Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Transit and placemaking

Farmers Market at the Frankford Transportation Center, Philadelphia. Photo: Metro Magazine. From the article (link below):

Currently, there are 25 Get Healthy Philly markets across the city, including 10 that opened in the past 16 months. In addition to the Frankford Transportation Center site, SEPTA hosts a market at its Olney Transportation Center in North Philadelphia. And, all of the Get Healthy Philly markets are located near SEPTA train, trolley and bus stops.

In addition to the Food Trust markets, SEPTA leased land next to its 46th Street Market Frankford Line station in West Philadelphia to The Enterprise Center for the Walnut Hill Community Farm, a youth cooperative that farms the land and sells the produce at that station and at SEPTA’s Center City headquarters.

One of the things I've been wanting to write about is this general issue of transit and placemaking, but also about placemaking and transit in the DC area.

I am interested in this in a couple of different contexts. First, in terms of major entry points into the region, particularly Union Station and National and Dulles Airports, in terms of their position as gateways into the region and city and as a place at which tourism and transit information should be offered and distributed.

Second, at transit stations and key transfer points. I have been thinking about this in terms of the arcade idea for the walkway abutting New York Avenue Metro Station, something that I mentioned the other day--but I forgot to mention repositioning the entrance on M Street, closing it, and having the entry point be within the walkway-new arcade, and converting that space to retail/restaurant as well as a reason to draw people into the arcade--but also because WMATA doesn't appear to be too interested in placemaking, given their rejection of a proposal for a farmers market at the Naylor Road Metro Station ("Farmers' Market At Naylor Road Station" from DCist), and contrasting this to Philadelphia's SEPTA system, which embraces farmers markets and other activities at their stations ("From farm to table via public transit" from Metro Magazine).

Plus, Urban Land Magazine has a piece on a Metro North commuter railroad system initiative to improve the quality of services at rail stations, "Transit-Oriented Development: Starting at the Station."

Now one problem I have with "Transit Oriented Development" is that transit stations aren't always great places for "development," because it depends on the spatial context of the station and the demographics of the ridership. For stations in center cities and suburban town centers and campuses, TOD makes a lot of sense. For stations that serve less dense, less connected areas, where most people get to the station by car, TOD won't have the same kind of economic return that it has in denser locations.

But it turns out that the Transit Cooperative Research Program produced a report on Transit and Placemaking 14 years ago.

The report is very good, and was written by the Project for Public Spaces. I don't have time to write about the report in great detail, and it could stand to be updated, and from what I've read thus far, it doesn't discuss how to get transit systems to change their culture about placemaking in a systemic fashion, but it's a great read, with many case studies.

(It's also unclear that the Federal Transit Administration and other US Government agencies are fully committed to this approach, even with changes during the Obama Administration. Plus transit agencies are so underfunded that they think focusing on placemaking when they have to cut bus and rail service is somewhat frivolous.)

The revitalization effort associated with the creation of the Davis Square station in Somerville, Mass., Portland's transit mall and Pioneer Courthouse Square, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative improving the quality of bus stops in commercial districts, and the LANI project contrasted with activities concerning the Chicago Green Line are particularly good examples. Ironically, WMATA is listed in one case study as a best practice actor, in the placement of a child care center adjacent to the Shady Grove Metro Station.

One way to think about stations that are good TOD candidates is to determine whether or not they are good places for walking and biking, and of course, whether or not they are proximate to extant town centers, such as in Silver Spring or Bethesda or Rockville, or Wheaton or stations in Downtown DC and some of the neighborhoods like Eastern Market in Capitol Hill or Dupont Circle or Friendship Heights--not every station works right now on these factors, but each station is a good example for what works and what doesn't.

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