Posts about urban design

Geoff Parker is Sketching Oklahoma City

November 3rd, 2009


Just found out that Geoff Parker, local architect and sketch master, has started posting some of his work on the web.  I have known Geoff for some time and am a fan of both the person and the talent.  His stuff is very cool!  I wanted to repost it all, but settled on this analytique and figured if you want more you can visit his blog and see for yourself.


Rambled thoughts on Architecture, Urbanity, and the 7th Generation

November 1st, 2009

Oklahoma City Pei Plan (source: Doug Loudenback)

This morning, I read this old article at OKC Central about a architecture critic’s visit to Oklahoma City and comments on the City’s efforts back in the 1960s through 1980s with interest.

While some of what the critic Hiroshi Watanabe said sounded well-reasoned and has proven to be largely correct (praising Bricktown, the potential of the Myriad Gardens, etc), one thing that sticks out, both in regards to the efforts of I.M. Pei that preceded the critics visit and to the comments by Watanabe on the quality of the setbacks and plazas surrounding downtown office buildings, is the influence of architectural trends and the general lack of urban understanding.  Simply put: a good architect does not necessarily equate to a good urbanist. In fact, many renowned architects are very poor urbanists with destructive tendencies when given an opportunity to work at too great a scale. Along these lines, an interesting debate has been taking place between proponents of Frank Gehry and members of the more Jane Jacobs minded (actually, more accurately, William Whyte minded) Project for Public Spaces (PPS).  The debate was sparked by a question about the quality of public space provided by Gehry buildings asked by Fred Kent, head of PPS and a recent speaker at the Oklahoma City Mayor’s Development Roundtable, at a symposium in Aspen; to which Gerhy responded, if at all, with a pompous disregard that astounded some in attendance.

In the end, a great city has to be a collective effort.  Architects certainly have a tremendous amount to contribute to the conversation and to the overall aesthetic.  Planners, urban designers, engineers, real estate developers, etc – also all have much to contribute to shaping the ultimate urban environment.  But none of these professions, or any other profession for that matter, should wholly dictate the detailed form of the urban environment at a broad scale.  Ultimately, an eclectic mix of many persons contributions; spread out over decades or centuries of the technologies and styles of generations; creates the type of city that I consider great.  In truth, I am concerned more with creating a framework that will sustain and grow a great city for a long time to come. Key decisions about the overall framework of city development have given us the cities we see today, even if we did not know the importance of those decisions at the time.    The  seventh generation approach is interesting to consider when making major decisions that will impact the historical, current, and future urban environment:

“Oren Lyons observes that the first mandate of traditional Haudenosaunee [Iroquois] chiefs is to ensure that their decision-making is guided by consideration of the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come:

‘What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have? (Lyons 1980, p. 174).’

“The seventh generation principle applies to the ancestors as well. In honoring the ancestors, one expresses gratitude to them as the seventh generation, which they kept foremost in their decision making and for whom they sacrificed.

What types of projects or policies will do the most to serve and respect future generations?  What projects and policies may hinder future generations? I have some ideas of my own, but would rather hear what you think.  Thoughts?

Pedestrians take the Fun Path

October 22nd, 2009

This video is incredible and does much to demonstrate the importance of an enjoyable path for pedestrians. Perhaps more abstract is the “fun” experienced by pedestrians on sidewalks full of people with opportunities for window shopping, but the theory is basically the same.

(Thanks to Jan at The Happy Homemaker for sending this my way)

Do Not Reinvent the Streetlamp

October 22nd, 2009

NYC Street Design Manual

Steve Lackmeyer pointed out that Oklahoma City is getting ready to spend almost $100 million on downtown streetscape improvements, including new streetlamps, furniture, bus shelters, and more.  A plan has been put together by some of the top urban designers in the nation, and now it is up to city staff to purchase the fixtures and implement the improvements – and apparently they are purchasing fixtures soon.  It is imperative that this money go towards proven solutions that will provide a urban look and pedestrian-friendly feel for downtown.

Here is how you do it –> NYC Street Manual. It is free to download, but I purchased a hard copy on the recommendation of Jeff Speck, and find it to be true to his words. It offers worthwhile suggestions on lights, street furniture, and bus shelters – along with host of other street design best practices.

Oklahoma City should not attempt to reinvent the wheel when it comes to good urbanity, whether we are talking: design guidelines, sidewalk surfaces, or street furniture & lighting. We should learn from cities that have dealt with urban/pedestrian issues for a long time. We can save our bold efforts at originality for a day when we have the basics figured out.

And in case you think we have the basics figured out, I offer this humble reminder.

ULI hosts a “Back Room” Discussion on OKC – Tuesday, Oct 13 at 5:30pm

October 12th, 2009


If you enjoy the content of this blog and want to join me, some of Oklahoma City’s top real estate and planning professional, and two of my favorite fellow bloggers for a night of candid discussion on all things OKC, then this is the even for you.  I have had the pleasure of being involved with the ULI organization over the years.  Initially in Oklahoma City as part of an effort to found the Oklahoma District Council and since as a student involved in the annual urban design competitions.  I think highly of the organization, especially the group we have working locally, and have high hopes for the impact ULI can have on the land use and development practices in our city.  So it was truly an honor to be asked to sit on the next ULI panel this Tuesday night at the Midtown Deli…


Okay, enough with the fluffy intro.  This event is billed as a “candid ‘back room'” event and I am going to try to make sure we deliver (though I would request that if I do get run out of town, someone will at least drop me off at the airport).   Here is the event description from ULI:

Some of the best insights about OKC Real Estate and Urban Planning are found on the web! Now three very popular BLOGGERS join us up-close and in-person! This will be a candid “back room” event — not the usual Yada Yada. 20 bucks buys you drinks, eats, and some stuff money generally cannot buy. If you come, bring a business card.

What will we talk about?  A lot of that is up to you.  Bring a business card so that we can put you on the “Roulette Wheel”. If the wheel lands on your name, you get to ask any question you want. Obviously, we will probably have to talk about MAPS 3.  Hopefully we can offer a multifaceted view of the program.  Even as an admitted fan of MAPS 3 and someone who plans to vote yes, it definitely isn’t perfect.  We can also talk Devon Tower, Downtown Streetscapes, and the future of Bricktown, Automobile Alley, and the burgeoning Midtown district that is hosting the event  Finally, while we have a suburban developer downtown, we should venture into some of the more technical aspects of development and the differences between urban and suburban development models – this might actually be a very beneficial discussion that we don’t have often enough.


I can’t explain how I am qualified to be on the panel with Jeff and Steve, so I won’t try.  I like and admire both of them, but we definitely view the city from varied perspective.

Jeff Click
Blogger at ModernLandRun, President of the Central Oklahoma Homebuilders, and  also authors the funniest tweets on the web about the hilarious remarks of his 4 yr old daughter.

Steve Lackmeyer
Reporter for The Oklahoman, literally wrote the book on downtown development in OKC, is always blogging away at OKC Central


Register in advance or just come on by Midtown Deli on Tuesday at 5:30pm.

View Larger Map

Register for this event

Register Online for this event

Quote of the Week

August 24th, 2009

“Architecture by its nature creates public space: a wall goes up, there’s now a wall to the outside as well as the inside. When the inside and outside disconnect, neither works. It’s so elementary I can’t imagine anyone could argue it.”

– Mary, commenter at

Just a comment on MAPS 3 and the Canal Extension

July 11th, 2009

This is, or at least was intended to be, just a comment on MAPS 3 and the canal extension.  In fact, it wasn’t supposed to be posted here, but was originally going to be a quick three sentence contribution to a sinuous discussion over at OKC Central.  For better or for worse,  I am really amped up about all things OKC and MAPS 3.  I actually laid awake in bed last night thinking through it all until the sun came up this morning.  Though this post started as a response to NaptownEd’s  comment below, the combination of a lot of thinking, sincere passion, and nervous enthusiasm spilled over into something much longer than intended…

NaptownEd said:

Here is an example that OKC can possibly replicate. Click on link to the Indy canal that is align with various development:

Here are a few of the pictures to give you a sense of the Indy Canal Walk that Ed is referencing:




That is a very nice canal. I like the variation in form and scale.

However, the execution of the urban fabric that borders the canal is very poor. Heavy facades, a lack of transparency on sides and entrances of buildings, concrete retaining walls, and vastly over-sized setbacks, create a place that is ill suited for an urban environment and offers very little utility for anything other than glorified recreational paths.  I think the results speak for themselves.

Indianapolis Canal

Downtown Oklahoma City’s two most glaring weaknesses are the lack of pedestrians and lack of retail storefronts. The two go hand-in-hand; you cannot sustain one without the other. The City does not manage retail stores, but it has the power and the obligation when it comes to providing a public realm that attracts pedestrians.


A canal connection is a sad substitute for a well-designed street. I don’t mean this as a rebuke of the proposed canal extension, but am, affably I hope, calling into question the process(es) and underlying logic of many proposed MAPS 3 projects.  In fact, as we move down the list you see that pedestrian concerns continue to take a back burner.  A convention center will certainly detract from the pedestrian’s experience of the Central Park.  This super-block structure will significantly damage the pedestrian realm, so it very important that it is placed accordingly.  The boulevard, as designed, will, ironically enough, actually hinder pedestrian’s ability to walk from the Core to the Shore.  Further, all boulevards, especially wide boulevards, are not well suited for retail and can can only hope to sustain retail in the very densest cities that have the ability to fill wider than average sidewalks with pedestrians.* These projects are not strategically focused on enhancing Oklahoma City’s quality of life.

But what if we wanted to strike at the heart of Downtown and Bricktown’s problems? MAPS 3 could employ a thoughtful strategy of interventions ALL intended to improve the pedestrian experience: adding streetcars, improving public spaces, planting street trees, widening sidewalks, and more.   MAPS 3  could boost both Downtown and Bricktown by increasing the number of pedestrians and unleash a number of opportunities for retail currently lying dormant within the fabric of the city.  Joining with the MAPS 3 investments, we could step up efforts to build out undeveloped and surface parking lots, which would contribute greatly to the pedestrian experience while increasing density.  Activating the city we have today with people and retail would do more to enhance the city than any project or combination of projects that has been proposed to date.

*This is due to the fact that a narrower street allows for shoppers to connect visually with stores on both sides of the street, and cross back and forth relatively quickly.  The distance and visual disconnectedness of a wide boulevard makes it necessary for stores to rely on the foot traffic supplied by only one side of the street, possible only if the sidewalks carry substantial pedestrian traffic.

Will anything redeem suburban ‘sprawl’?

June 30th, 2009

Came across a great article over at Huffington Post.  Mark Oppenheimer asks some interesting questions about the ongoing debate between New Urbanist and proponents of suburan “sprawl” (not sure they have a collective name).  Mark writes:

I don’t know. On the one hand, I don’t want to underestimate children’s capacity for self-mystification. I suspect that most children, at least most of those who grow up middle-class, and sheltered from anything too abysmal in the family’s home life, look back at their early years with a certain sense of awe and wonder. Those lookalike houses in Del Boca Vista Estates are not lookalike to the children inside them, who know which house has the best video-game system, which kid has the dad who makes the best forts with the dining room table and some blankets, whose parents go out late and don’t hire a babysitter (all the better for watching verboten TV channels).

On the other hand, there is empirical evidence that suburban life of this kind can lead to bad things: obesity, too much time in the car, fewer friends, less play. And teenagers — forget about it. If they can, they flee to the city. Or at least the curious ones do.

But what I don’t have are good sympathetic non-fiction books about life in suburban sprawl. For every book critical of that way of life — Langdon’s book, Duany et al.’s Suburban Nation, Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place — there seem to be exactly zero books about why it can be pleasurable to grow up in spaces that are, after all, safe, predictable, and quiet, which are all good things.

I want the other side of the story. Ideas, anyone?

It seems like a fair question to me.  There surely is another side to the story and there must be people that like to live on the outer edge of suburbia.  I mean, they choose to live there, right?  One of the commenters – Steve Mouzon – says that yes, there are some who like to live there, but many suburbanites are simply there because they lack options.  He use some rough estimates to make a point, but the point is still interesting to consider:

grew up in suburbia, and could go on for pages about its deficiencies, but that would just be anecdotal, wouldn’t it? If you discount the “sprawl lobby” that is funded by the asphalt companies or the road-builders, then you’re right: you find precious little sympathy for sprawl. ESPECIALLY concerning its lovability. Maybe that’s a clue.
The bottom line is that sprawl proliferated not because it was well-loved, but because it was the only choice of an industrial-grade land development system that actually outlawed everything else. When the New Urbanism began, all of its proposals were either illegal or otherwise impossible, even though its principles were based on the places in each region that people loved the most.

In the end, we’ve built so much sprawl that it now constitutes half of American buildings. Let’s assume for a moment that 1/3 of Americans loved sprawl. That’s dubious, given your noted lack of evidence of sympathy for sprawl. But just being generous, let’s assume that 100 million of 300 million Americans love sprawl. But if half (150 million) live in sprawl, then we have huge oversupply of sprawl. To eat up the oversupply, America would have to grow from 300 million to 450 million so that the 1/3 (150 million) who possibly love sprawl could match the sprawl units. That means we’d need to build 150 million units of New Urbanism and not a single new unit of sprawl to meet the market preferences.

Interesting food for thought.

Streetcars drive development.

June 23rd, 2009

More downtown housing creates more pedestrians, more demand for retail, and an altogether more vibrant downtown.  So what creates more housing?…a modern streetcar system for one.  In my opinion, this is the appropriate strategy for laying out the route of the (hopefully MAPS 3) downtown trolley system.  Existing proposals that attempt to be all things to all people – connecting every node of downtown with every surrounding center of employment – fail to consider the development generating power of streetcars.

From Speck’s Oklahoma City Walkability Analysis:

Oklahoma City is in the process of considering a downtown streetcar system, which is another way of describing a trolley on rails.  Many cities have built these systems, and some have been very successful while others have never caught on.  The key to creating a successful trolley system is to understand that these systems are principally useful not as a means of mobility but as a tool for increasing the value of real estate.  The story of Portland’s trolley in the Pearl District is the story of millions in public investment leading to billions in private investment, because the rail line was planned in conjunction with thousands of units of new housing, which was made desirable by its presence on a rail line.  The lesson learned there and elsewhere is that the path of a new streetcar must be carefully coordinated with planned housing if the transit investment is to pay off.

To add to what Speck said, consider this.  How great can the benefit of streetcars be in places that are already fully-developed for people traveling by car alone?  Now think of how many empty storefronts, underutilized buildings, and bare lots exists, in and around downtown, that might benefit more from the addition of streetcars.  Streetcars are not just for connecting active places, they are for creating active places.  Before the MAPS 3 streetcars system is implemented we need a plan that understands transit’s ability to catalyze new development and create density.

Back in Boston…and more on the ULI Competition

April 7th, 2009

Hey Everyone,

After a terrific few days in Denver, I have made it back to Boston and am settling in for a two week stretch of thesis writing.  As noted earlier, we were in Denver to compete against three other graduate teams in round two of the 2009 Urban Land Institute / Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition.  We had a great time throughout the process: meeting the other teams, working on our presentation, eating lunch with Mr. Hines, etc.    Finding out that our proposal for Panorama Station won the competition and the $50,000 team prize was truly icing on the cake.

Appreciate Steve breaking the news on his blog.  As a side note, if you haven’t already, you should check out the videos of Jeff Speck’s presentation he posted – good stuff.

Thanks to Mr. Hines and ULI staff for hosting such a great competition. And thank you to everyone for the congratulations via email, facebook, etc.

ULI has yet to release pictures and press releases from the competition, but in the meantime here are a few new images from our project.

Our proposal for a new transit-oriented development to replace an existing big-box and strip retail center.

Integrating the station plaza platform with an iconic pedestrian bridge creates a memorable destination and strong sense of place.

The competition required that existing tenants – like Sam’s and Kmart – be integrated into the design.  Here this is accomplished by providing generous street-front entrances to sub-grade retail sales floors.  Elevator connections to structured parking in the center of the block continue to provide convenient access for store patrons.