Thoughts from DPZ Public Workshops

If you read this blog, you probably know that I'm a fan of DPZ's work and have posted before (here & here) about our need to have this firm in particular work on a master plan for our city.  Well, I got my wish (partially) and I'm not disappointed by what they have delivered in the early stages.

I had originally planned to tweet these while I was participating in some of the workshops but I quickly realized that I would spend more time tweeting than paying attention and participating.  There were a lot of interesting ideas and discussions that occurred and I'm not pretending to have captured most of them.  I'll start off with the big ideas that I was able to capture and move into some other ideas, observations and discussion points.

Big Ideas

Square at City Hall and Canton Street - Create a large square on the backside of City Hall that would create the possibility of three additional civic building sites that would surround the central square.  The road would be one way all the way around the square.  To give you an idea.. if you were coming north on nine.. you would make a right on Hill Street and then a left on a new street that would take you north and reconnect with the existing Hwy 9 alignment just north of City Hall.. the very rough diagram below will give you an idea (this is VERY rough and only intended to illustrate the concept).  Duany compared our current municipal complex to a bunch of stray cats.  This design would definitely solve the stray cat problem and it would create an unforgettable statement of "This is Roswell" for anyone driving through town.

Canton Street South... - Create a narrow walkable street from Oxbo south to Mill St that would give a Canton St feel.  This one was incredible and I don't think many people have thought of this until now.  The feel that could be created would be second to none in Atlanta.  New but strikingly unique and well proportioned for a small historic town center.

Shops on Park Square - Eliminate the street between the shops just north of Park Square and connect those shops to the square which would enable cafe style dining that would activate the square much more than it is now.

Other Thoughts 

Historic Gateway One-Way Pair - Duany wasn't a huge fan of the one-way pair.  He kept pondering how this idea made it through the selection process.  He understood that the residents in that area want a more walkable neighborhood center and promised that he would propose a solution that would work with the proposal.  There was some opposition at the presentation from some of the residents of the Creek View condominiums.  This was the first strong opposition that Duany said he had heard to the concept but it was predictable.  He told them that the only reason they should accept the loss of privacy is if they in turn have some great urbanism created in the area.  I may post more on this at a later date as it is definitely interesting and will come up again. 

Boutique Hotel - They definitely didn't feel that the Boutique Hotel Concept was dead.  They felt that if the Oxbo to Mill St connection were built that the hotel could serve as a wonderful anchor to the end of that street.

Views of Barrington - The view of Barrington coming down Mimosa is easily correctable with some slight landscaping adjustments.  They weren't pro or against removal of the wall at this time but they definitely felt that the view of Barrington needed to be improved when viewed from Mimosa.

Adopt the ITE Context Sensitive Solutions Guidebook - Duany strongly recommended to the DOT personnel in the room that they adopt the 'Institute of Transportation Engineers - Context Sensitive Solutions in Designing Major Urban Thoroughfares for Walkable Communities' as the official road design guidelines for Roswell.  I know DOT was taking notes and hopefully this will appear on the agenda soon for the council.

Extend Oxbo Trail to the Cemetery - I thought this was an incredible idea that just hasn't been considered.  An extension of Oxbo Trail up to the old Presbyterian cemetery.  This would really complete the trail and give an alternative walking path for residents of Mill Village to get up to Groveway.  I see this one happening relatively quickly.

Activating the Square - There isn't much you can do with the Park Square to make it a more lively spot.  A true square needs to be surrounded by buildings on all side that can participate and overflow into the square.  The separation by high volume roads poses an insurmountable challenge.  It should remain a sense of pride for the area and serve as the location for most festivals but intervention most likely won't work.

Slight Curve of 9 at the Square - This was actually a fantastic idea and is a quick solution to a large problem.  Duany proposed a slight bow or arc in the road in front of the buildings facing the square in order to give them more sidewalk space.  This arc would eat into the square slightly but create a beautiful arcing motion in the fence along the square and additionally slow down the traffic in that spot slightly.  

Alter the Pavement in Important Places - He was specifically speaking of Hwy 9 from Mill St to Sloan St in the same area as the curve mentioned above.  Essentially, you would put brick pavers down and alter the texture of the road to remind drivers that they are in an important space.  This texture combined with the arc would really create a nice space without significantly altering anything.  

Riverside|Azalea|Hwy9 Intersection - Leave the intersection at Riverside|Azalea|Hwy 9 as is.  Any improvements will not realize the intended traffic flow improvements and won't be worth the investment.  Duany was specifically opposed to the roundabout/underpass option that is the city's preferred option.  I actually disagree with him on this one.

Gateway at the River - Do we really need a gateway?  This is what Duany was asking.  The bridge itself is great and the river is a de facto gateway.  Additionally, the drive downhill from Sandy Springs and then up from the river once you are in Roswell is a powerful statement that you are entering a different place.  Whatever we do, we shouldn't let a new bridge get built with higher rails that will impede the beautiful views.  I didn't hear of any mention of the planned pedestrian bridge in any of the workshops I attended.

Apartments at the River - These apartments will be gone in 10-20 years.  The city needs to figure out what they want that land to be.  There was a quick draft of a building that looked nice that was presented at the presentation.  I'd love to see something like what they drew up. 

Pedestrian Tunnel Under 9 to Connect Canton to City Hall - Duany was definitely not a fan of the current idea to tunnel under 9 to enable people to park easier at City Hall.  He says people just inherently don't like tunnels or overpasses and ineveitably people will cross at street level.  Other considerations were the ADA requirements for a tunnel or overpass.  He definitely ruffled some feathers on this one.  I feel that a crossing at street grade is more preferable.  

Other Observations

There were a lot of the large real estate holders in attendance at the workshops.  They all seemed optimistic to the ideas that were being proposed and much of the land that was pointed to for redevelopment is in the hands of only a few major owners which increases the probability of something happening.

Planning is sequential in nature.  You plan for what you want the area to be like in 25 years but you need to allow it to grow.  You don't plan for 4 story mixed-use and force that to be the only allowable condition.  One story gradually moves to 2-4 stories.  You have to allow that flexibility and the ability to change over tme.  

Style should steer clear of the classical stuff like our historic homes and instead work to emulate the Mill Style and Factory Building feel in most cases.  

The highest vehicular throughput for a road is at 27-29 MPH according to the ITE.  Thus, in order to accommodate the most traffic volume, Hwy 9 should be designed to have as little stop-go as possible while maintaining a speed around 30 mph.

It used to be that cars traveling through towns were under the rules of that town.  We need to take back our space and ensure that cars coming through Roswell know that they are in someone else's town and that they need to behave accordingly.  This road should deliver a message that this is primarily for Roswell, that guests are welcome, but they are here on Roswell's terms.

Retailers will go in and out of business without "our help" was one of Duany's points when discussing what a one-way pair would do to business along 9.  He poined out that most of the business that is currently there is undesirable (unless you are the business owner).  The one-way pair can work if done properly and not negatively impact desirable businesses.

Duany observed that the design system in Roswell is fragmented and there doesn't seem to be a high degree of intradepartmental coordination.  DOT isn't talking to Parks who isn't talking to Community Development, etc.  He was especially critical of the design of some park areas which offended a few people in the room.  He then tried to make the point by saying that everything he designs is given to someone else to improve on and that there is nothing wrong with that.  He implied that criticism and collaboration create better places.

No too many city council members were in the workshops but it seemed like half of them were at the presentation.  I could be wrong on that as I did not attend all workshops.

DPZ is attempting to do something that has never been done before with the hwy 9 plan.  The linear coding sheet (comparison to a musical score) that they are putting together for the entire length of the street is something that Duany came up with about 15 years ago but he has never used it.  He says he has never come across a street with as much complexity as this stretch of road and felt this was the perfect opportunity to work on something revolutionary.  It truly is unorthodox but if it works, it will be amazing.  We shouldn't have any reason to believe based on track record that it won't work.

From what I can tell, there might be a little animosity between the city and the planning staff.  The selection of DPZ was a close vote, with the mayor being the deciding vote.  This is a shame because regardless of who is doing the work, the city should recognize that this is a transformational opportunity that doesn't come along frequently.  We need both of these groups to work in concert for this to be the best possible outcome.

Conclusion

The first few days of actual interaction with DPZ and the city have gone very well.  Ideas were generated, issues were clarified and significant progress on the plan has been made.  Duany is very interested in Roswell and had great things to say about the historic district in public and in private.  This should be the beginning of something great for our city.  We are looking forward to the next round.  Stay tuned.. I will update you as soon as I know more about when additional workshops and potential talks are scheduled.