Four keys to successful town centers
Yaromir Steiner explains four important rules for regional urban centers:
1) Use a grid-based layout that follows traditional urban principles. Design the town center so that it can be made denser in the future, even if there are seas of parking at the start. The public spaces must be beautiful.
2) “The retail component drives the boat,” he says. “Retail must work in that location even if it were not a mixed-use project. … If the retail cannot stand on its own, the mixed-use will not save it.” The other components — residential, office, perhaps hotel — may modify the retail mix, but it still needs to be self-sufficient, he says.
3) When you build a regional town center, he says, “the leisure-time component must be significant and compelling.” This includes bars, restaurants, cinemas, comedy clubs, cabarets, and the like. These businesses — and Steiner says there should be up to 20 in the town center — must open onto a street or public space. “In our projects the leisure component always outperforms the equivalent in the city,” he adds. “The project has to be a leisure destination in the community.”
4) The layout and quantity of parking are critical. Require shared parking. Cinema and office or hotel and office combine perfectly, for example. There’s no need to duplicate spaces for those uses, he explains. “More parking than you need will hurt the grid and compactness of the project,” he says. But he warns that the parking analysis has to be done for individual quadrants. You can’t combine parking for uses from opposite sides of the development. If the parking analysis is done incorrectly, the project could wind up with 10 to 12 percent extra parking — and that costs more money and hurts the layout. Educational efforts by the Urban Land Institute have made it easier to get parking reductions for mixed-use, he says. The Congress for the New Urbanism has been helpful in getting approvals for narrower streets, he adds.