Be Afraid.. Be Very Afraid

The witching month is upon us and some local ghouls, pundits and politicians would have you believe that one of the most terrifying moments in Roswell’s history is looming.  They will have you believe the Unified Development Code (UDC) will cast a shadow of doom over our great city that will be wrought by our current crooked city council and their greedy developer cronies.  These oracles will try to convince you, the naive and credulous, that this new code will usher in smothering density, rampant apartments, skyrocketing crime, soaring infrastructure costs, high-rise buildings, dysfunctional schools, choking traffic and the most ghastly of all...  URBANISM!!!

The UDC does allow for increased density and apartments in certain areas.  Will it be smothering? Is Vickery Village in Cumming a smothering Place?  Are the Providence Townhomes on Canton St smothering?  How about the Bricks and Founders Mill?  What about Liberty Lofts?  I guess they’re right.  Density is unbearable.

Some local examples of Unbearable Density. Clockwise from top left; The Bricks, Founders Mill, Vickery Village, Providence

What about the apartments?  Our current apartment complexes are unmitigated disasters.   Most were not well designed, poorly maintained and thoughtlessly located.  They segregated residents by class and effectively created billboards of indigence.  Lessons have been learned, just take a look at the Canton City Walk plans.  We need new, well-designed apartments like these.

The latest renderings of Canton City Walk illustrate the power of a quality architectural scheme coupled with walkability.

Will we see skyrocketing crime? I have faith in the men and women in law enforcement here in Roswell and the laws we have in place to prevent criminal activity.  It’s just not going to happen.

Infrastructure Costs will soar. Hmm.. Developers pay a lot of infrastructure costs up front and a tighter development pattern reduces infrastructure maintenance costs.  The alternative is to continue a sprawl pattern of development which has proven to cost more to maintain in the long run.  

Evaluation of Urban Residential vs Suburban Residential development in Sarasota, FL. image: Urban3

They’re bringing high-rises.  It’s the ghost of Charlie Brown.  Seriously folks, we have to move on.  The parcel of land at 400 and Holcomb Bridge is too valuable not to redevelop.  The UDC will permit buildings up to 8 stories in that area.  Additionally, it will likely be a future MARTA station.  It’s coming.  Get over it.  It’s only 8 stories.  The next most towering height permitted is 6 stories at Hwy 140 & 9.  There are 6 story buildings all over North Fulton.  Several other areas permit a lofty 4 stories and the rest of the map allows up to 3 stories.  (Correction: 6 stories are permitted in most of the industrial areas North of Mansell along the hwy 9 corridor and east into the industrial areas.  I did not clarify that in the published column.)

Roswell East (aka Charlie Brown) is a little too intense for Roswell. The UDC isn't dictating that this type of development be built anywhere.

Density will destroy our schools.  Huh?  Transiency, poverty and social disorder kill schools not people.  If we build a place where responsible people want to live, regardless of whether they are renters or owners, we won’t have a school problem.  

We will Choke on Traffic.  Our Transportation Master Plan that was approved in September helps address these issues but I challenge anyone out there to name any thriving city that does not have traffic?  Cities and towns without traffic problems are dying cities and towns.  Detroit’s done a fantastic job solving its traffic problem.  

They’re mandating URBANISM!!! - Let’s set this straight.  Urbanism is a design philosophy covering the spectrum from low density to very high density.  Urbanism does not mandate Manhattan but it allows it, just as it allows single family residential. Urbanism promotes connectivity, proximity, mixed-use, walkability, bikeability, incremental change and value creation through effective and thoughtful land use.  

The transect outlines development patterns from Rural to Urban. New Urbanism does not mandate high density.

Canton Street, the Mill Village, Milton Crabapple, Historic Norcross and Marietta Square are all examples of good URBANISM.  So is Seaside which is the only place I can think of that consistently and genuinely has the idyllic “white picket fence” that seems to define the “small-town feel.”  So, how is it that the world’s preeminent model of ‘urbanism’ provides exactly the idyllic, small-town feel that these public agitators preach will be destroyed by said ‘urbanism’? Go sell your Revelations somewhere else preacher men because I’m not buying it.  (30-A stickers anyone?)


The process has been rushed!  I disagree.  Our 2030 Comp Plan was adopted in Oct. 2011.  Amongst other things, it aims to revitalize declining areas, add additional housing options and update existing codes to attract high-quality projects.  Our current codes could not easily accomplish this task and in May 2012 the city brought in Code Studio to assist with the mammoth effort of updating and simplifying them.  A stakeholder committee was formed and has worked diligently over the past 16 months to get to this point. There have been over 40 meetings since the process began and all of them have been open to the public. The process has been well documented and open to the public.

All legislation should have a clear purpose.  The purpose of the UDC is to aid the city in implementing the 2030 Comp Plan and its Strategic Economic Development Plan.  Those that proselytize against the UDC have no plan, they just don’t like this one.  Some of their concerns have some merit but to spout off every worst case scenario to sack legislation is immature and disingenuous.  The bottom line is that Roswell has a plan that was created through a very open process with SIGNIFICANT and UNPRECEDENTED community input and the UDC helps implement that plan.

The kicker is that almost everything the UDC allows could be done today but it would take a lot more effort between the city and developers, builders & property owners thereby wasting taxpayer money and sending a discouraging signal to anyone wanting to do business in Roswell.  The UDC will help Roswell execute on its vision by reducing red tape, clarifying the vision and enabling the private sector to more efficiently and effectively put capital to work.

The Devil’s Advocate likes to say the Devil is in the Details.. I say the Devil is in Delay... NO ONE IS EVER GOING TO AGREE WITH EVERYTHING IN THIS DOCUMENT.

 

Let your mayor and council know that you support the UDC by sending them an email at  RoswellMayorandCouncil@roswellgov.com

Thoughts on Our New School

It looks like this is the model for our new elementary school... right next to our Historic District. I'm not sure this is much better than the strip mall it's going to replace.  Here are some of my musings on our new elementary school...

View from Ison Dr. Imagine this view from Alpharetta St.
I'm not sure the side of the new school is much of an improvement.

School Architecture - A school should be more than a box where we house our kids during the day... it should inspire learning.  It should not look like a dorm or an office building or an apartment building.  When you see it, you should be able to tell that it is a school.  That's not something that we see much of these days. Milton High comes to mind as good architecture for a school.

The school we are getting will be a cookie cutter version that Fulton County is using quite frequently these days.  It will be the same as Ison Springs Elementary and Lake Forest Elementary in Sandy Springs.  The architect architect was Collins Cooper Carusi and the builder was Evergreen Construction.  You can see some wedding day photos of their work here.  I call them wedding day photos because the school is never going to look any better.  They actually have some very nice work in their portfolio.  Unfortunately, our school probably won't be one of their best.

All that said, the interior design of the school will likely be very good.  Learning by Design rated that design as an outstanding project for 2011.  

At a minimum, the school design needs some work on the exterior to give it a distinct Roswell feel.

School Walkability - Roughly 50% of kids walked to school in 1969.  As of 2009, that number had dropped to roughly 15%.  Of course, in the same period, the number of kids who are driven to school in private vehicles has jumped from 12% to 44%.  Just one more thing contributing to the obesity epidemic in our country.  Will this school help reverse that trend?  I highly doubt it.  In this day and age, schools are designed to accommodate bus traffic, car traffic and then foot traffic.  

School Site & Size - This is truly what determines the walkability of a school.  Ideally, an elementary school is embedded into the neighborhood that it serves.  Unfortunately, we haven't done a particularly good job in this country planning for future school sites.  Compounding the issue are school site requirements.  In Georgia, site size requirements are as follows:
  • Elementary Schools - 5 acres + 1 acre for every 100 full-time enrolled students
  • Middle Schools - 12 acres + 1 acre for every 100 full-time enrolled students
  • High Schools - 20 acres + 1 acre for every 100 full-time enrolled students
Given that a quarter mile walk is generally the radius in which someone will choose to walk versus jumping in the car, we are significantly limiting the number of students who would likely choose to walk and finding sites that meet these requirements in already built out cities is increasingly challenging (and expensive).  

With these size requirements, you might figure that size is a requirement to delivering a top notch education.  However, that's not necessarily the case.  Take Inman Middle School in the Virginia Highland neighborhood as an example.  It's a solid school with a 9 out of 10 rating on GreatSchools.org but it's situated on only 2.5 acres.  With almost 800 students, that's about 17.5 fewer acres than the state of Georgia would require if a new school were to be built.  

Our new school will be on roughly 14 acres along hwy 9.  The districting has not been determined yet so we can't say where the students would be walking from.  But, we can safely say that kids residing on the west side of hwy 9 will probably not be walking to school.  Those that have to walk along hwy 9 will also probably not be walking to school.  Any students living more than a half-mile walk from the front door of the school will also probably not be walking.  So, this rules out a sizable chunk of the potential students.  No wonder new schools create traffic concerns.  All the students have to ride or be driven and it's almost exclusively due to the site location and site size requirements.

If we want our new school to be a walkable, neighborhood school, we have a lot of work to do.

I'll also be writing a piece on the school in my Community Design Matters column for the Sept edition of The Current.

Chuck Marohn Visits Roswell

Last week, RoswellNEXT hosted guest speaker Chuck Marohn of StrongTowns.org.  Chuck spoke at RoswellNEXT's Town Hall Roswell event and presented his Curbside Chat to an engaged audience.  The StrongTowns approach to fiscal responsibility when it comes to infrastructrue and economic development is one that every municipality in our country needs to hear.  

Chuck makes the point that the development pattern of the last 60 years has been wholly unsustainable and that with each life cycle of development, we have moved into a different, less sustainable method of financing it.  The first life cycle was financed with savings.  The second life cycle was financed with public debt.  The third life cycle shouldered an increasing and concerning amount of private debt on top of the increasing amount of public debt.  The obvious conclusion is that we are broke and the current way of financing our projects is not going to function as it has over the past 60 years.  The Federal and State aid programs that cities and counties have been able to rely on are goign to be increasingly less and less available.  

The main point of the argument and one of the biggest reasons that his message hits home to New Urbanists is that the traditional development model that was proven over centuries prior to the suburban experiment seems to be one of the most financially sustainable and resilient development patters.  Maybe our ancestors actually did know what they were doing.  

Here's a video of the talk.

Jonathan Copsey of NorthFulton.com had a nice recap of the event here.

2013 Outlook - What Will the New Year Bring for Roswell?

Here's a look into our crystal ball at what will happen in Roswell and around the metro area in 2013.  Up front, is a recap some of the bigger changes we've seen in and around the Historic District in 2012.  It's shaping up to be an interesting year in many ways.  Check out our recap, thoughts and predictions in each of the areas below:

2012 Recap - Keep up the Good Work Roswell!

Last year was another great year in and around Roswell.  Here are some of the more notable stories.

  • Groveway Hybrid Form-Based Code - The city passed the hybrid form-based code which was a huge move in the right direction for human-scaled development.
  • DPZ Master Plan - A MP for Historic Roswell was completed by the innovative and influential firm DPZ.  This MP wasn’t adopted officially by the city.  However, the ideas generated from the plan, in classic Andres Duany form, have generated momentum to change where there was none before.
  • TSPLOST Fails - The hopes for easy money and quick upgrades to infrastructure faded as the TSPLOST referendum went down in flames in July. Roswell lost out on a complete renovation of Holcomb Bridge/400 ($46M) and full funding of the Historic Gateway Project ($21M).
  • GM Jobs - General Motors is opening a software development campus in the old UPS Innoplex building off Mansell and will bring about 1,000 jobs. (not real 2012 news but it’s already announced)
  • Roswell NEXT - A new organization aimed at energizing young professionals, entrepreneurs and visionaries in Roswell was founded.  (Shameless Plug, I am a on the board of Roswell NEXT)
  • Historic Square Upgrades - Some nice additions were made this year by completing the sidewalk network in and around the square and also putting up traffic light masts that match others around HR at 120/9 intersection.
  • Code Studio Selected for UDC - This was a fantastic selection for our Unified Development Code.  New Urbanist firm, all about walkability and contextual development.  (translation.. they care about how things look and function)
  • Info Kiosks - We finally got some content added to them and they look great.
  • Little Alley Steak - The guys behind Salt Factory and INC opened their third concept and it’s fantastic. One request though guys, dress up the bathrooms.
  • Pure Taqueria - The Alpharetta based chain has opened a spectacular new location just north of the Historic District.  
  • Alive After 5 Canton St Closure - The world did not end! This was a needed change for the popular event.
  • Food Trucks - We approved a food truck ordinance and now they are regulars at Alive After 5.  Awesome addition.
  • Alive at the Square - The Alive After 5 party migrated south this year and was very successful at the Historic Square.  This spot allows for a little more space and is really good for families.
  • Pedicabs Approved - In a move that I’m not sure was necessary, a hypothetical business would be able to run pedicabs in the Historic District.  Eventually, this will be cool.
  • Bond Referendum Passed - This was a mixed bag but overall was good for walkability.
  • Fire Engine Red on Canton Street - In a controversial move, the new tenant of the former Pastis location, Mac McGee, painted the entire facade fire engine red.  I love it. Now can we get rid of those ugly black awnings with the block lettering?  Just a horrible look for Canton St.

A couple items from around the region:

  • Beltline Eastside Trail - Opened in Oct and is AMAZING! We need to model the Roswell Loop after it.
  • New Falcons Stadium - Completely unnecessary.  Go Falcons though!
  • Ponce City Market - Going to revolutionize in-town living.
  • Avalon Site Plan Approved - Alpharetta eating our Lunch.
  • Alpharetta City Center Plan Approved and Funded- Alpharetta eating our Lunch part 2.
  • Sandy Springs City Center Plan Approved - This is a very nice master plan done by new urbanist firm Goody-Clancy.

Roswell 2013 

Food

Food Access - One of the biggest obstacles to making the Historic District a vibrant living spot is the lack of a walkable or bikable grocery store.  Last year, we thought there might be an announcement sometime in 2012 about a small(er) grocery store going in somewhere near the HD.  We did get something but it wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.  It came in the form of a request to demolish the property at 1056 Alpharetta Street.  The owners are looking to build a small gourmet grocery store called Baba’s Gourmet.  We don’t have any additional info aside from what is in the notes from the HPC request.  The new building will be a welcome addition and will improve the streetscape along that stretch.

insert photo Babas Gourmet Roswell Rendering

Restaurants - We have several exciting restaurants opening up around HR in the near future.  MacMcgee Irish Pub will be opening in the freshly painted former Pasti’s location on Canton St.  Soccer fans rejoice!  Borocco is building out space in the Chaplin’s shopping center.  I’m hoping this one is successful to add a little life to my immediate neighborhood.  On the other side of the square, the owners of McCray’s Tavern (Smyrna & Lawrenceville) are opening a restaurant in the old Relish/Pico spot.  I’m a little unsure of the name since the HPC modifications request is under McCray’s Tavern but the liquor license was applied for as The Mill.  Either way, that spot will be solid with the right concept.  Osteria Mattone is the new venture on Canton Street from the guys behind Table & Main which in my opinion is the best restaurant north of Buckhead.  I have a bold prediction that Oteria Mattone will jump into at least one of the top of Atlanta lists in 2013.  Just seeing the pics on twitter (@oteriamattone) from their food scouting trip in Italy is making me hungry.  

We reportedly have two of our home grown restaurants, Salt and Nine, making the jump up to Alpharetta with second locations.  Salt will be in the old KFC location on Main St and Nine will be in the former Bistro 52 location behind Mitties Cafe on 9.  Honestly, I don’t like either of the locations.  I think Salt will be successful due to the name recognition and the food quality.  The success in Roswell has partly been due to fact that they have an Incredible location in the most walkable part of our city.  We believe, Nine will miss the mark.  The food quality is suspect and that location doesn’t have the foot traffic that is required to sustain a restaurant serving marginal food.  

Locally Grown Food - Will 2013 be the year that we get a real community garden in the Historic District... maybe at Barrington Hall?

Farmer’s Market - The Saturday farmer’s market at City Hall formerly known as the Riverside Farmer’s Market did well in 2012 and we think the same will hold true in 2013.  Although, the fact that it is in a parking lot is a huge turnoff.  If they could somehow find a way to move it to one of the parking lots right along Canton Street, the visibility would be huge and potentially bring even more vendors.  The only other suggestion I have would be to move it to the circle in front of the steps at city hall.  Most people who shop at farmers markets are inherently interested in sustainability and it is counter-intuitive for those people to feel great about shopping in a parking lot.  Just saying..

Mobility

Sidewalks - We are slowly but surely connecting missing teeth in our sidewalk network.  We will connect Diesel to Canton St with a sidewalk along the north side of Norcross Street early this year.  Not that anyone really walks there but the gap in front of the self serve car wash on the west side of Hwy 9 just south of Holcomb Bridge will get a sidewalk either this year or next.

Historic Gateway ProjectOption 3a will be approved and the people at Creekview Village condos will go berzerk because they will lose their tennis court...  The anti-roundabout camp will come out in full force and there will be a prolonged battle to get this redevelopment project going.  The truth is, this design has the potential to be truly transformational for the HD.  However, one thing that is a MUST is on street parking.  We'll probably know this year whether GDOT will allow that.  If they don't, everyone should oppose this option as it won't work.

Building a Network - Work will continue on the plans for the Oxbo Rd realignment and Elm Street Connection to Oxbo.  However, no actual work will start for another couple of years.  We are very excited about this initiative.  Additional talk will occur about the Oak St extension through Waller Park to connect with Grimes Bridge.

Bridge over 400 - We will see some designs at some point in 2013.

Planning & Development

Historic Gateway Master Plan - The DPZ plan that was completed in 2012 will serve as a guide for other projects, see below, that will come out in 2013.  The DPZ plan will not be followed completely rather, it is serving as inspiration that was not there before.  

Unified Development Code - We have a top notch firm in Code Studio helping us put together our new UDC.  We think the public will get its first glimpse of a ‘finished’ product toward the end of the year.  This will revolutionize development in Roswell.  There will be several meetings that the public can attend throughout the year.

Downtown Development Authority - The DDA will finally bring a big project to the table.  Maybe something around Canton Street and Highway 9.  

Boutique Hotel - It is becoming more and more obvious as Historic Roswell becomes a more popular destination that we are severely lacking in quality lodging options.  Is 2013 finally the year that a big hotel group takes note and steps in to build the boutique hotel concept?  We think that’s still a few years off.  However, a more likely scenario is a B&B opening in the Canton St area.  

Civic & Community

Alive After 5 - The expansion to the Square was a big hit in 2012.  Especially for those with smaller children.  This year, the proximity to McCray’s tavern will make the Alive at the Square piece even more fun.  The Food Truck addition made a big deal and enabled people to go to the event and eat there rather than having to leave early due to restaurant overcrowding.  This event is a cornerstone for years to come. 

RoswellNEXT - This newly formed civic group will host 12 events for members and the public in 2013.  We think it will be a huge success and the Town Hall | Roswell events will prove to be innovative and informative.  By the way, they are having a fundraiser on Jan 31st.  For more information go to their website (www.roswellnext.org) or their Facebook page.

Charlie Brown Part Deux or Trois?- Nothing will happen that is large scale on the old Charlie Brown parcel on the southeast corner of 400 and HBR.  We will continue to hear of plans to bring MARTA to exit 7 and beyond but nothing beyond dreams will materialize.

Parks

Riverside Park Area - We thought this would move faster but we believe in 2013, plans will be finalized for two projects.. the extension of the riverside trail will be approved despite NIMBY andEnvironmental Concerns.  The design plans for the bike/pedestrian bridge over the Chattahoochee River will be finalized and approved. 

Roswell Area Park Rebranding - An effort will be initiated to rename Roswell Area Park.  What in the world is an “Area” park anyway?  

Ace Sand Company - Something will happen with the property currently occupied by Ace Sand Company.  This has huge development potential and could be a great addition to our park system.

Retail

A Little Movement - We don’t need ANY more thrift shops.  I think we’ve reached saturation in that market.  There will be some strip center renovations finishing up in 2013 and we might see some announcements for more in the midtown area.  I’m thinking we will hear something about the Southern Skillet shopping center.  That’s purely a hunch but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.     

Employment

Large Employer Void - We didn’t expect any major announcements in 2012 but we got a huge one to begin 2013 with the news that GM was opening an IT center and hiring 1000+ high paying jobs at the former UPS Innoplex building off Mansell.  This isn’t the most New Urban location.  We would love to see an employer come into the Groveway area and infuse some jobs into the Historic District.  However, I think we are 18-24 months out from anything of that nature.  The RBA will continue to do great things

Small Business Incubator - We feel that the best opportunity for Roswell exists in cultivating smaller startups.  Alpharetta a lock on large corporate IT.  Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Buckhead have a stranglehold on large and mid-size companies.  The opportunity here in Roswell is to leverage the strengths of our neighbors and work to create smaller businesses that are not as prevalent in the neighboring areas.  We have an atmosphere that is much more desirable to that demographic.  But, we need to nurture it.  A full fledged startup incubator in Roswell would work but it would need the support of the city and partner organizations.  I don’t see it happening in 2013 but it could.

Housing

Housing in the Historic District - There will be at least three projects announced in 2013 that will bring new housing stock to the historic district.  These will be in the form of single family homes, townhouse and even apartments.  

Development Revitalization - Several developments will get new life.  We are guessing that there may be some action on foreclosed Vickery Falls development just south of Chaplain's on South Atlanta Street due to the prime location and the added focus on cleaning up the area around the square.  This could push out into 2014.  

Goulding Estate for Sale - The $8.75M, 16 acre Goulding Estate didn’t move last year as expected.   However, when it does in 2013, the land will be subdivided into ridiculously expensive smaller lots.  We think the the original building will remain intact and potentially become another event facility or potentially a B&B.  The bigger question is whether they will figure out a way to connect the road to the road to the west and build out our network, more.    

Around the Metro Area

The Beltline - We predicted correctly that the eastside trail would be a huge hit and when it opened in Oct of last year, it was an instant success.  News about additional funding for the Beltline transit component will come out toward the end of the year with a public-private partnership being the finance tool of choice.

The Stadium - The stadium will be approved and ground breaking will occur in early 2014.

Ponce City Market - Additional shops will open up in Ponce City Market.  The unfortunate decision not to offer for sale units will not hurt the overall speed of the development and may actually increase it.  However, this will prove to be the ultimate saturation of the apartment boom in that area.

Avalon Alpharetta - Ground breaking will occur in January.  The parking deck will come down quickly and we will see actual structural development in 2013.  It won’t be ready for showtime until late 2014 though.

Alpharetta City Center - The new configuration of Haynes Bridge Rd from Old Milton to Academy St opened recently making way for the new library.  We will see work start on the Library and City Hall in 2013 and the new road grid and parking deck will begin to take shape.  We love this project.

Sandy Springs City Center - The plans have been approved and we will see a small bit of development start in 2013 but the bigger changes will start to become evident in the next 2-3 years.  

The Atlanta Streetcar - Love it or Hate it, construction will be almost complete by the end of the year and we will see streetcars rolling through downtown again in early 2014.  

The Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal (aka The Gulch) - We will see the final renderings will be approved this year and work will start in late 2014.

Old Malls Will Close - We think at least two malls in the metro area will close completely this year.  Crazy we know but retail is getting crushed by Amazon and aside from the half-dozen high quality malls around the region, the mall is dying. 

Well, that's it!  If you made it this far, you're a true NUR fan.  Thanks and have a great (rest of) 2013!

The Roswell Loop... A Project We Should Get Behind

This is an enhanced cross-post from my montly column, Community Design Matters, in The Current.  There may be some editorial differences.
 

I brought this up last month and wanted to expand on it. From what I can tell,much of Roswell is completely unaware of the Roswell Loop. It’s time to change that. Imagine a project that would completely transform the way our city gets around, a project that would change the way you connect with your neighbors, a project that would spur significant economic development. Imagine feeling comfortable letting your kids ride their bike a couple subdivisions over because they can get on a trail through neighborhoods instead of having to ride their bikes out to a main road to get to a friend’s house. Imagine being able to commute to work by bike without risking your life while choking on exhaust. Imagine safely riding your bike to get somewhere where you can safely ride your bike instead of driving your car to get to that place where you can safely ride your bike.  Novel idea...

The Roswell Loop makes all of this possible. It was hatched back in 2006 as part of a brainstorming session with the city and a consultant. The idea was to create an innovative solution to connecting our schools, parks and neighborhoods. It grew some legs and actually made it into our Transportation Master Plan. As an interconnected series of five loops that create a larger loop through our city, it would link our parks, schools, neighborhoods, natural amenities and historic center together to form a safe network of connectivity. It would also tie in with other trail networks like the Big Creek Greenway and Lower Roswell Rd Trail leading into Cobb County.

With a commitment and evidence of investment, developers would begin to develop along the trail network unlocking value in areas of the city that are stagnant. We have a number of examples of extremely popular multi-use trails around the region that have done just that. The PATH Foundation has been working to build these trails in the region for 20 years. They have built over 160 miles of trails to date. Many of these trails are nothing short of amazing. Adjacent neighborhoods and businesses use these trails as amenities and the trails themselves encourage development.

Think of the Big Creek Greenway, Silver Comet Trail or the Stone MountainTrail. These are all fantastic trails but most people, even those who live near them, still have to drive to get there. The Loop would enable people to ride or walk to the trail instead of hopping in a car to get there. Perhaps the most transformative trail in the region is the newly opened Beltline Eastside Trail that stretches from Piedmont Park to to just south of Inman Park in Atlanta. It is ar elatively short stretch at almost 2.5 miles but it connects a number of amenities and neighborhoods in a way no one in Atlanta would have imagined ten years ago.

In the past seven years, there has been more than $775 million in private investment within half a mile of the new trail. Visiting the trail on a weekend, it’s obvious why businesses that back up to the old deserted railroad tracks are now working to open new entrances to front the trail. Check out this time-lapse video from the Streets Alive event in October.  This was a week before it's offical opening.

Just eight weeks after it's official opening, the Woodruff Foundation committed $3M to extend the path further south.  The trail has created instant value in the form of a useful alternative route by foot or bike and given adjacent businesses additional visibility from passers by that are much more likely to stop by serendipitously than a car would be. Recent studies have actually shown that bicycle commuters tend to spend more when they visit local stores. It’s all starting to make sense.

So, back to this Roswell Loop idea. How do we make it a reality? First, according to Roswell DOT, we actually have about 15% of it in place. Those are parts of Old Alabama Rd, Willeo Rd, Azalea/Riverside Rd and Mimosa Blvd along with another two miles that are in design that should be completed in the next couple of years. In order to complete the remaining 85%, there are a couple of things we should do.

First, following the Beltline model, we should identify the segments that would see the most traffic and start those ASAP. We should consider offering incentives to developers who are interested in building along the trail as well as property tax incentives to residents who want to open up their property lines to create trail connections with neighboring subdivisions. We should market this project and get the Downtown Development Authority involved and consider bringing in partner organizations like the PATH Foundation. Additionally, the city should commit to the project by creating an official Pedestrian and Bicycle planand budget accordingly.

Finally, the loop should be branded and we should label the trails that already are in place. This network would increase quality of life by making the city easier to get around for all our citizens not just those who are fortunate enough to be able to drive. It would make Roswell more desirable to potential residents and business and we could become a model for suburban connectivity.

Steve Jobs vs. Urban Design

This is an enhanced cross-post from my montly column, Community Design Matters, inThe Roswell Current.

 

“Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.” “Think Different.” Those are two of Apple’s most recognized taglines. They define the company, but even more than that, they define Steve Jobs. Last month marked the one year anniversary of the passing of Apple’s founder and two-time CEO.

He changed millions of lives with his incredible ability to blend technology with design. He sold millions of people on iPods, iPhones, iPads, and Macs.  He convinced us to buy music online and to watch cartoons. None of this happened overnight, and it was no accident. He created a product that leaves people saying ‘I want that’ and then keeps them coming back for more.

I often think about what the world would look like if Jobs had been an urban planner. Would there be more places that leave us saying, “I want more of that?” Would he have been into walkable urbanism, a promoter of drivable suburbia, or would he have been something different? The legendary planner Andres Duany has a great metaphor. He says that good urbanism is a Mac program trying to run on a PC operating system built for sprawl. Most of America is using a PC, making the Mac programs difficult to use.

Walkable urbanism really is kind of like a Mac OS. It’s easier to use, quicker to get around, multi-tasks well, and it’s so simple a kid can use it without constant supervision. The layout of the apps on the iPhone even looks like a street grid. Unfortunately, this is largely a thought experiment, as Jobs’ didn’t dive into the subject much. Luckily, the world got a brief glimpse of his thoughts on the built environment in his final public appearance before the Cupertino City Council in June of 2011.

In his talk, he presented his vision for a new 175-acre Apple campus in Cupertino, Calif. First, the design channels his inner environmentalist by increasing green space by 350 percent. Today, the land has an 80:20 ratio of buildings to open space. That ratio would be reversed. The building would be something right out of a sci-fi movie. A single, enormous four-story circular building that would increase existing office space by 20% to 3.1 million square feet. There would be a 60 percent  increase in trees, from 3,700 to 6,000. The number of employees would increase by 40 percent  from 9,500 to 13,000. All of this would be done while reducing the total amount of surface parking by 90 percent. Jobs stated, “The overall feel of the place is going to be a zillion times better than it is now with all the asphalt.”

A rendering of the campus presented to the Cupertino City Concil

All in all, the proposal is unique and nothing if not Jobsian. It could be argued from a New Urbanist standpoint that the new design is a modernist nightmare but it can’t be argued that it is less interesting than what is there currently. In Jobs’ own words, “We want to take the space and in many cases we’re making it smaller. We’re putting more of a desirable thing on the space.” This is what he did time and time again. He took an existing product and tweaked the design and functionality to make it more desirable. Everyone had cell phones but the iPhone was a game changer. Everyone had watched cartoons, but “Toy Story” made us love them again.

However, the design itself would likely fail the community design litmus test. The building becomes isolated, and the only people interacting would be Apple employees and their guests. Knowing Apple’s focus on secrecy, this would work for the company but it wouldn’t work for a community.

The project would be mostly single-use and would keep Apple employees segregated from the city.

That being said, this was his first stab at urban planning, and perfection is rarely reached on the first try. Painstaking care and thought go into Jobs’ designs.  Thinking of how people will interact with the product from hardware to software was paramount, which is why I believe that another few projects would have given us something revolutionary.  It might not be New Urbanist in style, but I think he would have eventually leaned that way.

All of that being said, Steve Jobs may have influenced cities and urban life more through Apple than he ever could have as a planner. The advent of the smartphone, specifically the iPhone, and all of the technologies that are replacing the big, clunky slow old way of doing things has helped make living, working, and playing in walkable urban places easier and sexier than any time in the last 70 years. Thank you, Steve, for giving us great designs!

Avalon Gardens: Finally, Real Urbanism in Alpharetta

I generally like to keep my longer posts focused on Roswell but I couldn't pass on this one due to the impact it will have on new urbanism in North Fulton.  Unless you have been living under a rock, you already know that Avalon will bring true mixed-use to Alpharetta.  We have seen the renderings and videos of the commercial and apartment section of Avalon but we haven't gotten a clear picture on what the homes in Avalon will look like.

Recently, I had the opportunity to take a look at the plans for Avalon Gardens, the residential portion of the Avalon project put together by Monte Hewett Homes (builder) and Lew Oliver Inc (designer).  Monte Hewett Homes has a couple projects in North Fulton, Heatherton in Roswell and Lake Haven in Milton.  Both of these are very nice and are quality product but lack good urbanism. However, the addition of Lew Oliver to the equation is what sets the design apart.  Lew Oliver is a renowned local designer and town planner.  Locally, he put together the Milton Crabapple Master Plan Visioning Study (pdf) which promises to expand upon the walkability and sense of place that already exists in that area.  This team should deliver a high quality product combined with top notch placemaking that is unparalleled in North Fulton.

Up front, it is obvious that Avalon Gardens will quickly blow any new development in North Fulton away in terms of walkability.  In terms of placemaking, it looks to be a cross between Vickery Village and Rosemary Beach. In my opinion, there are three things that set Avalon Gardens apart.  Those are Proximity, Design and Housing Options. 

The first differentiator, proximity to amenities, sets Avalon Gardens apart from virtyally every development in north Atlanta.  This will be one of the only places in the outer burbs where someone will be able to live in a place that doesn't require them to get into a car to make most of their daily trips.  The commercial side will have a grocery store, dining options and entertainment options.  There is even the possibility that people will be able to live in the same neighborhood that they work.  WHAT?

Design creates the place and this will be quite a place if the final product remains true to the plans.  Below is a rendering of the housing that will surround the center lawn wilt a vew of the urn fountain that will serve as the centerpiece of the neighborhood.  There are also 14 lots reserved for icon architecture.  Most "architecture" in the burbs is reserved for very pricey single family estates and it has little appetite for enhancing the public realm in which it is placed.  Most subdivisions in North Fulton lack anything that one could truly define as creative.  That will not be the case here.  

 

This plan is significanlty more pedestrian focused than what was originally shown to the public.  The designs have eliminated some of the auto-oriented streets in favor of two small lanes that will provide access to the homes for residents and visitors.  A number of pedestrian ways cris-cross the neighborhood interconnecting the property.  The reduction of car-oriented streets helps create a more distinct place while also lowering infrastructure costs.

The last of my three main differentiators is housing options.  There are a total of 108 residences planned.  Most subdivisions that size have one or two type of housing stock.  You may get all single family, all townhomes or a mix of the two.  In the case of Avalon Gardens, potential buyers will find nine different housing types to choose from.  Listed below along with the quantity of each: 

  • Courtyard Terrace (21)
  • Grand Terrace Homes (8)
  • Tower Homes (2)
  • Courtyard Homes (35)
  • Park Homes (7)
  • Garden Cottages (5)
  • Urban Lofts (3)
  • Shop Front Homes (5)
  • Terrace Homes (12)

Here's the plan.  Westside Parkway is to the west, Old Milton Parkway borders on the south and the mixed-use commercial section of Avalon is to the east (click on image for larger view).

In all, the plans for Avalon are giving every indication that it will be a stellar place.  And that's what it is, a "place" not a destination or shopping center or lifestyle center or power center any of the other buzzwords for commercial developments.  I believe this truly will be one of the two defining places in Alpharetta ten years from now.  The other will be the Alpharetta City Center area.  So, regardless of whether you like it or not, Real Urbanism which provides walkability, thrives on design and gives more options for housing is coming to Alpharetta and once it is there, people are going to want more.  

images: Lew Oliver Inc

Red Light Cameras - A Love Hate Relationship

The Roswell Neighbor had an article today that caught my attention.  If you are familiar with NUR, you know that I firmly believe that roads should be designed for more safety.  That usually means narrower lanes, fewer straightaways and more intersections.  That doesn't make for what most consider a driver's paradise but it does make for a safer environment with fewer severe injury and fatality crashes.  I actually think the latter is a driver's paradise.  An environment that gets Americans home to their families a higher percentage of the time is what we should all want.

The article in The Roswell Neigbor by Joan Durbin, City May Ditch All Red Light Cameras, is bound to get people excited.  It certainly got a couple of commenters excited.  But, after I read the article, it left me disappointed in our city council, mayor and DOT for (in my opinion) not lookng at the big picture. 

The article leads one to believe that the city is strongly considering removing the cameras based on data from the two intersections over the 25 months preceeding camera installation and the 22 months following their installation.  In a nutshel, there have been three crashes related directly to red light runners pre-installation and three crashes post-installation.  In addition to this, the revenue generated from citations issued has declined significantly.

At first glance, you simply say, there has been no improvement in safety.  Then you may say, revenues have declined significantly and are just barely turining a profit.  You may then reach the conclusion as our mayor and council did, that givien that there is no improvement in safety and revenue isn't paying for the cameras, you should just remove the cameras.

NOT SO FAST!

We should expect more from our mayor, council and DOT.  How quickly do we forget...  This is from a 2010 article from NorthFulton.com titled Red Light Cameras Doing Job in Alpharetta, Roswell:
Roswell reported head-on collisions at Holcomb Bridge dropping drastically between last year and this year (even though at Mansell Road, such collisions went from none to one over the same period)
My take..  The city Making conclusions from data collected from two cameras within a mile of eachother to determine that they have no impact on safety is like looking at an overweight person eating a salad and determining that salads make you fat.  You have to look at a broader populstion.  The statistics are out there and they aren't debatable.  Traffic Cameras SAVE LIVES.  
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released their findings from a study on the subject last year (link).  They looked at 14 cities that installed cameras in the mid-00's. 
Researchers concluded that the rate of fatal red-light running crashes in cities with the cameras was 24 percent lower than it would have been without them. The study compared crash data collected in 2004 to 2008 with the period between 1992 and 1996 — before the 14 cities had any cameras.
Based on their calculations:
"if red light cameras had been in place for all 5 years in all 99 US cities with populations over 200,000, a total of 815 deaths could have been avoided."  

I'm not a fan of having cameras everywhere and those flashes are freaking annoying (there have to be better systems) but I am a fan of people not dying and getting maimed in car crashes.

Red light cameras are a tool in the city's arsenal that should be used at high velocity intersections (40 mph+) where right angle crashes due to red light runners have a high probability of killing or seriously injuring drivers.  Cameras coupled with smart road design (narrower lanes, fewer straight aways) can seriously reduce serious injury crashes.  Why? Because they force drivers to PAY ATTENTION.

As far as revenue is concerned, it makes total sense that revenue would be decreasing.  The article states that revenue dropped from $835k in 2008 to just over $100k in 2010.  That's not a sign that the cameras aren't worth the investment.  It's a sign that they are doing their job. Drivers are PAYING MORE ATTENTION at the intersections.  They are running the light fewer times.  

A small sample of intersections may not have shown a reduction in accidents but it has most definitely shown a reduction in people running red lights which is the actual key driver behind accidents at intersections.  Don't look at the accidents, look at what causes the accidents.  Then make your decision on whether they are helping make our city safer.

Out with the Old.. In with the New

In yesterday's NUR Update, I mentioned that there is a vote this week on whether a demolition request will be approved for the old red building that sits vacant at 647 Atlanta Street and the old shed structure that sits behind it on Maple Street.  This is the first step toward realization of an incredible vision that was proposed by Andres Duany in the Historic Gateway Master Plan.  Please take the time to contact the Historic Preservation Commission if you are in favor of approval of this demolition and consider attending the meeting on Wednesday at 6pm at City Hall.  We need all the help we can get in order.  

Local resident and world renowned architect, designer and town planner, Lew Oliver, issued a call to action to ensure those who are in favor of progress are heard.  Read Lew's Letter.  The key point that Lew makes is this:

The issue is not that the structures are historic…they are in fact.  They contain 19th century materials and traces of the past.  They are, however, very much compromised, obscured, to use preservationist jargon.  The larger issue is that they are in the direct path of progress.  The progress I am referring to is not as it has been in our recent past, where great buildings, streets, or the environment are sacrificed for the sake of a degraded landscape, which currently surrounds and in fact forms the spine of our City.  The progress I am referring to is the implementation of the Andres Duany (DPZ) scheme for providing Roswell with a real heart, a commercial and civic realm with no equal in North Georgia.

Below are some images of the current situation versus what has been proposed and what is the vision that the land owners have in mind.

Current Structure

This building has been empty for 10+ years.  The one behind it on Maple St has been vacant much longer.  At some point, it's time to admit that this building has realized all of it's potential and it's time to move on.

Current versus the Master Plan Vision

The red shaded area is the space that the two buildings occupy.  As you can see, this spot is critical to realizing the overall vision.

The Master Plan Vision

This is the vision of what we could see.  This is looking south from Oxbo.  The property in question would be part of the development in the upper right of this rendering.