Last week, the Florida Chapter of APA, the Myakka Branch of the Florida Green Building Council and the Florida House (I am a Board member of the latter two organizations) sponsored a walk tour of two local projects, Citrus Square and Janie’s Garden. Both have won awards for design and are wonderful examples of architecturally excellent, mixed use projects.
First, here is a digital booklet of the trip. The tour provided the 30 participants a chance to critique the project designs for aspects of walkable tourism. We used several checklists, including LEED for Neighborhood Design, to look at the various aspects of site design and location.
I’ve written about Citrus Square before (see here). It is a privately financed project with 20 residential units above first floor retail. The details on the tour that garnered the most attention were:
- Financing – HUD, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have caps on gross square feet of commercial space allowed in a mixed use project (from 15-25%). The taller the building, the less the effect. However, with two and three story buildings like Citrus Square, these caps make first floor retail in vertically mixed-use project difficult if not impossible. The Congress for the New Urbanism has a task force called Live/Work/Walk to address this barrier to better redevelopment.
- Parking – Parking is distributed throughout the site, both on-street and on-site.
- Unit size – the size of the units are small, with the smallest units (550 ft2) among the most popular.
- Cost – the cost of the highly detailed molding added about 10% to the project costs, lower than typically assumed.
First, we were joined by Vice Mayor Willie Shaw, who happened to be biking by (at the top of every walk tour leader’s wish list when showing off walkable, bikable communities) Janie’s Garden is a multi-phase, Hope VI mixed use project. Bill Russell, head of the Sarasota Housing Authority led the tour, and the following points were highlights
- Financing – the financing was different from Citrus Square, instead using tax credits, which are a common mechanism for financing affordable housing. The developer and manager of Janie’s Garden is the Michael’s Company, a national leader in affordable housing development.
- Use mix – The first business, is now open in The Market Place in Phase 2 of Janie’s Garden along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
- Transportation – The route for Sarasota’s bus rapid transit project is currently planned to serve this area, with a stop at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Lemon Street. There is some discussion on moving the route three blocks west to US 41, given the existing business and infrastructure there and new rules from the Federal Transit Administration that now favor economic development over speed. No matter where the route eventually runs, Janie’s gardens would benefit from better links to US 41 via infrastructure, commercial activity and interaction with institutions along US 41. For example, the retail and housing at Janie’s Garden could help support artists in the area.
Two conversations emerged that will be further explored in any future tour:
- Building Articulation – This may seem like an oddball term to non-architects. The best way to think about articulation is the opposite: continuity. Next time you are at a big box store, the flat walls flush doorways and lack of ornamentation are continuous design which gives the impression of large blank walls and canyons. Walkable urbanism thrives on the opposite, where molding, windows, doors awnings and the like break up the buildings visually while still maintaining a sense of a coherent built environment.
- The Underside of Balconies - One of the unexpected focal points from both tours was the attention to the undersides of balconies. Pedestrians are always looking around, including up. The undersides of balconies are just one more opportunity to make the walk that much more interesting.
This was not so much new attention to balconies, but rather an important lesson in designing for slower speeds. At 50 or 60 miles an hour, there is little need for detail. However those who are walking and driving slowly will need to be engaged, even delighted, with what they encounter. Quality materials, quality and interesting detail are critical not just the grist of design manuals, but your transporation and economic plans as well.