Message - Re: WTC, Basic Planning Issues

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Posted by  Issi on September 17, 2002 at 15:05:00:

In Reply to:  Re: WTC, Basic Planning Issues posted by Paul Malo on September 17, 2002 at 06:26:49:

Hi again,

After having read Paul Malo's and Kevin Matthews' replies, I see the "math" as follows: (For those of you who haven't the patience for my long winded response - check out the last point - #5).

1) Dividing the site into smaller blocks with all/most streets allowing vehicular traffic WILL be detrimental to traffic flow. Considering that the public has no interest in encouraging automobile traffic in Manhattan, slowing cars down may actually be a positive thing. Then again, Manhattan doesn't really need any "help" in further discouraging drivers, it does a great job already.
Bottom line: the issue of slowing down traffic doesn't provide a definitive con or pro for any site plan.

2) I have recently been persuaded that Jane Jacobs' "Death and life of great American cities" is to a formidable degree unrealistic nostalgia for a time and place that never really was. ("Economy of cities" is her hidden masterpiece, but that's irrelevant to this thread). Nevertheless, the I think many of her ideas are right on the mark. One of these is that smaller city blocks allow the pedestrian alternative travel routes that help bring about a livelier and more varied street life. I cannot recollect the logic behind this at the moment, but it fits intuitively.
Bottom line: intuitive is great, but proves nothing. No con, no pro.
Nevertheless, small blocks for pedestrians do not contradict larger blocks for cars, which leads me to my next point.

3) Paul Malo's point of meager traffic on exclusively pedestrian streets having a spiralling negative effect on traffic, and on the businesses lining the street, makes perfect sense on an intuitive level (and I'm sure it can be empirically supported). The added "activity" created by vehicular traffic and its role in making people more comfortable is a great insight, but I don't think that's the case at the WTC site. It's doubtful if there are many places in the world that produce as much pedestrian traffic as downtown Manhattan (remember those heading towards all forms of public transit are all pedestrians). Add to this that a near-square site of 16 acres, despite being huge in relation to other Manhattan sites, does not afford a great length of streets that might "swallow" the pedestrians. Smaller blocks on the WTC site probably won't suffer from oppresively light pedestrian traffic, and won't need the aid of vehicles in creating sufficient "activity" for users to feel comfortable.
Bottom line: a pattern of larger "vehicular blocks" and smaller "pedestrian blocks" IS plausible on the WTC site. BUT, seeing as this point merely allows the application of points 1 and 2, which are neither con nor pro, this point, too, is neither con nor pro.

4) A pattern of larger "vehicular blocks" and smaller "pedestrian blocks" can be come in a form where the pedestrian streets are sheltered from the weather, or even entirely indoors. The important thing to beware of in such a case, is that the entrances from the outdoors into the indoor streets are NOT of the kind so common when entering downtown shopping malls. I'm referring to those entrances that seem to say "if you're rich and look respectable - come in, otherwise we'll have you escorted right out". Such an entrance must be kept as unfelt to the pedestrian as possible, for the indoors are meant to provide climate shelter and not demographic filtering. One way to do this might be by creating a distinction between the indoor streets and their architectural "language" and that of the buildings that they are part of. This is a street that happens to be indoors, NOT a lobby you can shortcut through.
Bottom line: creating indoor streets is a lot more complex than allowing pedestrians passage from point A to B through a building.

5) This is the most important item on the list. The MAIN ISSUE in any WTC site scheme is the treatment of the POLITICAL connotation. All other issues will (unfortunately) remain secondary in relation to this - in the short term at least, but probably much longer. It is therefore an advantage that none of the aforementioned points provide a clear and decisive course of action. This way, the search for a political-architectural concept is "free" of urban design constraints (or is it urban planning?). Whatever street pattern the political-architectural concept provides is acceptable, and cannot do much harm this way or that. We have no real - non-speculative - way of knowing what the best street pattern is, besides another shot at trial and error.
Very bottom line: the street plan should only be considered as a derivative of the political-architectural concept. (as opposed to the way I believe things USUALLY ought to be - the design/aesthetic/artistic concept being derived from the constraints born of the surroundings (incl. urban design) and of functional and economic matters.)

Anyone who has bothered reading all this - raise your hand!


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