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Martin Laplante

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Thu, 28 Jun 2007

Walkable Lowrise Development for Downtown Columbus

Downtown Columbus, Ohio, is being transformed into an intentionally eclectic residential neighbourhood that covers 9 city blocks. Built principally of townhouses and lowrise apartment buildings, this new neighbourhood with tree-lined steets is going in amidst the office highrises and entire blocks of surface parking.

Eric Fredericks of Walkable Neighborhoods calls it disappointing. He thinks it is too low-rise for downtown. I call it inspired and necessary.

If you build larger-scale condos within walking distance of downtown and easy access to transit, the area will become a socially stunted community, with only a small range of demographic groups. And that range will not include those who would consume a great deal more land and transportation if they were elsewhere. Building bigger near downtown creates more sprawl.

Typically, the high-density areas that work well at supporting all generations and at reducing the city's total ecological footprint were built a hundred years ago or more. What I like about this development is that they are building it with some variety, as though it was built gradually over the course of decades. It's got some porte-cocheres and inner courtyards, something that was done in the 19th century to let the coaches through and to bring in the horses. It's got some buildings that look like converted industrial and institutional buildings. Who knows, they may actually be occupied by industrial or institutional tenants, but more likely they will be residential. The apartments look like walkups, I see no obvious signs of elevators in the mock-up. And it achieves all that without looking too much like make-believe heritage. I guess the fact of mixing Victorian, Edwardian, (do americans name architectural styles after the reigning British monarchs?) and Art Nouveau style buildings side by side they make it look like it grew naturally.

There is a wonderful virtual walking tour that shows one streetscape. As you go through it, you will be reminded of several cities. This bit looks like Plateau Mont-Royal in Montreal, that bit like a bit of old Toronto, here's a snippet of Philadelphia, there's that really nice old building from Chicago. Columbus? You're sure it's Columbus, Ohio, not another one? That's not how I pictured it.


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