Developments promoting ‘destination walking’ touted

In step with new urbanism

Walking along a bike or recreational path is fine, but City Commissioner Sue Hack is betting a lot of people would rather walk a sidewalk leading to a nice store or restaurant.

If the city adopts a new set of codes that allow New Urbanism style developments, more people will have the chance, Hack told a crowd Monday at the Lawrence Rotary Club meeting.

“We have a lot of opportunity for recreational walking in this town, but we don’t have that much opportunity for destination walking,” Hack said. “We need more of that.”

Hack and Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commissioner Marguerite Ermeling conducted what they hope are the first of many public presentations to educate civic groups and others about New Urbanism. Hack said she hopes city commissioners will consider hiring a consultant within the next month to help the city write new codes that would allow New Urbanism projects.

Joe Patterson, Lawrence, rakes leaves in front of his mother-in-law's rental house at 612 W. Seventh St. Old West Lawrence is a good example of a neighborhood with destination sidewalks, a key ingredient in New Urbanism.

Hack told the crowd that New Urbanism, more than anything else, is about walking. Neighborhoods are designed in a way that walking is not only made easy, but that residents have something nearby to walk to. That means neighborhoods often have small commercial areas and a mix of uses. That could mean apartments are located above retail stores and three- to four-unit multi-family residential buildings can be located next door to traditional single-family homes. That type of mixing currently is discouraged in the city’s codes.

The developments often use strict design guidelines that make all the different uses feel compatible. Streets also are usually built on an old-style grid system instead of using cul-de-sacs that create a myriad of dead-ends and allow motorists only one or two ways in and out of a neighborhood.

Hack pointed to downtown and Old West Lawrence as areas that have strong New Urbanism characteristics. Hack said she expects downtown to take on even more of a New Urbanism feel as the Lawrence Public Library is rebuilt. Officials with the library board announced last week that they were seeking ideas for public-private partnerships related to the library development.

“I’m very hopeful the library project will be the catalyst that will bring more mixed uses and New Urbanism type of projects to Vermont Street,” Hack said. “I think it will be something that brings more residents to downtown.”

The development community is approaching New Urbanism with an open mind, said Marilyn Bittenbender, an executive with the commercial real estate firm of Grubb & Ellis/The Winbury Group. She said developers were pleased that the city was not discussing making New Urbanism development mandatory, but rather an option. She said she thought it was an option some developers would choose, in part because they had seen downtown’s Hobbs Taylor Loft projects embraced by buyers.

“I think that shows that people are willing to consider a different lifestyle,” Bittenbender said of the New Urbanism project at Eighth and New Hampshire streets. “We just really haven’t had the choices before. Choices are always good.”

More views

The Lawrence Rotary Club will host two more speakers this month who will discuss the issue of New Urbanism. Lawrence architect Michael Treanor will discuss his New Urbanism efforts at 12:30 p.m. on Monday at the Hereford House, Sixth and Massachusetts streets. Lawrence builder and developer Bo Harris will speak about the subject at 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 28 at the Hereford House. The Rotary is allowing members of the public to attend both presentations.

But Bittenbender said the city could have to consider offering some incentives to spur as many New Urbanism projects as commissioners may want. She said the projects could be more expensive than traditional developments.

Ermeling said New Urbanism proponents also would have to convince the public that the density of a New Urbanism neighborhood didn’t mean that residents would be packed like sardines in a can. New Urbanism neighborhoods can have upwards of 15 living units per acre. That’s compared to about five living units for a traditional suburban style neighborhood.

“We have to convince people that ‘density’ isn’t a bad word,” Ermeling said.

Hack and Ermeling are seeking invitations from other civic groups interested in hearing a presentation on New Urbanism. Hack can be reached at 842-6608.

The Rotary Club will have two more speakers this month about New Urbanism. Lawrence architect Michael Treanor will speak on Monday and Lawrence developer Bo Harris will speak on Nov. 28. Both presentations will begin at 12:30 p.m. at the Hereford House, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.