Posts Tagged ‘sutainable planning’

Late this morning I received word of a local gas leak that closed the only entrance to a local subdivision. Aside from the inconvenience to the residents of the neighborhood, there is also a school in the subdivision. The road closures that were the result of the gas leak also prevented school bus access to/from the school.

The subdivision in question was platted in the 1960’s and as was typical of the time only included a single point of access. Over the last ten years or so, the county has used a new urbanist model and required new subdivisions to have a second point of access, and even planned an interconnection to this development from a recently constructed project. The neighbors objected to the interconnection because it would “increase traffic” in their neighborhood. Had this connection been made, there never would have been a question as to whether the students would be able to get home this afternoon. They would have simply diverted the buses from the main entrance to the back way out.

As to concerns about increased traffic, with a second entrance, the number of vehicle trips past the houses fronting on the main entrance street would have gone down. Because of the location of the neighborhood, I don’t believe anyone would be using the connection as a shortcut, other than the residents of the newer development.

Assuming both developments are of the same size and type, the traffic differential ends up zeroing out. More importantly, emergency vehicle access and school bus access is maintained.


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The City ofCharlottesvillerecently held a design competition to explore better ways to replace theBelmontBridgespanning the former C&O Railroad tracks.  The railroad right-of-way is now owned by CSX Corporation and leased to the Buckingham Branch Railroad.  Rail traffic these days includes local Buckingham Branch freight trains, long distance CSX coal trains, and Amtrak. 

 The existing bridge is a highway department standard design, constructed in 1961-62.  In recent years, it has fallen into disrepair due to, in this writer’s opinion, not so benign neglect by city officials.

 So in the interest of maintaining the city’s award winning aesthetic, a design competition was held.  The winning entry was submitted by students at the University of Virginia School of Architecture.  The proposal is to not build a new bridge, but replace it with a grade crossing.

 Granted, such a design would have a small town feel, but the students seem to be missing the fact that once they graduate, they will eventually be licensed by theCommonwealthofVirginia, or some other state, to protect the general health, safety, and welfare.  Putting railroad, automobile, and pedestrian traffic into the same physical space is doing exactly the opposite.  It is also not a green solution to the problem.

 My reasoning is this:  If automobile traffic is sitting at the grade crossing waiting for a train to pass, most will sit there with idling engines.  When sitting still, all internal combustion engines get the same mileage: zero MPG.  While idling, they are spewing out greenhouse gases (presumably CO2).  The pedestrians who are forced to wait for the train will be exposed to both automobile exhaust and diesel exhaust from the trains.

 I would state further that the greenest option is to not replace the bridge, but to maintain the existing structure.  Granted, this will involve replacing most of the concrete from the deck up, but the structural steel and substructure are sound.  So instead of spending a few hundred thousand to renovate the existing structure, millions will be spent, as the grade crossing option will be a non-starter on the part of the railroad.

 So this is an indictment of the local political process as well as the architectural academic community.  Instead of turning out graduates who are prepared to practice, we seem to be producing young professionals that don’t understand their obligation to society.

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I recently took a walk through a local townhouse community and walked to the end of a cul-de-sac at the top of a hill.  The view from the end of the street was one of the better views inCharlottesville.  From that vantage point, one can see several miles of the blue Ridge, as well as most everything in between.

 After admiring the view, I turned to return in the direction from which I had come.  I was most disappointed that the end unit in the townhouse block had only one small window facing the view, presumably in a dining room.  The rest of the end elevation was a massive blank wall.  When the residents of the end unit are inside, they cannot enjoy the view unless they are in one particular spot within the unit.

 This is a classic case of a developer putting up the cheapest thing he/she could, ignoring the context into which the unit was placed.  For a few hundred dollars, there could have been several windows in that west wall.

 A little more care on the part of the developer could have resulted in a clubhouse placed on this site, so that all of the resdents of the community could have enjoyed the spectacular view.  An investment in an amenity such as this would have raised the appraisals of every unit on the site, increasing the gross profit on each unit sold.

 So a tremendous opportunity was missed.

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As I sit here beside the Cowpasture River listening to the rapids and tree frogs, I can’t help but be reminded why I endeavor to practice green architecture.

 I have always considered myself a conservationist, even if I don’t look like one at first glance.  Recognizing that the earth is a finite system and our resources (including open space) are finite, it is my goal to leave the world better than I found it and to bestow a legacy to my children where they can experience the same joys in life I have.  Among other things, this would include being able to stand quietly and contemplate the rapids or to ride through them in a canoe or innertube.

 By practicing good planning; small lots, small footprints, keeping development within reasonable urban boundaries, we will preserve the open spaces.  By making the best possible use of materials we can build utilizing fewer trees.  This has a twofold effect.  First is that the countryside can stay forested longer.  Secondly, the trees improve the quality of the air we breathe.

 I could go on with the litany of things we can easily do to make our buildings and cities greener, but most of us are pretty well immersed in greenness these days.  Suffice it to say, it is up to us to be good stewards of what we have, and what we have is a small, green planet which provides a habitat for all of us.

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