Can you use math to create great urbanism?
August 20, 2015
August 20, 2015
The key to people-oriented places is contained within the geometry of a simple right triangle
If there is one important technique to understand when it comes to great urbanism, it’s the golden triangle. This strategy, when properly configured, cuts across all cultures and architectural styles. It’s easy to define, simple to construct, and operationally intuitive. Yet, why does this basic principle get violated time and time again?
I believe it starts with a patent misunderstanding of what walkable urbanism truly means. Most people assume that a great street must be constructed using gold-plated design—all brick sidewalks, antique-finished street lights, glossy wayfinding, and these days, integrated bio-retention areas. Cities and business districts spend millions of dollars on such improvements in the hopes of attracting investment back to an area. And yet, far too often, efforts seem lopsided—too much public investment with little to no commitment from the private sector. Quid pro quo is critical to revitalizing business districts, and getting it right from the beginning is equally important in new village centers.
The golden triangle (not to be confused with the anti-pedestrian sight distance triangle appropriated for automobile safety) is the intersection of where the public and private realms meet. Very simply, the golden triangles’ height consists of the fronting building facade—typically the first story and a half—and its integral use(s). The base ties together the public realm including the width of the sidewalk; pedestrian amenities (seating and streetscaping); bicycle amenities such as bike parking and travel ways; and on-street parking.
So what can we do to focus on the golden triangle and create a great urban space? Fortunately, keeping just four key elements in mind can help.
Building height above the first story, and the residents and/or employees that come with it, can be an asset for the success of great urban areas—but it isn’t critical. In my town, for example (Davidson, NC) many buildings are only one story-and yet, it has one of the best small town main streets in the state, including a Walk Score of 67.
It should come as no surprise that places with great urbanism are locations of choice for employers and retailers alike. Living in or near great urbanism increases a home’s “Walk Score," a ranking that scores homes and neighborhoods according to their access to public transit, better commutes, and proximity to other people and active places. Higher Walk Scores have been positively correlated with increased home values because walkability directly translates to happier, healthier, more sustainable lifestyles .
In addition, Smart Growth America, in partnership with Cushman & Wakefield and the George Washington University School of Business’ Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, documented strong preferences by both small and large employers to be in or near these vibrant, walkable places. State Farms’ consolidation of their regional headquarters in Atlanta, Phoenix, and Dallas—from suburban locations into walkable urban places—further punctuates this point.
Whether it’s New York City, Rome, London, Barcelona, Boston, Austin, or even little Davidson, NC, walkable urban places are leading the economy. And, the key ingredient to their success as people-oriented places is all contained within the geometry of a simple right triangle.
 As defined from the WalkScore.com website.