Successful urban design is characterized by seven qualities and characteristics as described by John Levy in Contemporary Urban Planning. They are: 1) unity and coherence, 2)minimum conflict between pedestrians and vehicles, 3)protection from rain, noise and wind, 4) easy orientation for users, 5) compatibility of land uses, availability of places to rest, 6) observe and meet and finally 7) creation of a sense of security and pleasantness (Levy 184). Built environments exhibiting all or most of these qualities gain the status of favorite spots to frequent by people.
One of my favorite built environments is The High Line in New York City, pictured to the left. It portrays coherence, easy orientation, no conflict, resting places and security. The quality I like most from this place is the minimum conflict between pedestrians and vehicles. New York City is always a very congested place no matter the time of day or time of year. Walking on the streets is tedious and sometimes dangerous, with bike messengers coming out of nowhere and crazy cars running red lights. The High Line provides a calm area above all the noise and traffic, where you can walk at your own pace and admire the buildings and sky above. There are several resting places when you want to take a break and gaze at the structure of the park itself. The old railroads that used to run through are kept in the design, leaving you to appreciate a mix of the old and new, the railroads being livened up by a wild array of plants.
Another one of my favorite places is a little closer to home, in Hoboken, New Jersey. The Pier C park which I affectionately call the Island Park is an extension of the beautiful Frank Sinatra park. This, like the High Line also exhibits qualities such as unity, easy orientation, places to rest, security, and minimum conflict. Its separation from the larger park and spot in the middle of the river give it a sense of adventure. When you want to be alone with your thoughts or just want a wide walkway to bike on on run, this place provides the perfect space. You are away from automobiles and there are so many little crevices and serene spots that you can claim as your own with no disturbances. It also has a good mix of land use, with a boardwalk for physical activity, a park for children, a fishing hole and a lookout point to get a clear view of the New York Skyline.
Where my favorite built environments exhibit most of these qualities, my lesser enjoyed spots lack them. One of them being Newark Avenue in Jersey City. Much like New York city, this street is heavily congested by people and automobiles alike. Newark Avenue is a mix of residential buildings and a majority of little shops selling various complementary items. With street parking available, the roads are very narrow and the sidewalks are even narrower. Only about three people could walk comfortably side by side on the sidewalk, not including the various boxes or items left outside stores to sit on the sidewalks. No matter how much I need to buy something, the thought of the crowded streets and the limited parking is always discouraging. There is also hardly any easy orientation. Because the sidewalks are so narrow, even seeing the names of stores becomes difficult. Since there are no resting places such as benches on the sidewalk, people usually crowd around street corners or parking meters and add to the foot traffic.
Another built environment that I dislike is my street in North Bergen, New Jersey pictured in the right. The weather this past weekend has added to the gloom. Personally, I don’t believe this street possess any of the urban design qualities. Firstly, there is usually a lot of conflict between pedestrians and cars on my street, since the road is a narrow two-way, street-parked cars usually park slightly on the curb to accommodate for the small space. This lessens the walking distance available for pedestrians. Since my street is a slight slant, the streets further down have a steeper slope, wind and rain usually hit full force. At night, there is no sense of security, my street isn’t well lit with street lamps and it is often deserted leaving a feeling of being watched when walking alone at night. The only meeting places available are street corners.
Looking from a distance, there is no unity in the design of the houses, suggesting they were built at different times or more recently remodeled. Some houses have panels, some have vinyl siding, while others have bricks. Some have steep staircases while others have a little front lawn and a few steps to the doorway. The only thing I do like about these residential areas is there proximity to public transportation. Transit oriented development was a big factor in the design of my town due to the closeness of New York City. My house is just five minutes away from a bus stop to New York and about fifteen minutes away from the Journal Square station which can take you to Hoboken and New York.