Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Brief Tour of Wilmington, N.C.'s Historic Water Street

Recently I enjoyed a short visit to the oldest section of Wilmington, NC: Water Street. Wilmington was founded in the 1730s and Water Street is the best remaining memory of the town's original pre-automobile and people-focused layout. 

Here is a portion of the architecturally-lovely Alton Lennon Federal Building at the corner of Water and Market. At this point, Water Street is about 20-25 feet wide, paved in brick, and quite pedestrian-friendly.

This picture was taken from where the riverfront boardwalk meets the sidewalk in a plaza-like space. The tree-lined street with the parked cars is Market. The public art is a couple of giant Venus flytraps, I think. The river itself is less than ninety feet away from that (gorgeous) blue building, to give an idea of how close to the water Water Street really is.

The brick part of the street narrows to about 13 feet as you walk southward. From what I saw, most cars tried to avoid this section of the street. The speed limit, I would guess, is about 10 mph. Walking in the middle of the street was quite comfortable with traffic being so limited, but most people stuck to the ample sidewalk space. The building to the left (built in 1857) is a popular restaurant.

Looking back to where we started. (I'm also just a huge fan of those two buildings!)

A bit further down the street.

By this point, the riverfront boardwalk is separated from Water Street by buildings. Most of the foot-traffic (i.e. tourists) stuck to the boardwalk. Very little car traffic...

...until this tour bus drove by (although "crawled by" would be more accurate.) Why someone would rather drive than walk down this street, I have no idea. Also, a neat little pocket park is to the right.

Overall, Water Street is easily the nicest-looking and most walkable section of Wilmington. It seemed a bit lacking in the people department (most stayed closer to the river) but I visited at noon on a weekday so maybe it gets hopping at nighttime. This street is definitely one of North Carolina's best.
Here is a map of the area (click to enlarge) from Google Earth with the approximate locations of where the pictures were taken. The distance from picture 1 to picture 6 is less than a quarter of a mile.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New Orleans has a radical new plan for managing floods

An intriguing plan for New Orleans and its flood problems. (Unfortunately, money is obviously going to be an issue.) Rather than attempting to stop the water's advancement, the plan would try to control the flood and use it to the city's advantage.

Here's a snippet of the article:
"...[U]nder the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, floodwaters would be corralled into areas that serve as parks during drier times. Rain gardens and bioswales would help the earth suck up more of the rain that falls on it. And water would be funneled into year-round canals and ponds that support wildlife, improve soil quality, and generally pretty up the place."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

2 American Alleyways Repurposed as Narrow Streets

Tight streets (or "Really Narrow Streets" as Nathan Lewis calls them) are KEY in any successful urban area from the smallest village to a Tokyo-size megalopolis. I would say they are the most important part of what makes a great city (a city for people, not cars). Unfortunately, American cities have a noticeable lack of them outside of places founded in the colonial era like Boston and New Orleans. However, there are numerous examples of American cities sprucing up their alleyways, and the finished result is very similar to a Really Narrow Street. Here are two of those examples.

1. Will Dodge Way, Ashland, Oregon

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Will Dodge Way runs on the backside of the streetwall of buildings on East Main Street in Ashland. The width between each side of the alley (building-to-building) varies from ~15-25 feet.

2. Pedestrian Alley, Holland, Michigan (photo by me)

Google Earth says that this charming spot is called "Pedestrian Alley." Kind of generic, but it does a good job of describing what I would call a narrow street. The alleyway runs between two of Holland's major downtown streets, Central and River, and behind buildings facing the always-popular 8th Street. Several businesses have entrances opening onto the alley. Most of the actual pedestrian traffic sticks to the 8th Street-facing side, though. The width of the pictured section of the alley is about ~16 feet.

Now of course an alley like this is just a tiny pedestrian oasis in what is still a car-focused town... but I thought it would be cool to point out a couple of people-sized spaces that have been developed recently.

Related links:
Here's a Curbed article on a similar plan in a fashionable neighbourhood of San Francisco.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Welcome to Apex Urbanism!

Welcome. My plan for this blog is not really structured- I'll post pictures, articles, etc. related to urbanism that I find interesting. Occasionally I will post original articles of my own about urbanity in my hometown and other places I encounter in my travels.

The kinds of topics that will be posted about on this blog include (but are not limited to):

Cities (this one should be pretty obvious.)
Walking as a means of transportation
Buildings & architecture
Traditional cities vs. modern cities