Walkable Urbanism

Posted: November 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

We’ll continue with more awesomeness after the holidays. In the meantime, enjoy the following graphic from Custom Made:


This almost didn’t happen, but luck would have it, I had some time to drive around Deadwood while the little man napped in his car seat.

My observations:
First impression of course was that it was a lot like Cripple Creek, Colorado. A lot of old historic building transformed into casinos. The first pass through on the highway left a lot to be desired as the highway bisected the town to move cars faster, turning the butt end of many building to the road.
The canyon effect was as expected, however Deadwood is graced with having a relatively flat Main Street in contrast to Cripple Creek which boasts many unnavigable hills by foot (at least for the demographic frequenting the casinos). Flat = Big Plus for retail as discussed in the blog post: Slope and How it Affects Walk Appeal
The old vs new architecture was very evident, although Deadwood has attempted with seemingly codes and guidelines to fit new architecture with the old, the execution of the details was not there.
The brick streets were a nice touch, as was the absence of paint on the brick, however the width if the street was still too wide, especially considering on-street parking is prohibited with many, many signs.
The town was also broken up, divided by the highway, in what appeared to be the tourism side and the resident side. Although the resident side had some nice old houses and brick streets, there really wasn’t anything special about it. It seemed that the tax proceeds went straight back to the tourism side, which makes sense in most related tax districts.









“Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

This of course is one of the quotes that is credited to Yogi Berra. The quote is an oxymoron, however it is repeated on a regular basis in a variety of manners. Probably the way that is most often stated in Colorado Springs is as follows:

“Downtown is dying, nobody goes there because you can’t find a place to park.”

Have you made this statement before? It’s okay, I won’t call anybody out, but chances are, this has been stated by you, or at a minimum, to you. This statement is a fallacy unless you are talking about a place that literally does not have any parking (I’m not sure that a place like this exists in the United States). I hear it in Downtown Colorado Springs often. Yes, there are places to park. Downtown has on-street parking on the majority of its downtown streets. It also boasts a large quantity of parking structures.

The issue is a fundamental one, people (in particular, those who live in the suburban portions of cities) are accustomed to parking in front of the place that they would like to visit AND, they are used to parking for free. Although parking is abundant most of the time in Downtown Colorado Springs, it is not the parking on street right in front of the business that is desired. I would challenge you that at any given time, aside from before and during a major event in Downtown Colorado Springs, you will find a parking place either on the street or in a parking structure within a five-minute walk from your destination. It could easily take you five or more minutes to park and walk to an interior store in a mall for some perspective.

For the skeptics, I offer the following as a means of mitigating the “parking problem”. For the non-Colorado Springs readers, many of the same points probably apply to your city, but hopefully your city already figured it out:

Not all parking spaces are created equally. Some have a much higher level of turn-around and demand. Generally, these are parking spaces that are on the street, near a hub of restaurants, or retail shops. In Downtown Colorado Springs, they are the on-street parking spaces along Tejon Street between Colorado Avenue and Platte Avenue. Cars are often seen circulating for the perfect parking space where the destination is visible. Increase the price of these parking meters, consumers will still pay for the convenience. Contrary, offer those parking spaces that are less desirable, i.e. upper decks of a parking structure, for a lower price, or better yet, Free with a time limitation.

Parking structures (which are less desirable than on-street parking in Colorado Springs) charge for evening hour parking when the surface parking spaces are free. This makes no sense at all, it is the perfect example of an imbalance of supply and demand.

  • Increase the time that parking meters need to be observed from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm within two blocks of primary retail and restaurants. The issue with the 9:00 – 6:00 time, is that the employees of the restaurants and retail shops take the on-street parking spaces after the point of the meter observation because the parking structures otherwise charge for parking at these times.
  • Retrofit all parking spaces to accept debit/credit cards. This includes adding a debit/credit machine at the entrance of a parking structure. Perhaps this alleviates the need for a paid employee at the exit of the parking structures? Generally speaking, people don’t carry cash or coins, but most have a debit/credit card.
  • Market the changes that are made so that the residents are aware that changes are being made to make parking easier downtown. Public Service Announcements are effective in getting the word out during newscasts.
  • If evenings and Sundays are to have free on-street parking downtown, extend this to the parking structures as well. Parking in spaces with less demand should be the same or lower price to spaces on the street with high demand.

My last recommendations have a more global consideration, but with the same goal in mind:

  • Increase the amount of bicycle parking spaces and the necessary infrastructure to get the bicycles there. In Colorado Springs, where many of our cyclists are Lycra-clad with expensive bicycles, a public/private bicycle valet may be a consideration, as would a membership service that offers showers/lockers.
  • Modify the design of the street with 60-degree parking spaces in lieu of 45-degree parking spaces. We have considerable lane widths throughout downtown, and by increasing the parking angle, decreasing the drive lane, additional parking spaces will be gained.
  • Improve transit with more frequent transit options. BRT, or Bus-Rapid Transit, should be an obvious transit solution between major hubs of Downtown Colorado Springs, the Citadel Mall, Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs, Pikes Peak Community College and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Everyone likes a great park. Parks, like the remainder of the built environment, range by how they are experienced and how they function. The classification of parks has been something that I have been thinking about over the past few years, and especially over this long drought of blog posts that I have had (sorry friends).

In the same spirit of previous blog posts, I choose to use the Center for Applied Transect Studies methodology of classifying parks-that is to organize the parks over the rural-to-urban transect. I have heard the argument that a park is very low in density, therefore it must always be classified as T-1, or most rural–False! As an urbanist, I am very passionate about our walkable, urban environments. A large factor of the most successful urban environments is the park and its interface with the adjacent framework. And it is due to that, that when I see an urban park treated with similar materials to that of a very rural park, (plant material, paving, groundcover treatment, lighting, etc.) that I feel compelled to write this post. Without further ado, the following is a basic classification of parks and how they begin to fit contextually with the built environment.

The Rural to Urban Transect, as illustrated by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

T-1 (Natural Zone)

The natural zone is probably the easiest to define when it comes to parks, or are they? They are the areas that are the least impacted by man, however they may have man-made components. Most often, if it is called a “Park”, it probably does not fit within this portion of the transect. I will use an example from the town of my alma mater, Manhattan, Kansas. The Konza Prairie is a beautiful treasure for the State of Kansas that allows the public to understand the environment and history of the place. It features a trail system winding through the native prairie grasses providing a great example of how the vegetation functions in their micro-climates of the prairie. Examples of the Natural Zone are less known due to the nature of the areas. They are not necessarily advertised for tourism and are intended to be as natural as possible.

Paths and Features: Paths should be as non-intrusive as possible. They should be narrow, and require as little compaction or detriment of the natural environment as physically possible. The goal should be too simply guide visitors on a path to limit their impact on the natural environment. The paths should be a gravel or crusher fines, with native material. Other man-made features such as way-finding signage, benches, and waste receptacles to provide usage for the public so that the natural quality is not jeopardized. Parking is occasionally found in the natural “parks”, however it should be a gravel material or something that minimizes the impact on the natural ecosystem.

Plantings: The ideal scenario for plantings in any natural area should be to not add any plantings, however when mitigation due to human impact is necessary, a native seed mix shall be implemented with an initial maintenance period.

The Konza Prairie. Photograph courtesy of Scott Haefner Photography: scotthaefner.com.

T-2 (Rural Zone)

When it comes to parks, the rural zone generally consists of the areas where people are encouraged to visit through tourism efforts or as a means to escape the more urban environments. Such places include State and National Parks where the natural beauty is celebrated and the natural environment is almost treated in a similar way to animals in a zoo. These places are meant to be experienced from the man-made defined paths and seating areas. Some examples in the region include Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Chimney Rock in Western Nebraska.

Paths and Features: Similar to T-1, paths often attempt to minimize their impact on the natural beauty of the place. They may be gravel, crusher-fines, or concrete depending on the intensity of use. Often times, features such as pavilions, benches, and observation structures also exist in the Rural Zone. Parking lots are often found within or near Rural Parks as most visitors will travel via automobile.

Plantings: Plantings shall be limited to a native plant selection to the area and should blend and compliment the natural character of the place. On occasion, areas of non-native turfgrass may be utilized to accommodate foot traffic in the areas for maintenance reasons.

Chimney Rock, Western Nebraska

T-3 (Sub-urban Zone)

Jefferson Park in Denver, is under transformation from a T-3 Zone to a T-4 Zone as the adjacent neighborhood evolves.

The sub-urban (as opposed to the often confused “suburban”) zone includes what is probably the most common type of park. Parks in this zone include neighborhood parks and almost always include a playground component. These parks have probably the highest level of dynamism of all the types of parks. They begin to morph and change how they function as the neighborhood ages. Sometimes, they mature into parks more reminiscent of T-4 and T-5 at rate equal to the development around them. Examples of this evolution are found in and around the city core, or former streetcar suburbs. Examples can be found in the Denver area as development in the Lower Highlands progress. One such example is Jefferson Park in Denver, which was adjacent to a Better Block Project organized by Walk Denver in 2012, as a means to bring attention to the evolving neighborhood.

Paths and Features: Sub-urban parks will often include concrete or asphalt paving with comfortable widths of at least 5-feet. Playgrounds, pavilions, kiosks, signage and other features are common in such parks. Typically, sub-urban parks are meant for the ped-shed (adjacent area easily walkable) and therefore do not include off-street parking spaces.

Plantings: Plantings for sub-urban parks should include trees for shade purposes, as well as a turfgrass that can withstand pedestrian traffic and use. Planting beds are also often associated with a mix of plants that are either native or adaptable to the area without additional water needs.

T-4 (General Urban Zone)

Stolley Park in Grand Island, Nebraska previously featured a zoo, and today features a large community-constructed playground and circular train features for kids and adults.

Parks found within the General Urban Zone are often a part of the City, County, or local jurisdiction’s maintenance program. Often times, such parks are larger parks meant to have a visitor radius of approximately 5-miles. Such parks are a refuge from the more dense areas and are often programmed for play, walking, and athletics such as basketball, soccer, or baseball. Stolley Park, in my hometown of Grand Island, Nebraska, is an example of a T-4 Park.

Paths and Features: Similar to the parks on found in T-3, parks in the T-4 zone include paved sidewalks, however they are typically a minimum of 6-feet in width. The use of such parks is higher due to a more regional attraction area. Playground, and parking lots are almost always included, potentially in multiple locations, and on occasion. Occasionally, parks in the General Urban Zone will also include a complimentary city-wide attraction such as a zoo, museum, gymnasium, or indoor swimming pool.

Plantings: Plantings in the T-4 zone are very similar to that of the T-3 zone. The exception to this rule, is the potential addition of an artificial field-turf for athletic use.

T-5 (Urban Center Zone)

An Urban Center Park, not to be confused with an Urban Core Park, is the point where mistakes are often made in the design of the park. Parks in the Urban Center have a different use than parks in the T-4, or T-3. Such parks are often no greater in size than a city block and are often programmed for the more casual visitor. Uses in Urban Center Parks are very similar to those in the Urban Core Zone and the primary difference is the contextual concentration of people and commerce. Passive uses such as a refuge for a phone call, lunch, or nap are common in the Urban Center Park.

Such parks are encompassed by urban retail, offices and often residential. Active uses include farmer’s markets, events, concerts, or seasonal activities such as ice skating or play in a fountain. Examples of Urban Center Parks are found in most cities, however one of my favorite examples is Bryant Park in New York City. Although, this park is located in a much higher density than any other park in this category in the United States, it is a jewel of the parks with a design that encourages adaptation to the park over time while maintaining the elegant framework of the urban center.

Paths and Features: Paths are often concrete with a width capable of allowing two couples walking side by side to comfortably meet each other on a sidewalk. The celebration of shade and water are common features through pavilions and  pop-up jets. A band shell is also common feature and on occasion a location for a pop-up seasonal shop is also accommodated.

Plantings: Trees, sometimes in tree grates, are a necessity for an Urban Center refuge. Turfgrass may be utilized, however it’s use is mostly passive for picnics, sitting, etc. rather than as an active use. Organic mulch is too often included in such parks, however a groundcover or gravel mulch is better utilized due to the amount of foot traffic that occurs or is desired in such parks.

Bryant Park, adjacent to the New York Public Library, is the crown jewel of urban parks in the United States. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org

T-6 (Urban Core Zone)

The Urban Core Park often leaves an impression on the City as a whole. It is the sense of relief in the most dense portion of the City. Similar to the other transect classifications, T-6 is not always present in Cities. The level of activity of an Urban Core Park is both passive and active similar to what was described for the Urban Center Parks. Concerts and other events are common place in the Urban Core Park. Urban Core Parks are often no greater than a City block, and on occasion, very small occupying a small portion of a block, such as Paley Park in New York City. Paley Park is probably the minority of Urban Core Parks, however it is worth noting. “The Plaza” in Santa Fe is a wonderful example of an Urban Core Park and is highly utilized by the city’s residents and tourists.

Paths and Features: Often times, the hardscape, or paved areas, of an Urban Core Park are the predominant feature of the park. This is due to the high use of the parks, presence of dining tables, benches and other programmed amenities to the park that require a resilient surface. Similar to the Urban Center Park, the celebration of shade and water are almost always present. Street vendors and a high concentration of well-maintained landscape are very common to the Urban Core Park.

Plantings: Trees are a very common feature, although located in tree grates or conditions where very little room for post-installation compaction occurs. Other plantings may be vertical or highly concentrated capitalizing on every place possible to incorporate vegetation for our biophilic senses. Flowers are often planted seasonally in pots in a very high density and plantings are very well-manicured.

The Plaza in Santa Fe is often considered as the core of the City. When the Urban Core Park is active and well-maintained, it leaves a wonderful impression on the City as a whole.

SD (Special District)

Every park has its context and how it fits into its larger ecosystem and community and the rules from all tiers of the transect are translatable to the Special District. After moving through the parks on the Rural-to-Urban transect, you may have thought about a few other types of parks that were not included, or may not have a place that they seemingly fit. The Special District category is where they begin to fit. These include parks such as baseball and athletic complexes, zoos, botanical gardens, etc. Each have their own set of needs based on the hierarchical programming.

I truly hope that this is educational, or really helps put into words some of your personal feelings on the categorization of parks. The intention is that it be used as a basis of a larger parks discussion for your community. Please share in the comments below some of your favorites and where you feel that they fit into the transect.

I hope to see you at Rocky Mountain Green, April 17-18, 2014 in Denver!

I will be co-presenting with Conor Merrigan of C2 SustainabilityCliff Lind of Otak, and Steven Chester with the City of Denver:

Cutting Edge Community Sustainability; LEED-ND to Tactical Urbanism and Beyond

Be prepared, this rapid fire presentation will showcase the best cutting edge practices of sustainable planning and implementation, from experiential (and experimental) planning to LEED-ND as code, from “Cool” climate specific planning practices to Tactical Urbanism; ideas will be sown for immediate percolation.

You can find Conor, Steven and I on Twitter here:


I would like to draw your attention to a few upcoming events that you may or may not be aware of. Hope to see you at some, if not all of them. Have a great month!

[FINAL]chili-flyer-color copyFlood Relief Fundraiser!, 10.18.13

Curbside Cuisine will be hosting a Fundraiser for the Flood Relief in the Manitou Springs/Colorado Springs region THIS Friday. It will also be a Chili Cook-Off with all proceeds going toward the Relief Fund. Yes, the Food Trucks will be open at that time.

More info on the Facebook Page Here: https://www.facebook.com/events/531622270241493/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming&source=1

Breakfast with the Mayor, 10.23.13

The Downtown Partnership is hosting “Breakfast with the Mayor” on Wednesday, October 23 in Downtown Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs Urban Intervention has reserved a table at this not-to-be-missed annual event. http://www.downtown80903.com/

Rocky Mountain Young Professionals Summit, 10.24.13 – 10.26.13

I do not know enough about this event to give you an educated synopsis, but information is available here: http://rockymountainypsummit.com/ . I am planning to attend, however have not yet registered. It should be a great event from the what I have seen. Perhaps, I will see you there?

Colorado Sustainability Conference, 10.31.13 – 11.01.13

The Colorado Sustainability Conference is always a great event for a very reasonable price. This year, my good friend Nick Kittle, will also be the Master of Ceremonies for the Conference, so good humor with a slight edge will be in play. On another note, I will also be presenting at the conference with friends and colleagues, Mark Tremmel and Larry Gilland.

October 31st and November 1st; Hotel Elegante, Colorado Springs, CO.  Purchase your tickets here: www.catamountinstitute.org Facebook Event Info Here: https://www.facebook.com/events/431152976995782/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming

In the meantime, keep up with the Twitter, Facebook, and as of recently Pinterest. I have really come to like Pinterest, as it has become the landing space for ideas and imagery lately. Have a great month!

Recently I was honored to have been asked to provide a rendering for Bancroft Park as a visual aid to raise money for the improvements to the park. It was used for the Taste of OCC in April, 2013 and again this past weekend for the first “Harvest in the Park” event.
As we all have come to learn over time, whenever you propose change in a loved neighborhood, such as Old Colorado City, the pundits will surface. I have been let aware that at least one pundit decided to write a letter of dissatisfaction to one element of the rendering to the Mayor of Colorado Springs. So, in the spirit of saving the Mayor some stress, grief and time, I offer the Mayor my own open letter:

Mayor Bach,
I would like to start by publicly thanking you for your dedication to our urban environment in this open letter. In particular, your dedication to Downtown Colorado Springs has been appreciated. Your acknowledgement of downtown as the heart of the City is exactly right. I would also like to state something that I believe that you and I also agree upon – that is that if Downtown is the heart, Old Colorado City and Colorado Avenue between Manitou Springs and Downtown is the vertebrate, or back bone. It is an absolutely wonderful area full of charm and history. It is one of the few facades in the City where tourists visit and remember as “Colorado Springs”. Some tourists even think of it as downtown with its historic character. We can further capitalize on this with improvements.

This past winter, the Old Colorado City Foundation Board asked me to provide a rendering for their fundraising event, The Taste of the OCC. I happily agreed to provide this for them pro bono (Images available on the blog at urbanlandscapes.info).

BancroftPark-MasterImage (640x311)

BancroftPark-Entry (640x282)

BancroftPark-Plaza1 (640x282)

The design was not intended to be “the plan,” but something to foster excitement and discussion for the benefit of the park and Old Colorado City. The renderings have been well received and of course have been accompanied by similar discussions that we have had regarding Acacia Park (crime, vagrancy, etc.).
One item that has drawn more discussion than what is necessary for a plan that has not yet had community input is the discussion of “The Cabin”, as it is affectionately known. “The cabin” is a historic building that has had multiple homes over time.

Anyway, the creative license in the design that we took, perhaps too many, liberties with, was to move the cabin to another location in Old Colorado City, perhaps remaining in the park where the symmetry could be better balanced. Ideally, it would move to its actual historic location, which was not believed to be in the park. The reason for doing this was to maintain the historic integrity of the park before the cabin was moved back to Colorado Springs from Denver (the dates are unknown to me, but there is a graphic that illustrates the timeline in the Old Colorado City History Center Museum). The park was originally laid out in a formal, or symmetrical, town square design, as is evident by the configuration of the walks, trees and other buildings. We also felt it was important to open up the visibility into the park from this critical corner.

The justification of our creative license on this though is moot, because as I previously stated, this is not intended to be “the plan.” An element of a city as significant as a Town Square is not something to be taken lightly. It requires public/neighborhood input and engagement. I desire the future location of the cabin to be where the citizens want it, which is to be determined in public meetings. If that is in the park at its current location, I will be supportive of it there. I believe that a public process would be the intention of the Old Colorado City Foundation and City Parks Department as well.

I sincerely hope that this is helpful in understanding the current buzz on Bancroft Park. I am always happy to discuss in greater detail with yourself or others who may read this.

Discourse is a healthy component of community progress. As a designer who is passionate about cities, I enjoy a good conversation on a city’s functionality.


John W. Olson, Registered Landscape Architect