After a few weeks of sitting in Principles of Urban Planning and reading Levy’s book, I feel motivated to question why buildings, or any other urban areas for that matter, are shaped the way they’re shaped and why they are located where they are. Now I frequently find myself staring at buildings around New Brunswick (people probably think I’m off when they see me staring at buildings), walking down College Avenue for example, and asking myself how is it that a dorm, gym, church, frat house, sorority house, and school building can all be in one half mile stretch of road and look so different and on top of that all serve completely different purposes? There are conflicting building designs, not one unified design template, and it looks messy to me. It seems that the only things that these buildings have in common are the fact that they’re no more than a few floors in height and have supporting pillars or columns in the front of their houses. Who designed this zone? Did they plan it that way or have the hands of time shaped this small span of College Avenue to be most functional for us students and our pleasures?
Not only do the buildings themselves make me curious, but now the urban design process itself since it became relevant in our last reading. Levy states that there are four basic phases of the urban design process: Analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and implementation. With the banks of the Raritan River at our reach, I am almost certain that flood prevention was part of the analysis portion of designing our area. I lived in Hardenberg Hall the year Tropical Storm Irene flooded all of Route 18 and the surrounding roadways and homes. It was actually the week we moved in, and I couldn’t help but to make my way towards Route 18 with my friend to see firsthand how bad the flooding really was. IT WAS BAD. Where College Avenue Campus met the Raritan River looked like Bikini Bottom. We were using the highway dividers as sidewalks because the water was only a few inches below that.
The synthesis phase for example could deal with the conflict between pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and I ask myself if urban designers planned for such high volumes of cars, buses, and people moving throughout the campus in 1766 when Rutgers University was founded. The answer is probably no, since that was almost 250 years ago. However, throughout time it seems that necessary changes have been made to the area in order to serve those who frequent it (for example College Avenue was widened and repaved for improved traffic flow). The need for a University was most likely discussed during the evaluation process; does the new university solve any outstanding problems? How soon will these plans be implemented? It obviously was fitting and ultimately implemented, as we are still here today and continue to be an iconic and historic university.
As I said before, I did not like the messy look of the various buildings down College Avenue. Brower dining hall has a very industrial and square look and isn’t very eye catching, whereas the Church’s perpendicular steeple soars into the sky above, looking over its own clock and pillars. I’m sure Rutgers has evolved over time, and new buildings have erected over others that were removed. I also feel that we should limit how many freshmen we keep accepting to this university, because it keeps getting more and more packed in all these multi-family homes that are all over campus! But in all seriousness, there seems to be a lot of people packed into one small area (College Ave campus) and I doubt it was designed for this high volume of people and cars.
On the other hand, the College Ave campus can be quite captivating during the right time of year for a couple of reasons. Even with all of the multi-family homes and retail space and university buildings and hospitals, there are two parks very close to us. Buccleuch and Boyd Parks are beautiful in the summer, and I am very grateful that they were incorporated into the planning of New Brunswick. It’s a splendid sight to see such green acres of park in the middle of the city, and the parks play a critical role in the lives of the people of New Brunswick and serve a key purpose in breaking up the blocks and blocks of housing and retail space. I also like how functional College Avenue is for pedestrian travel. College Avenue has cross walks at almost every intersection and a low speed limit to protect pedestrians crossing. It is wide enough to allow cars, people, and most importantly buses. Easton Ave, only one street away, has almost no crosswalks from Buccleuch Park to Somerset Street. While College Ave has almost no retail space, Easton Ave has tons. And above the retail space are multi-family apartments for students usually. Its official, we are packed like sardines. Another interesting difference between the two Avenues is lighting. At night it is very easy to see your surroundings walking down College Ave, and you can almost always cross without worrying about traffic. It is the complete opposite on Easton Ave; Its pitch black, and from the inside of a car its dangerously difficult to see crossing pedestrians for that reason. The thousands of neon OPEN signs and storefronts don’t help either. Regardless of how close these two Avenues are, they seem to have been designed with two completely different purposes.