Monday, October 20, 2014

City Building, Nine Planning Principles for the Twenty-First Century

Recently, I had the chance to read City Building, Nine Planning Principles for the Twenty-First Century. The book is written by John Lund Kriken who, among other things, was the founder of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s San Francisco-based Urban Design & Planning Studio.

Kriken starts his book by stating that our world is becoming increasingly urbanized. As more people choose to live in cities, he says that we need to rethink how we design cities to improve the quality of life of their residents. Kriken argues that how design cities —land-use, transportation, public space, and buidlings— most of the time do not end up building healthy nor happy places for people. He developed the nine principles to help guide place-making that enhances people's quality of life while protecting our natural environment.

With this in mind, Kriken gives a brief history of how we got to where we are today. He also explains why a comprehensive framework is needed to guide place-making from the regional scale all the way down to the neighbourhood and building scale.

Kriken’s nine principles are sustainability, accessibility, diversity, open space, compatibility, incentives, adaptability, density, and identity.

Under each of the principles, Kriken explains what the principles means for place-making, then gives several case studies. Most of the case studies are from SOM projects.

While each of Kriken’s principles are well thought out and should be considered, I wanted to share a few items that stood out for me.

Out of the gate, Kriken starts by talking about how urban settlement needs to be balanced with conversation to preserve farmland, protect air and water quality, and ensure that urban settlement isn’t built in dangerous areas like floodplains. He notes that rules are needed to protect cities from themselves; he advocated for higher-order government plans. It seems that our region has already implemented much of what Kriken is advocating for in this regard through Metro Vancouver.

Kriken talks about how to building and support multi-modal streets and neighbourhoods. He also talks about finding the right mixed of building types and densities. Interestingly enough, much of what Kriken talks about reminded me of a whitepaper from TransLink about the 6 “Ds” for creating transit-oriented communities.

One of the things that I’ve heard people talk about is that the ground-level design of a building —how it interacts with the public realm— is one of the key elements of good design. For example, a building that fronts a sidewalk with retail stores will create a different dynamic then a building that front a sidewalk with a blank wall. Kriken notes that projects need to be looked at in the context of a whole neighbourhood or community. He cautions about looking at projects in a one-off fashion; this leads to issues.

In the City of Langley, my community is trying to redevelopment and revitalize its downtown core. Kriken has a whole chapter on how to support brownfield redevelopment. He also gives a cautionary tale of San Jose, in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is still struggling to revitalize its downtown core.

At the end of the book, Kriken gives a call to arms on building better cities and regions. Kriken believes that cities are the solution, not the problem, to creating a high quality of life for people while preserving our natural systems.

Kriken book is full of great visuals to support his nine planning principles. This book is accessible, and I would recommend that anyone who has an interest in urbanism give it a read. I believe this book should be required reading for anyone who has decision-making ability that impacts the built-form of our communities.


Anonymous said...

What does Kirken suggest regarding the already built environment, such as where residential streets are too wide, encouraging high vehicular speeds. After all, the built environment is much larger than future developments.

Nathan Pachal said...

He talks about narrowing roads and especially corners. He also talks about change the ratio of sidewalk to bike lane to auto space.