Thursday, April 30, 2009

Newfields Planning: Milton Keynes in Ohio?

Although there is evidence that the ecological planning concepts of Ian McHarg were used in Newfields, a more direct antecedent was the last and most radical British New Town, Milton Keynes.
Milton Keynes

Located off the M1 motorway halfway between London and Birmingham Milton Keynes was named after a local village, not (as sometimes thought) the poet and the economist. It was designed by Sir Richard Llewellyn Davis in 1967-1968 and was published in planning and architectural journals in 1969 through 1973, so would be exactly contemporary with McHargs’ Design with Nature as an influence. Llewellyn Davis would be retained to do the first plans for Newfields, probably in 1971-72, so Milton Keynes can be seen as a direct precursor.

Llewellyn Davis was influenced by US thinking on planning and architecture (including the example of Los Angeles, which was quite an interest item with UK design theorists) and by the avant garde concepts coming from the UK-based Archigram Group.

“Got to Have a Loose Fit”
(apologies to the Happy Mondays)

This led to the Milton Keynes incorporating the concept of “loose fit” and indeterminacy. Form was indeterminate, with development (including the town center) loosely plugged into “grid squares” formed by a 1km square net of access roads draped across the landscape. Height was low (“buildings no higher than the highest tree”), and the town was to merge into the landscape.

There was also the concept of City as Forest, with generous plantings along the road net, the motorway, the housing areas, and in the park belts in the river bottoms. The idea was to make the city more wooded than the surrounding countryside (which is, interestingly enough, how Dayton and its older suburbs look from the air). Essentially this was a merger of US suburbia and UK new town planning, assuming an automobile-oriented society.

Llewellyn Davis apparently was aware of land use suitability planning as topography and drainage, along with the road system, was used to locate open space, resulting in two north-south open space systems based on river valleys and the motorway. Ecological considerations came into play in species selection for the forest planning. Tree belts were also planted along the net roads. The town center was on the highest elevation, but acted as a connecter between the two north-south open space systems…

….which one can see in this aerial rendering, showing what almost looks like a US style suburban office park bisected by boulevards connecting the two open space systems, flanked by landscaped 1km net roads.

In real life it does look rather fetching, and one can see how the depressed highway concept for Newfields may have had a Milton Keynes precedent.

Though designed primarily with the automobile in mind, Milton Keynes was also designed with an extensive bike/pedestrian system, the “Redway” (named after the red tarmac paving material), which acts as a secondary transportation system grade-separated from the net roads. The 1km dimension for the grid squares was selected to permit walkability to bus stops, so public transit was a consideration in planning.

Milton Keynes in Ohio?

In Ohio, Llewellyn Davis already had a road grid to work with, which was distorted a bit in the plan. One can see some similar concepts, like a town center (and community college) set in parkland but accessed from a freeway, and the use of the topography and drainage to generate the open space system, which determines the blocks of developable land.

It seems there is a “net” concept operating in the Newfields deisgn, too, but one of greenways rather than access roads. Which implies a version of the Milton Keynes ped/bike Redway system.

A missed opportunity was the incorporation of Old Town Trotwood into the scheme (which would have been easy to do). Country villages were incorporated into the Milton Keynes plan, but this didn’t happen here.

The concept of convenience centers was an innovation, where schools and recreation centers would occasionally be paired with neighborhood shopping (shown as red boxes) to provide community focal points throughout the scheme, with larger schools (junior highs, two red boxes) paired with larger shopping areas. In generic US suburbia schools and retail are quite separate.

An unusual feature of the plan is the “panhandle” extending to the east, This was envisioned as a mostly industrial area, but was mainly driven by political considerations. More on that later.

Newfields Plan Development

The initial plan was quite schematic and envisioned most of the land under the control of the developer. In reality ownership was quite fragmented, with some property held as life estates and others remaining as in-holdings, not purchased at all. So the planning was altered to address this reality.

But not altered too much as one still sees the town center/community college, and the Wolf Creek valley and tributaries as the organizing feature of the scheme. (Purple is shopping and blue are schools). The Wolf Creek Expressway appears, arcing its way along the panhandle into Dayton.

Another scheme has more of a village center concept, with three village centers (dashed circles and oval) comprised of housing of various densities, shopping, and schools. In this case one can see industry along the railroad line, which was still active at that time.

One of the goals of the Title VII new communities was socioeconomic integration via mixing apartments and townhouses in with houses. This was a radical feature for suburban Dayton, where single family housing is usually quite separate from multifamily, leading to socioeconomic segregation and social exclusion. One can see that mix in the above graphic, where orange denotes high density housing snaking through the new town, following the greenways.

The Design Think Tank

All this was in outline. Detailed design of the new town was to be done on a case-by-case, subcommunity-by-subcommunity basis via a design think tank made up of design consultants, the staff ecologist, and residents. The intention was not to have a predetermined form, but to take a more ad-hoc, participatory approach. This seems to be a reflection of the 1960s interest in process, letting the process determine the form. Which once again relates to the concept of indeterminacy, eschewing a comprehensive, top-down detailed master planned approach.
One can see this in action with this preliminary study, which provides a generalized outline, but also locates how various housing densities would mix, color coded in shades of red. Yellow would be single family and dark red, perhaps, a high-rise.

The label says study, but Village 1 was, believe it or not, partially built. Subject of a future Daytonology thread.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Newfields and Ecological Planning

Newfields started out inspired by Reston, and this early sketch shows the intent a bit, to dam up Wolf Creek for a lake and put a community college and shopping center near by, with housing all around.

Instead Newfields would be influenced by the new concept of land use suitability planning, also called ecological planning.

The approach was developed during the 1960s by Ian McHarg and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania. McHarg was a Scot, trained in landscape architecture at Harvard, and a sort of public intellectual during the 1960s (with his own TV show), as well as an innovative planner and designer. The concept was to overlay constraints to determine the best place to build.

The concept, via examples alternating with biographical and philosophical writings, was popularized via McHarg’s book, Design With Nature, published in 1969, just in time for the New Communities legislation. McHarg himself would design one of the Title VII new communities, The Woodlands, north of Houston, using ecological planning principles.
Design with Nature was perhaps one of the most influential books of its era, influencing generations of landscape architects and planners. Eventually the overlay technique would be the intellectual foundation for computerized Geographic Information Systems, AKA GIS.

It’s interesting to think of Design with Nature next to Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities (published in 1961). Both books bracket the decade, but are quite different in their conclusions. Jacob’s book was a ringing endorsement of the old urban world of the pre-automobile city just as it was about to die. McHarg’s was the apotheosis of the garden city concept, transcending that hoary idea and pointing to the future, the start of ecologically based planning.

The planning technique introduced in Design with Nature was to ascertain land use suitability via overlay. The procedure was to map various constraints, such as soil quality, depth to bedrock, wetlands, watercourses, floodplains, aquifers, steep slopes, forest and vegetation cover, cultural resources, and other factors as layers. The sum of the overlays would show areas were one could build and where one could not.

An early example of this technique was the plan for The Valleys, an exurban area northwest of Baltimore, where an overlay of constraints led to recommendations for controlled development based on the nature of the land itself

The technique would become more robust over the course of the decade.

It was a convincing technique, except the one thing that was not overlain was private property, which meant this concept was somewhat utopian for regional planning. But it could be used for large areas controlled by a handful of landowners, or one large owner, which was case in Newfields.

In the case of Newfields, there is this evidence that the land use suitability approach was being used, as soil classifications, depth to bedrock, woodlands, and slopes were being mapped as “Natural Systems Sensitivity” to determine developable areas and suggest a form for the new town.

One can already see the valleys of Wolf Creek and its tributaries surfacing as a constraint.

Next we will look at some actual planning for Newfields.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Suburban Experiments II: Newfields

Sycamore State Park. You may have seen it on a map sitting there between Brookville and Trotwood. And you may have wondered why put a state park out there in the farm country?

Or you may have wondered why Dayton decided to annex west, taking in the empty farmland south and east of Trotwood.

The state park and annexations are related. These moves are results of the greatest suburban development failure of the postwar era, which was also the most ambitious suburban experiment: Newfields New Town.

The development was by Don Huber, the brother of the developer of Huber Heights. In one way this was Don's idea to do a better Huber Heights (Don was quoted as they were "just building shelter" in Huber Heights).

But it this was not to be merely "Huber Heights II". Newfields was one of many, one of 16 New Towns supported by the Federal government. This was a suburban experiment on a grand scale, an ambitious program to develop model communities outside of cities as demonstrations on how to do suburbia different.

The New Towns: A Response To Sprawl

Current day concerns about sprawl and smart growth are not new.

These were issues in the 1960s as well. Suburban sprawl resulted in a lot of articles and books on the subject (God's Own Junkyard by Peter Blake was probably the best known to general readers). Attempts to do things different eventully led to two privately financed developements outside of Washington DC: Columbia MD, by the Rouse Corporation, (developer of the Salem Mall) and Reston VA (which was an early model for Newfields). The concern about suburban sprawl, the two DC-area examples (and perhaps Irvine out in California), plus the UK New Towns program, led to the US to embark on a demonstration program of New Towns.

This was one of the last initiatives arising from the Great Society policy era. Lobbying started in 1968 via the National Committee on Urban Growth Policy (one of their publications, The New City, is still available in local libraries). The relevant legistlation was enacted first in 1969 (Title IV) and again in 1970 (Title VII of the Housing & Urban Development act). The Title VII program was a public/private partnership between the Feds and local private developers, with the Feds fronting development money plus preferential access to various programs. Newfields was a Title VII new community.

A big undertaking, mostly forgotten because it mostly failed.

A New Town for Suburban Dayton

Don Huber was a local member of the Great Society via his work in urban renewal, as a developer partner in Madden Hills. But he apparently was aware of the larger debate on suburbia and the DC new towns, which led to his attempt to repeat to do a new and improved Huber Heights. Apparently Huber started planning for a new town around 1970 and made application to participate in Title VII in 1971/72.

The original plan was to build this near Bellbrook. But land south was already too expensive, so Huber looked northwest, to the area in the vicinity of Brookville and Trotwood, hence the working title of Brookwood on the early drawings. Land aquisition began in 1971.

This was later renamed Newfields, and the famous graphic designer Ivan Chermayeff was brought on board to develop the corporate identity plan, logo, and to name the streets and neighborhoods. This apparently was going to be a top-shelf project as Chermayeff was a leading graphic designer of his era. Chermayeff himself apparently thought enough of his work here to include the logo in his book TM: Trademarks Designed by Chermayeff & Geismar.

(colors in earthtones, shades of brown).

The new town was integrated with the highway planning of the era, relying on accessibility via the proposed Wolf Creek Expressway extending west of downtown, and the western leg of the proposed interstate beltway.

Yet the drawings demostrate design thinking beyond a generic interstate highway right-of-way.

The cross-section shown below has a light rail line running down the center of the proposed Wolf Creek Expressway, connecting the new town with Dayton. This isn't as far fetched as it seems as light-rail was seriously being proposed for the metro area during this time.

What's even better is the use of a depressed right-of-way with flanking landscaping, frontage roads, and bike/walking paths. So no ugly soundwalls. The plan was to build the frontage roads first, then the expressway, the way they do it in Texas.

The planning documents available at the DPL history room show additional road cross sections, demonsrating that this was going to be a well-thought out plan in terms of providing pedestrian and bike access. This thinking would've been well ahead of its time for Dayton.
The Wolf Creek Expressway was reportedly killed by neighborhood opposition arising from yet another Great Society effort, the Model Cities program for inner city revitalization. Model Cities had a neighborhood organizing component (called "community action") which tended to take on a life of its own (dicussed by the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his book Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding), becoming less planning steering groups and more about "fighting the Man". In this case the result was apparently an early freeway revolt.

After the death of the Wolf Creek Expressay highway construction on the west side stalled until the late 1980s/early 1990s.

So Newfields planning was reoriented around the western I-675 bypass as the focal point. Planning was at first around a Town Center/Village Center concept. The Town Center would probably have been a much better planned version of a suburban Edge City off off an interstate exit.

The planning here shows the influence of Reston, VA. This privately developed new town of the early/mid 1960s (a project of the Gulf Oil corporation) would later become part of the Federal new town program. Reston was planned as a group of villages and village centers.

Lake Anne Village as a model for Newfields

During the 1960s the first part of Reston to be built was Lake Anne Village (designed by James Rossant of Conklin and Rossant). It's known that this development was an influence on Don Hubers' thinking as he used to fly local officials to DC to give them a tour of this place, telling them this is what he had in mind. So, worth a look:

Lake Anne Village was developed around a man-made lake. This is basically a mixed use shopping center, townhouses and other multifamily, and offices, with a high-rise apartment or condo tower as a verticle accent.

A notable aspect is how this breaks the suburban strip development model. The four lane highway is sheilded from the developement by forest, and the parking is set back off the highway. The parking is also integrated into the development by that linear walkway feature (?) which arcs into the development, becoming a boardwalk along the lake (which has boating, one can take a boat and dock right at the shopping center).

A close-up of the shopping center and some multifamily stuff on the lake, and the plan. The interesting thing here is that this isn't too far off from the New Urbanism. It has all the features of New Urbanism..mixed use, human scale, walkability, green space....except it's done in a late-modern style (a softned version of the masonry/concrete style known as The New Brutalism, which was popular in the US in the 1960s)

Some ground level pix. A good architectural demonstration of the optimism of the 1960s, that it would be possible to build a better modern world. We're more cynical today, and more nostaglic.

Lake Anne Village eventually was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and won awarded various design awards from the architectural profession.

Pretty darn good. And it was Don Huber's intent to building something similar in Dayton.

But the plans changed. And these changes illustrate yet another suburban experiment; ecological planning and land use suitability.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another Dayton: Daytonology Heads North

The local blogosphere is pretty much focused on just a handful of local places, mostly in the city. Suburban focus is usually pejorative, directed at the new I-75/Austin Road interchange. Or the bias is "South" or to Greene County.

But this is a metropolitan area between 500,000 and 1,000,000 population. So there is a lot more to say.

Another "Dayton" that's not heard much from is points north. At best readers may have a vague impression of this area as a set of soundwalls along I-75 bleeding into an edge city and a big interstate interchange on the way to or from the airport. And, maybe, that dramatic Cargill plant off Needmore Road may be a landmark for some.

Daytonology aims to exit the interstate and explore beyond the off-ramps and soundwalls in an ongoing inquiry into points north, mainly the area shown here, inside the red line:

...which would be the communities of Vandalia, Butler Township and "Northridge", which is a mix of Harrison Township and areas within Dayton city limits.

Historical growth: By the start of the 1970s the area had grown around some early pre-war development (shaded in red)...

And between the 1970s and today more filling in....

....yet topography and landscape defined limits to growth, or guided development somewhat.

Daytonology will be weaving in occasional posts about various features "north". This graphic shows a few points of interest:

(you can click on the image to enlarge)

Some themes or topics that may or may not be investigated:

  • The National Road
  • Country Villages
  • Interurban Suburbia
  • Highways
  • Suburbanization of Industry
  • Vintage Trailer Parks
  • Development of an Edge City
  • The Airport
  • The Valleys (now you see them/now you don't)
  • Deweese Parkway
  • Conservancy District Terraforming and Greenbelts
  • Interurban Suburbia
  • Life in the Dollhouse: California Style in Dayton
  • The Postwar Boom in Vandalia
  • The Strip
  • The Ridge
  • Motels & Road Culture
  • The Ranchettes of Marianne Country Estates
  • Gentlemens Clubs & Flea Markets
  • Local Eats
  • Miller Lane's World of Signs
  • Suburban Poverty & Transit Dependence

Daytonology will experiment in using Landscape Urbanism as an interpretive framework, seeing "North" whole, but then zooming for a microgeographical analyses to find the figures in the carpet. Pop culture and postwar suburban vernaculars might (heck, will) feature in occasional posts.
And, just for kicks, here's the Landscape Urbanism BS Generator(beta)

So stay tuned for more suburban studies.

Village of North Clayton: Updated Doubles +Esther Price

The Double. What would Dayton be without the double? This is a remarkably persistent houseform in the Miami Valley. Probably worth a post all it's own.

Village of North Clayton has two doubles so far. These two, which are really not that close to the trad form found in Dayton and the older suburbs as they are much larger, especially wider.

However, what sets them apart from other suburban updates of the houseform is the rear garage, opening onto an alley. This rear extension concept or design move exists in older city housing, though the form here is different
Again some good compostiion here, especially the large windwows and mix of materials.

Finally, Esther Price has moved to the suburbs. This looks like a heavily modified farmhouse, and is the new Esther Price candy store. One doesn't have to drive all the way into town to get a box of these sweets, one of the few local food products to survive the post WWII wave of mass marketed national brands. A true Dayton Orginal.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Village of North Clayton: The First Houses

The Village of North Clayton is under construction and enough is up to see what an exemplary developement this will be.

Here's a map showing the first part of the village, with some pix keyed in. We've seen the commercial "live/work" building. Next is the site planning around a little square or park, and a street scene.

Fountain Green actually has a fountain. And some nice landscaping features and a fence, akin to those squares in the west end of London or Gramercy Park in NYC. Nice benches, too. This is really top-notch.
Some of the houses facing the square. Right off one can tell we've left McMansionland behind as the houses are based on Dayton vernacular architectures, especially the four-square to the right.
Another vernacular houseform, the bungalow. One can tell there is a real porch on this house, and some attention to detail with the battered columns and stone base, similar to bungalows found in the Northridge area.
Note, too, how this house is somewhat close to the street vis a vis convention suburban development, and also closer to it's neighbors.

Another house, this time a revival style. The porportions here are excellent. Superb facade composition, and, as in the bungalow, the front porch has returned.

One has to appreciate the return of restraint and good taste in developer architecture here, compared to some of the aesthetic monstrosities of the recent past elsewhere in suburban Dayton. Whoever these builders are they have a good eye or good designers working for them.

The somewhat raw streetscape of a new development. In the distance, to the left, is a Spanish Revival style house, which is yet another reference to neighborhood style in Dayton as the Spanish Revival was somewhat popular here in the 1920s.
To the right, just behind the lamp post, is the curb cut for an alley. Alleys are another neo-traditional town planning feature. They permit garages to go in the rear, and open the possibility of small apartments over the garage.

In this case there are just garages, as one can see in this pix, showing the rears of the houses facing the square.
The development from a distance, with the commercial building and the small group of new houses.
As the village develops the forground will be filled with more mixed use buildings and screened parking.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Suburban Experiments: Village of North Clayton

Village of North Clayton kicks off the suburban experiments series.

This recent development on US 40 west of Englewood is the best (and one of the few) local examples of neo-traditional town planning, also called the New Urbanism. It is the first true neo-traditional suburban experiment in Dayton.

The New Urbanism

What is it? For starters it probably should be called the old urbanism, which is why neo-traditional town planning is a more accurate label. This urban planning movement surfaced out of the postmodern tendency in architecture and critiques of modernist/functionalist planning and zoning. Neo-traditional planning looks to pre-WWII models and ways of building as a source for new development. The primary sources are the various American vernacular architectures, the streetcar suburbs of the late 19th and early 20th century, small town America, and various garden city models.

In recent times neo-traditional planning has become associated with the concepts of “sustainability” and the new environmentalism (the “green” movement, exemplified by strategies like LEED), though predating these by a decade or so.

A good description and synopsis of New Urbanism can be found at this wiki, or study the following diagram from the Engineering News-Record, showing a new urbanist development at the top and typical postwar suburbia (like around Fairfield Commons or Huber Heights) at the bottom.

Essentially, neo-traditional planning puts the pieces back together again.

Neo-traditional planning in the Dayton region

Probably the best known local example, albeit an imperfect one, is The Greene. Neo-traditional principles observed at The Greene:

  • Mixed use (apartments, offices, and retail) buildings
  • True streetscapes with curbside parking and sidewalks
  • Traditional architectural composition using two and three story buildings
But the Greene lacks one key element, and that is integration into the surrounding community. It is still like one of those big functionally zoned blocks in the above diagram.

The Village of North Clayton has the integration element, as is evident by this map of the development, demonstrating how the “town center” (a smaller version of The Greene concept) is integrated into a residential neighborhood via the street system, smaller buildings and townhouses.

The plan also illustrates some residential design principles, such as squares and parks as focal points, alleys for the garages, amenities like parkways, and a legible loose grid plan without “tapeworm” streets and cul-de-sacs. The plan reads as a more-or-less organic whole, not fragments.

Another notable feature, though not strictly new urbanist, is the insertion of housing into a woodlot on the southern part of the site; rather than clearing the lot trees are preserved along a watercourse in the center of the blocks.

The Town Center.

The developers’ website has some details on the town center, but here is a quick look. The rendering on the upper right is an illustration of the central square, done up as something vaguely central European (perhaps southern Germany?). The plan says plaza, but it looks more like a platz.

Yes, one can quibble with the direct references to provincial Europe, yet the composition is the key point here. Instead of a one story strip center with parking and “pads” for banks and fast food in front one has two story buildings with multiple functions. Parking is on-street, screened mid-block, or on the periphery of the site.

(though it seems the plaza is car-free)

Another key concept is how this town center is integrated itno the rest of the developement. One does not need a car to communicate between the residential parts of the development and the shopping and services. One could just as easily walk or take a bike.

A sensitive bit of site planning is the use of transitional buildings between the more intensively built-up town center and the residential areas. These can be townhouses, or they can be these live/work buildings, with either apartments or condominiums on top, or offices. Retail or services on the ground floor.

Too good to be true? Never to be built? Things have been built, and one can get a glimpse of this vision becoming reality, with the first mixed use building on site. Perhaps one of the first of its kind in the Dayton suburbs (and close to that rendering, too!)

Pretty good design. Façade composition broken up to read as three buildings, giving visual interest. Sloped roofs in front. Corner entrance and little balcony over it. Awnings to further activate the façade and create sort of a transitional space along the sidewalk. On-street parking.

One the other side of the building is this nice coffee shop, which makes a great iced mocha.

For more on this developement, which is a true model development for this region:

Welcome to the Village of North Clayton

(we will take a brief look at the first residential area next)