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Martin Laplante

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Fri, 13 Apr 2007

18th Century Planning is Still the State of the Art

It was an interesting and sobering realization by planners in the area of Washington DC. Of all the areas built over the years and designed to maximize the building intensity and density, the one that best delivers the goods is downtown Washington DC, despite (but really because of) the grid layout of streets, the severe height restrictions which locks height to the width of the street and preserves heritage buildings and character. Not to mention the huge parks, museums, and monuments just taking up space.

This article on the urban development intensities, by the Director of Arlington Economic Development, expresses surprise that even Tyson's Corners, a no-holds-barred high-rise area in Arlington county across the Potomac, intended to maximize intensity, has only one quarter of the job and population density of old downtown DC.

The article also says that the 18th century street grid has no trouble handling 21st century traffic levels. This is where DC cheats. Another thing that DC does right is to have good public transit and very little parking.

This should not be a surprise. 18th/19th century street grids and height restrictions, plus transit, are features of most high-density areas, including Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, and Plateau Mont-Royal in Montreal. They also look good. No matter the theory, high rises and hierarchical curvilinear streets don't come close.

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