Thursday, June 5, 2014

Appalachian Urbanity? A Look at Boone (Part 1: The Campus)

I recently visited Boone, North Carolina. This will be the first in a short series of posts inspired by and/or about the town (considered by some the best in the state).

Boone is well known for its natural beauty and being the home of Appalachian State University. We will get to the rest of the town some other time, but today I'll be focused specifically on ASU and its campus layout.

Like many universities, Appalachian State is laid out in a format that is somewhat reminiscent of a traditional city. A cluster of buildings connected by narrow pathways surrounds a central open space. App State's central meeting area is known as Sanford Mall. Of course, being a fairly new campus, a lot of design features are influenced by mistakes that modern cities have made in the last century.

Here is what the campus looks like from above...

The main part of the campus is framed by Hardin Street on the east side, Rivers Street on the south and King Street (Boone's main street) on the north. These major roadways (marked in purple) are essentially barriers to foot traffic and are a pain to cross, so I used them as a border separating the main part of campus from the rest of App State and Boone. The area we are looking at is 0.5 mile by 0.3 mile in size. Durham Park is outlined in green, and building footprints are marked in red.

The most prominent difference between the campus and a true traditional city layout is the huge amount of "green space." No, I'm not talking about the beautiful geographic features the Boone area is blessed with... I'm talking about stuff like this:

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Pointless green space is everywhere. We're not talking about a park. We're sitting here talking about green space, not a park... "green space."
Of course, pointless green space like this is merely a symptom of a larger design mistake. Why do we need all this green space? The architecture of the campus is mammothly scaled, and unfriendly at human eye level. (It's kind of ugly, too.) Green space makes the scene at least a little more visually appealing to people walking around.

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The huge amount of green space needed to neutralise the massive buildings also hurts the walkability of the campus. Desire lines like this are all over the place:

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Don't get me wrong, App State has a pretty nice campus. But as a result of some of these mistakes in scale and basic layout, the area is much more spread out and walking-unfriendly than it needs to be. Appalachian State is (yet another) example of a centrally designed carfree place that unfortunately retains a variety of mistakes that originate in car-centric planning.

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