Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pedestrian retrofit in Concord, NC

I recently visited Concord, NC, a city of 80,000 just northeast of Charlotte, and came across what I consider to be a pretty innovative pedestrian retrofit of an existing bridge (see images below). Given, it's not an ideal pedestrian setting, but it's certainly a meaningful design modification in recognition of existing pedestrian traffic.  Flex-poles are often used on bicycle cycle tracks, so their application here was a quick, cost-effective way of creating pedestrian space between two newer sidewalk links.

The bridge and street were likely built when this southwestern corner of Concord was the semi-rural edge of town, a basic 2-lane farm-to-market road.  Add several decades of urban growth and you eventually have residential neighborhoods on either side of the bridge.  North of the bridge, much of the Logan neighborhood was originally built for textile mill workers, and like many Piedmont mill villages, development standards were pretty basic and often excluded sidewalks in the early 1900s.  With a push for sidewalks and Complete Streets starting in the 1990s and continuing now, the images below are the result.

The sidewalks are newer, with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sidewalk ramps to transition pedestrians from the bridge/street pavement to the sidewalks.  Once the bridge reaches the end of its design life, building a bridge with a sidewalk will make sense.  In the meantime, this is a clever design solution to fill the sidewalk gap until the bridge needs replacing.

Lincoln St. SW, looking north

Overview of sidewalk gap, Lincoln St./Rutherford St. SW, Concord, NC

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Davidson, NC - Small in Size, Big on Design

I visited Davidson, North Carolina last week and found the 5-square mile/11,000 person town to be big on design.  Like other nearby towns and cities in northern Mecklenburg County, the Town's had a form-based code (FBC) since 2001 and its principles are shaping the built environment from downtown Davidson to its newer growth areas.

On a design-related note, I was intrigued by the Town's use of RED recycling bins (blue is a more standard color) and black trash bins (black is indeed a standard trash color).  Red and black are Davidson College's colors, so it makes sense that the color-scheme shows local college/town pride.  Still, if the Town ever takes on curbside composting, would bins be green, like systems in San Francisco or Seattle?  Customization vs. standardization - it can be a struggle.

Trash bins aside, the Town also has an interesting variety of architectural styles.  In a neighborhood just south of downtown, homes take on all kinds of forms/influences.  This newer home (below) has some Victorian influences, with gothic arched-windows, a bay window, and some board-and-batten siding thrown in for variety.

Nearby, another home (again, the materials/construction seem newer) embodies the Open Gable Cottage style, popular in the early 1900s, and still a classic design that works well in 2014 (below).

On another nearby street, this home (below) reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie School of Design homes in Chicago (which I've still yet to see personally).  This home definitely takes influences from historical precedents.

While these homes are in more established neighborhoods, Davidson also has a Village Infill area just south of its downtown that's seeing new construction activity.  The map below highlights three interesting streets and projects in this area.  A new home at the end of James Alexander Way (red circle on map, house photo below) demonstrates that garages don't have to equate to "snout houses," as this one's recessed a bit, with the front porch meeting the street first.

The blue-highlighted area of the map (see map above) contains a mix of rowhouses and narrow-lot detached houses served by an alley.  Alleys are interesting because even though they're generally pretty utilitarian (i.e. space for garage access, trash pick-up, utility locations), they can also take on unexpected uses.  Got a deck balcony over your garage?  Put a kid's swing on it! (below)  Who says you have to have a yard to raise kids?

Here's a front view of these same houses with the kids'-swings alley.  Plus, there are brick rowhouses immediately north of these with a nice shared garden space (see images below).

And across the street, there's yet more variety in housing types, with an interesting street wall created by the mix of housing types (see images below).

Another variation of rowhouses are located just south of this street (area highlighted in yellow, map below), with foundations ready for more rowhouses within walking distance of downtown (see images below).

Davidson's doing infill development, but I was also curious to see its new development areas as well.  One area that really stood out on the map was Davidson Pointe, a lakefront neighborhood located in both the Town of Davidson and Iredell County, North Carolina (see map below, neighborhood higlighted in red).  The majority of the Town of Davidson is in Mecklenburg County, but this literal and figurative peninsula of the town extends into the next county. Kannapolis, North Carolina's another nearby town that straddles two counties, so it's not unheard of.  Still, I would guess that might make things complicated, both on the front-end of permitting/planning the neighborhood, and in the long-run for residents (taxes, services, etc.)

As for what's the on the ground, the homes are laid out in a tidy Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) pattern, with classic architectural features and alley-accessed garages for most houses (see images below).

My only criticism of this neighborhood concerns street naming/addressing: in this small of an area, I'm not sure why the street names are changing so often at intersections (see below).  Call me a traditionalist, or even KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), but people have an easier time navigating a street network when the same physical street retains its name until a logical/identifiable terminus.  And that's just for a 10-year old trying to find his friend's birthday party, let alone the fire department responding to a call!

Addressing pet-peeves aside, I enjoyed the visit to Davidson and am curious to follow development projects there, especially if the CATS Red Line commuter rail line ever gets sorted out (another blog post coming soon on that).