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Archive for the ‘Exploring the Area’ Category

The Circle in Uptown Normal, Illinois {pic by Hoerr Shaudt landscape architects}

…and Sarasota’s nowhere on the list! What about Island Park? No Arlington Park? Payne Park got snubbed? Well, it should probably be noted that this ranking was assembled by Planetizen and Project for Public Spaces largely through crowdsourcing, meaning that the results are as much a measure of how vocal a handful of passionate, supportive communities are. Not that there aren’t some great public spaces on the list, starting with the surprise top spot: a traffic circle in Normal, Illinois. Traffic circles, even if they successfully calm and smooth the flow of traffic, are usually dead space. But Normal took on the challenge of bringing dead space to life, and they are justifiably proud of the results.

The Circle is a multi-functional public space located in a roundabout that provides community green space, re-circulates storm water into a public fountain and improves traffic circulation. Designed by Hoerr Schaudt landscape architects, the circle creates an energy that draws people together. Located next to the Children’s Discovery Museum, bustling Amtrak station and planned multi-modal transportation center and within walking distance of Illinois State University, the circle creates a micro-community of travelers, patrons, students, professors, families and children as they gather and congregate on their daily journeys.

During the day, the circle is vibrant and alive with children playing in the grassy areas, visitors coming for a place to sit and enjoy an ice cream or friendly picnic back dropped by the charming tree lined streets home to local businesses and shops. It is also the location of many community events, including the annual Sugar Creek Arts and Sweet Corn Blues Festivals, and a farmers market.”

Sarasota has more than its fair share of public spaces, mostly in the form of parks. The three mentioned at the top of this post are standouts, but so are Pioneer Park, Whitaker Gateway, the little pocket park where Mietaw Drive joins Osprey at Hyde Park, and our very own beloved Laurel Park. Streets are also public spaces, and Sarasota has some gems here as well, among them Main Street, Lemon, Cherry Lane, and Hawkins Court. There are also the multi-use recreational paths, or MURPs: one at Island Park and another east of the Trail between Siesta Drive and Webber.

What is your favorite public space in Sarasota? Which local public space needs the most improvement? Which is most ripe for an innovative makeover?

http://www.planetizen.com/toppublicspaces

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There are a million different definitions of what makes a good neighborhood, but perhaps the best ones are also the simplest. Gil Penalosa and the nonprofit organization 8-80 Cities posit that if cities are safe, accessible, and enjoyable for their youngest and oldest residents then everyone in between will also benefit. Kaid Benfield, in a post on switchboard.nrdc.org, discusses a couple of other litmus tests for a neighborhood’s (or a city’s) quality of design: the popsicle test and the halloween test. More on those below…

I had a conversation with Lars Gemzøe yesterday. He’s a senior partner at Gehl Architects, which is arguably the most influential architecture + urban planning consultancy in the world right now. The funny thing, he told me, is that an enormous gap has developed between the types of places people enjoy and the types of places that get built. Gehl Architects has become successful, in a nutshell, by simply steering developers and politicians and other decision-makers back toward urban characteristics that have proven to be livable and lovable. Characteristics such as walkability, human scale, mixed-use, etc.

In many ways, Laurel Park exemplifies these sorts of places. Sure, it could probably stand to loosen up some of its regulations in order to encourage greater diversity in terms of both demographics and functions (really, why aren’t home-based businesses allowed?), but it passes both the popsicle and the halloween tests. Kids can roam safely, elderly folks can cross the street without fear of being run down by speeding cars. Dogs are walked, cats dart from yard to yard, birds chirp, trees grow, the occasional cyclist dismounts to chat with neighbors on their front porch.

It’s not a perfect neighborhood, of course—there’s no such thing—but we enjoy many idyllic moments, and Laurel Park’s urban design has a lot to do with that. Relatively narrow streets, short blocks, some brick paving, small plots with houses built close to the sidewalk, street trees, etc. The design of the built environment has a big influence on the ways people move and interact. The basic form of traditional villages is a tough one to beat, and our little urban village, situated as it is next to downtown, is a fine place to live for the young, the old, and everyone between. It’s a fine place to stroll with a popsicle in hand, and a fine place to trick-or-treat.

The following excerpt is from a post on switchboard.nrdc.org by Kaid Benfield

In a recent post on his firm’s excellent blog, PlacesShakers and NewsMakers, Scott Doyon reminds us of the “popsicle test” of a well-designed neighborhood:  she likes the popsicle test (by: Katia Strieck, creative commons license)if an 8-year-old kid can safely go somewhere to buy a popsicle, and get back home before it melts, chances are it’s a neighborhood that works.  Note that there’s no planning jargon in there:  nothing explicitly about mixed uses, or connected streets, or sidewalks, or traffic calming, or enough density to put eyes on the street.  But, if you think about it, it’s all there.

I’m also fond of the “Halloween test”: if it’s a good neighborhood for trick-or-treating, then it’s likely to be compact and walkable.  My brother-in-law, who lives in a place that is anything but, drives his kids to the nearest traditional town center on Halloween.  Quite a few parents seem to do the same thing by driving to my neighborhood.

Scott puts it this way:

“For a child, having increasing opportunities to navigate the world around them, explore, invent, fall down, scrape knees, make decisions, screw up, get into — and solve — conflicts and, ultimately, achieve a sense of personal identity and self-sufficiency is a good thing. The right thing.

Lake Oswego, OR (by: Dan Burden, pedbikeimages.com)“But you can’t do it easily just anywhere. Place matters. It matters in the design of the streets and the things they connect to. It matters in the variety of uses, opportunities and activities. It even matters in the diversity of housing types. After all, smaller homes or accessory units end up housing people who appreciate, and want to be able to afford, the prospect of being a stay-at-home parent. Or seniors offering options for drop-off babysitting. Not because it’s their corporate value proposition and you’re paying them a thousand bucks a month but because they’re your neighbors and they care about you . . .

“Talk of how it takes a village to raise a child sounds — and feels — good but, to make it work, you need a village to start with. Which means you need politicos willing to push it, and developers willing to build it.”

Pretty good observation, that one.  If the place works for kids, chances are it works for everyone else, too (and, not coincidentally, it also works for the environment) – but as we build new places, or rebuild old ones, we need to be purposeful about it. keep reading at switchboard.nrdc.org

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Walkscore.com, the top online evaluator of a neighborhood’s walkability, has given Laurel Park a rating of 85 out of 100, good for 3rd place (mere percentage points behind downtown and the Rosemary District) among Sarasota’s 31 ranked neighborhoods. Of course, this only confirms what we’ve long known—Laurel Park’s location is nearly ideal! We can walk to restaurants and shopping, walk to services such as supermarkets and hair salons, walk to parks, walk to the bay, walk to Main Street. For those of us employed downtown, walking to work is a breeze.

Here’s what Walk Score had to say:

Laurel Park is the #3 most walkable neighborhood in Sarasota. This neighborhood is Very Walkable with an average Walk Score of 85. Laurel Park has 1,579 people—or 3% of Sarasota’s population.

Laurel Park is similar in walkability to Downtown and Original Gillespie Park. Laurel Park’s Walk Score is 28 points higher than Sarasota’s Walk Score of 57.

Not too shabby.

 

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Some places just feel right. The buildings, the street, the proportions, the trees, the aesthetics, the uses—in some places they all converge to create little nuggets of urban perfection. Certain medieval Italian vias and French boulevards come to mind, but so do many minor nameless roads in American towns and cities. These are the places people find themselves gravitating towards, sometimes for no more explicable reason than that they feel good to be in. Today’s post puts Laurel Park’s own Hawkins Court under the microscope.

Why? Because every time I walk it I start thinking about how cities are laid out almost exclusively for cars (and what a shame that is), about the variety of rights of ways that we rarely avail ourselves of, and about how important moments of discovery are to the urban experience. I start thinking about how and why this insignificant little road, barely more than an alley, draws me back again and again, and about what it can teach us about urban design. Hawkins Court isn’t flashy, but it suggests an alternative to the typical orthogonal gridding of cities and towns. It suggests how we might make cities not only functional but also lovable.

What
Draw a bow-legged stick figure with hands raised as if under arrest then rotate it ninety degrees. It’s the best description I can come up with for the layout of Hawkins Court, a charming residential lane that’s more than an alley but not quite a street.

Where
The Laurel Park neighborhood, bordered on the west by Osprey Avenue and on the east by Julia Place.

What’s nearby
Towles Court Artist Colony, Laurel Park, Payne Park, Burns Square Retail Area, Main Street.

General description
Hawkins Court is hidden from adjacent roads by alley-esque entryways that make narrow right-hand turns before joining the main 500 foot long, 20 foot wide right of way. It is mostly paved with brick, and features a number of charming single-family bungalows along its southern edge with mostly one and two story apartment buildings on its northern edge. A mixed-height tree canopy provides shade for the eastern half of Hawkins as well as sections of both east and west entryways.

Hawkins Court calls to mind Dutch woonerven, which allow autos to travel at foot speed through pedestrian space, as well as the (also Dutch) principle of “shared space,” in which all road users are given equal status and lines, signs, and signals are removed. Despite being only three blocks from Main Street, Hawkins Court manages to conjure something of the idyllic neighborhood vibe associated with the early days of suburbia and Small Town, USA.

How it is used
As a scenic throughway by locals on foot and bicycle and as an access road by residents.

How it might be used
As more of a community gathering place. For block parties. Possibly for neighborhood services and amenities.

What works
The sharp turns of the entryways (where the road narrows to 10 feet), the uneven brick surface, narrow lots, and minimal building setbacks privilege pedestrians and slow cars to a crawl. Lack of sidewalks make it clear that the right of way is to be shared by all users. Two-story bungalows and ample foliage combine to create an authentic sense of place and necessary shade. Overall design creates a buffer from nearby collector roads. It’s undeniably charming and feels safe at any hour. (more…)

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You mean, besides the Arts & Crafts fest downtown, the triathlon on Siesta Key, or just good old-fashioned beachgoing? 🙂 Well, yes. We thought we’d let you know about two great offerings on tap in and around Sarasota over the next couple days—one for the family, and one the kiddies are better off sitting out.

The first—

Got bikes? Then grab the whole family to join Sarasota County and Carlton Reserve volunteer David Reynolds and his family for an off road wilderness bicycle ride through the beautiful T. Mabry Carlton, Jr. Memorial Reserve (Carlton Reserve) on Sunday, May 15, 2011 from 10:00 a.m. for approximately 1 to 2 hours. Expect to see lots of wildlife!

More information can be found here.

Then, on Monday, Ringling Museum of Art continues its Monday night movies series with the classic chiller Silence of the Lambs. For those who haven’t seen it, the Oscar-winning flick stars Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in iconic roles that you won’t soon forget…let’s just say eating Fava beans or sipping a nice Chianti will never be quite the same. Movies are screened at the historic Asolo theater beginning at 7pm and only cost 7 bucks. For more info, click here.

Have a great weekend!

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Andres Duany has been a polarizing figure in Sarasota ever since he and his firm helped author the downtown master plan in 2000. While some of his recommendations warrant criticism, it is probably more his demeanor that creates controversy. After all, Duany has referred to local governance in Sarasota as “ass-backwards” and “prissy,” among other things. Equal parts planner and provocateur, Duany (and his outsized personality) is largely responsible for building New Urbanism into both a legitimate force in planning and a divisive polemic.

Without agreeing with everything Duany has to say, we at Laurel Park Management support the tenets of New Urbanism and Duany’s efforts to apply them to Sarasota. We think walkable mixed-use neighborhoods, slower traffic, and better connectivity are great things. We think that downtown should continue to be Sarasota’s epicenter, and that there is work to be done to insure its future as such. And even the traditional architecture most commonly associated with New Urbanism is a natural fit for Laurel Park and the other historic neighborhoods of Sarasota, what with our history of Florida cracker bungalows. Again, without agreeing on every point, we think the man has provided a pretty good roadmap for Sarasota to follow.

Change is never easy. Especially in a place like Sarasota. It wasn’t so long ago that we were essentially a small village. It wasn’t so long ago that Siesta Key was a virtually uninhabited frontier, or that Bee Ridge was a barely-there path cutting through the wilderness. It was a special time in a special place, carefree and far removed from the responsibilities and troubles of city life. But we should all be careful not to gild the past too much. We shouldn’t forget that Sarasota was built by city people, with city money. That it supported a railroad. And that no matter how great the past was the future is always something different. Our task as a community is to thrive again in a new context, a more urban context, without losing some of those aspects of the past that we all remember so fondly. New Urbanism seems to be a good fit for such a future.

Laurel Park Management encourages residents to check out the master plan for downtown Sarasota and draw their own conclusions. We encourage you to walk around Laurel Park, Gillespie Park, Main Street, the bayfront…what do you see that moves you? That charms you? Where do you like to linger, or to meet friends? What paths do you seek out, and which ones do you avoid? Does the master plan speak to your concerns?

Duany might not be making too many friends by saying to our city, “I’m sorry, but you have to grow up,” but he has a point. That which doesn’t, dies. We do have to grow up, and we are. Growing pains are inevitable. But by embracing growth—maturation, not necessarily expansion—we can help guide the process. We will, however, have to abandon simple slogans and in-fighting (the “no boss mayor” campaign comes to mind). We can’t be one-issue voters. We will have to accept that Sarasota’s future will be more urban (and, consequently, urbane) than our past. We will have to treat each other and the issues at hand with respect and deep consideration.

It’s all well and fine for Duany to speak in sound bites; he is a public figure and a salesman for the ideology he helped coalesce. But let us be a bit more measured in our internal discussions while giving honest evaluations of the recommendations Duany has given us. By looking past the rhetoric, we might just find that the path to the future is right in front of us, and that it isn’t so scary after all.

For more from Duany, check out this recent article from metropolismag.com

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Think you know Laurel Park? Take a stroll on the Laurel Park Historic Walk and discover little-known stories about the ground beneath your feet and the houses next door. Here’s all the info you need, courtesy of This Week in Sarasota.

WHEN: Saturday February 19, 2011 @ 09:00 AM (and, really, every other day)
WHERE: Orange Ave. & Oak St. Sarasota FL 34236
COST: Free

Take a Walk in Laurel Park! – A self-guided tour of the National Register of Historic Places District. Tour map and information is available on the website: www.laurelparkhistoricdistrict.com

Laurel Park is one of Sarasota’s oldest downtown neighborhoods. Located between Orange Avenue and Washington Boulevard south of Morrill Street, it is approximately 50 acres stretching over nine city blocks. Single-family homes, duplexes and small apartment buildings dating back to the 20s line the original brick paved streets. Architectural styles include Frame Vernacular, Masonry Vernacular, Bungalow, Mission Revival, Colonial Revival, and Mediterranean Revival. While primarily residential, the neighborhood includes some businesses and was once the home of Sarasota’s County Courthouse and Sarasota’s daily newspaper, The Sarasota Herald Tribune. The district is generally associated with events that were important to the early development of Sarasota from 1920-1957. Its architectural styles and varied pattern of development additionally contributed to making it a resource for the City and the State of Florida to preserve.

 

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