place Water Front. Places can win a place in people’s heart and in their daily travels as an image or brand that resonates with people as authentic and relevant.
American author Seth Godin defines the brand of a thing or a place as “expectations, memories, stories, and relationship.”
Often the sites that redefine communities are large sites that were originally designed for public or industrial use and have outlived their purpose. Sometimes, these sites find themselves on land that has been surrounded by a growing city, with an increasing land value that the existing use can no longer support. This is where master plans for sites from 3 acres to 3 square miles can deliver tremendous value for developers, and society.
Building Version 4.0, and Authentic Placemaking
Crucial to the creation of authentic places that are rooted in their location is an understanding of the history of the site, and the community. Most of the sites we look at, but not all, are brownfield rather than greenfield sites with a deep, corresponding history of use.
We always consider the original natural state for our environmental stewardship targets but, in addition, there are usually a few generations of development. As an example, here in the Pacific Northwest, we often find original land use and development in support of the First Nations residents. The second generation of use was the settlers of the 19th century, known for their timber, agriculture, and fishing industries. The third iteration of use would be the auto nation of the post-war era. This brings us to the current day where rising densities and the larger land parcels of the automotive era come together to deliver an opportunity for Development 4.0: Building new, walkable neighborhoods.
Measure Outcomes to Deliver Data-Driven Design
At the outset of a project we work with our clients to establish their goals for the development, and look at potential metrics to assure that the evolution of the project stays on course. Once the project is completed and operating, we need to measure established metrics, from density to space usage to pedestrian traffic, to ensure we have achieved our goals. This is also a crucial time to identify opportunities to fine tune and adjust the networks of uses and movement. This is where the Smart Cities, and real-time data, can figure into the creation of our communities.