The Charter of the New Urbanism is probably the most influential planning and design document of recent decades.
Signed in 1996, the Charter has laid the foundation for the new urbanist revival of cities and towns in the last decade and a half.
The Charter is often underappreciated and unheralded — but every year since 2001 it is honored through the Charter Awards of the Congress for the New Urbanism.
The Charter Awards are the only design awards that combine architecture, landscape design, planning, and urban design at all scales, from the building to neighborhood, and city to region. They recognize excellence in designs built in harmony with their physical and social contexts, and that meet principles of the Charter.
Some very cool projects are highlighted in 2012, included 9 recipients and 4 honorable mentions. They represent many design challenges taken on by urbanists, including agrarian urbanism, public housing redevelopment, fitting big box stores downtown, revitalization of suburban and urban neighborhoods, civic architecture that enhances the street, and much more.
The jury this year consisted of Douglas Kelbaugh, June Williamson, Kit McCullough, Marcy McInnelly, Bonnie Fisher, Boris Dramov, M. David Lee, John Knott, and Jonathan Barnett.
Grand prize winners
The general grand prize winner, Verkykerskop, a small-scale agricultural town in Free State Province, South Africa, is the first "socio-economically inclusive town to be established in a significant post-apartheid rebuilding effort." Mixed-income residences for 1,500 people are "matched by a broad complement of civic uses, including two small farm schools with a digital library, a day clinic, meeting halls and pension pay-points, shops, artist’s residences, recreation facilities, farm facilities, police station, retirement cluster and boutique hotel."
Many of the residences have significant home-farming capacity, and others are laid out in a series of neighborhoods by the winner, Gary White & Associates. See the figure-ground plan below:
The academic grand prize went to Andrews University for its A Vision For Growth and Conservation In The Village of Berrien Springs & Oronoko Charter Township, Michigan.
The team chose six sites that were underutilized, have future development potential, and/or are being promoted for future development by existing entitlements and local officials. The project sites were also chosen to demonstrate a broad range of urban strategies and range from 12 to 250 acres in size. Officials are aggressively looking for opportunities for investment and growth, yet there is growing recognition that the pattern of suburban sprawl is not sustainable.
The project offers a vision for growth using practical development solutions yet preserving farmland and building community character:
Neighborhood, District, and Corridor
One winner in this category is The New Wyvernwood — Boyle Heights Mixed-Use Community, submitted by Torti, Gallas and Partners.
The plan calls for the transformation of a 1938 garden apartment complex on six superblocks into a fine-grained mixed-use neighborhood with a well-defined hierarchy of blocks and streets. Despite its good location, within three miles of downtown Los Angeles, California, and public transit access, with 8 bus routes with 500 boardings a day, the complex has poor internal connectivity and safety.
The plan provides of up to 4,400 units including 660 affordable units as well as 300,000 square feet of office and retail space and 25,000 square feet of civic space on a 70-acre site. The site will be developed with a form-based code, ensuring walkable streets and pedestrian-friendly building frontages:
A second winner is a Mixed-Use Town Center Development Plan for Mount Rainier, Maryland by Cunningham | Quill Architects.
Mount Rainier is a first generation suburb of Washington, DC, that developed as a streetcar community but suffered depopulation in the 1960s and 1970s. Strip malls undermined the small-scale downtown retail.
The 15-year vision is intended to re-establish downtown as a pedestrian node with unique stores and regionally influential cultural institutions, while prominently displaying the vibrant local arts scene. Below is an aerial of the plan:
The final winner for this category is The New Faubourg Lafitte in New Orleans, by Urban Design Associates. This project deals with a federally mandated demolition of public housing near downtown New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
When complete, this 27 acre-site, located between the Treme and Tulane-Gravier neighborhoods of New Orleans, will feature over 500 new units of housing ranging in type and conﬁ guration to accommodate a whole range of tenants with a variety of needs. An additional 900 to 1000 units will be constructed on inﬁll lots within the adjacent neighborhoods, maintaining the character and image of the architecture in these communities. In total, 900 units of subsidized housing are replaced and nearly 600 for-sale unit for working families and ﬁrst-time homeowners are added.
The plan replaces superblocks with a network of streets that connects the public housing to the Treme neighborhood. The houses have the same relationship to the sidewalk as in Treme: porches up close to the sidewalk with small front gardens. A key feature with the redevelopment plan is Magic Street - a green feature that connects through the entire project. Under construction now, here's a rendering of what it will look like:
The Block, Street, and Building
A new public library for Cambridge, Massachusetts, designed by William Rawn Associates with Ann Beha Architects was a winner for in this category.
The 76,700 square foot, LEED Silver building designed to handle 2,000 visitors a day is connected to a historic structure via a glassy connection, allowing old and new buildings to sit side by side and deﬁne the primary edge to a civic park.
The building’s 180’ long, 42’ high front façade is the ﬁrst and only US example of its type, incorporating all key ingredients of advanced European double-skin curtain wall technology:
Another winner is The David Brower Center and Oxford Plaza in Berkeley, California by Daniel Solomon Design Partners.
This project is a mixed-use development combining affordable housing, a LEED Platinum office building/conference center for the environmental movement, a restaurant, retail, and public parking for the downtown Berkeley’s retail district.
The 1-acre lot is one block from a Bay Area Rapid Transit station and across the street from the UC-Berkeley campus. Previously a surface parking lot, the new program includes a below-grade public parking garage, 97 units of affordable rental apartments, 40 residential parking spaces and bike storage, 8,500 square feet of retail space, a 3,000 square feet restaurant, 7,300 square feet of conference center, and 29,000 square feet of rental office space.
A third winner is the Georgetown "Social" Safeway in Washington, DC, by Torti Gallas and Partners.
This contemporary market takes a formerly inhospitable stretch of Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, Washington DC and transforms it into a vibrant, walkable corridor. The project replaced a previous supermarket with a suburban auto-oriented design with a parking lot on the street and the store set back from the street. the new store strengthens the urban fabric of Georgetown, defining both the street and the neighborhood.
Finally in this category we have the SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia, by Sottile & Sottile and Lord Aeck Sargent in association with Dawson Architects.
The 82,000 square foot museum, streetscape redesign, and new public garden is located in the west boundary of Savannah.
The main entrance of the museum lies at the intersection of two city streets. The project’s goals include providing space for visiting exhibitions, installations, and the permanent art collection; and reinforcing the city’s urban form in a district recovering from disinvestment:
These are impressive projects. They include the Bridge Street Corridor Study in Dublin, Ohio, by Goody Clancy, which seeks to transform a two-mile stretch of outmoded office parks and failed shopping malls into virbrant neighborhoods:
Also recognized is Revive Cincinnati: Neighborhoods of the Lower Mill Creek Valley in Cincinnati, Ohio by Urban Design Associates. Public and Private Agencies funded this $500,000 study to coordinate the reconstruction of the corridor, sewer improvements, and the revitalization of the several neighborhoods.
And, Fayetteville 2030: Transit City Scenario for Fayetteville, Arkansas, was submitted by University of Arkansas Community Design Center. This study asked: What if 80 percent of future growth could be accommodated within a streetcar corridor? This project shows how to accommodate 50,000 people and 28,000 housing starts in a compact, livable manner:
Finally, we have Melrose Commons LEED for Neighborhood Development in Bronx, New York by Magnusson Architecture and Planning. The project is a 30-block urban renewal area anchored around Melrose Avenue and East 161st Street in the South Bronx:
For more in-depth coverage on this topic:
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• See the March 2012 issue of Better! Cities & Towns. Topics: Traffic congestion, Zoning, DOT mainstreams livability, HUD's Sustainable Communities, Transit-oriented development, TOD tips, Form-based codes, Parking minimums, New classical town, Urban retail, James H. Kunstler, Placemaking and job growth, Maryland's smart growth
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