Red Bank, along the Navesink River in Monmouth County and minutes from the beach is a bustling town with numerous little shops, diverse restaurants and two excellent theaters. Walking down the main street of the central business district, you can pass by a fair trade store, a vegan café, a pottery-making studio and an Urban Outfitters. I’ve lived in the area for nearly ten years, and the town always has something to offer, from street musicians to sidewalk sales to holiday festivals all with a small-town charm. Red Bank has many features of good urban design in its parks and buildings along the main streets, but also possesses elements like parking lots and immense office buildings that highlight some less well-planned design elements of the town.
The parks in Red Bank are some of the most enjoyable parts of the town. The most popular is Riverside Gardens Park, situated between the main street of the town and the river. With a terraced landscape and great views, the park is where many people go to relax, and during the summer months, there are movie nights and concerts every Thursday. Contemporary Urban Planning by John M. Levy notes the presence of public plazas as a good feature of urban design, and while not exactly a plaza, the park, as a completely open space, offers an area for people to sit and eat lunch or just meander through, contributing to the “unity and coherence” of the town.
On the other hand, a design element that contrasts with this more pedestrian-friendly layout is emblematized by the large parking lots, absence of adequate bike racks and complete lack of bicycle lanes. During different points of the day the automobile traffic on the street gets particularly congested, and despite having a few fairly large parking lots, these always get filled up during the day and on weekend nights. Following a more neotraditionalist vein, specifically along the lines of Andres Duany, I think the design should be more focused on walking and bicycling, especially given the walkability of the downtown area. More bike paths would alleviate the traffic, especially during the summer when the streets are packed with beachgoers.
A second feature of good urban design is more aesthetic, pertaining to the facades and streetscape of the main downtown streets. The buildings that predominate are much older, tending to be brick and fairly short and narrow. Instead of tearing down older buildings and putting up newer ones that could disrupt the distribution of sunlight, for example, businesses have modified their stores to the existing storefronts of the past.
However, at the same time, just past the downtown area extremely large, ungainly office buildings are being built. Even more, very few offices in these buildings are occupied, making them an enormous waste of space. The areas could be used for more parks or community facilities, but instead are being given to developers to construct more exclusive spaces that the public cannot enjoy. Though for now the downtown area is safe from extensive development, these offices are quickly encroaching on public space.
Overall, however, Red Bank’s location, commercial activity and entertainment make the town a great place to live and a fun site to visit. It’s not the 3rd best small town in the country for nothing!