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GRDadof3

Bad suburban and urban design

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I thought I had started a discussion about this somewhere else, but can't find it. I had the unfortunate pleasure of having to drive the East Beltline today in Christmas shopping traffic <_< and noticed a new office building at Lake Drive and the East Beltline. This is yet another example of a building not knowing it's head from it arse on the East Beltline. Why do developers and designers insist on putting the backside of the buildings facing the East Beltline?!! I'm talking utility boxes, dumpsters, service garages, everything that is supposed to be unseen.

Here is the building, in a new complex called "Lakeland Hills". I remember reading about this development when it was proposed, and it was supposed to be a "green" office building, "in harmony with the natural site" that it sits on. Well they tore every tree off the site except three of them near the corner. :wacko:

Here's a rendering of the building. You'll have to drive by it and see what I mean, as I didn't have my camera on me.

2112722465_c35ce7f8cf_o.jpg

(most of the greenery in the image is gone now)

Here's another one recently built. It actually looks like GVSU's downtown campus. It's a mere feet away from O'Charleys, yet clashes so violently in style that it looks like the two buildings' developers were mad at each other :rofl: :

2113517164_066d895602_o.jpg

(This actually has retail bays on the main floor, that you can just barely see as you drive by (no tenants yet))

Some other recent examples:

) The new office building on the East Beltline near Smoky Bones (Knapp's Corner Meijer area) that the front is in the back, and the back is in the front

) The new Arbor Mortgage office building, with not one tree left on the site (my wife always laughs at "Arbor" mortgage with no arbor)

) The row of medical office buildings in Metro Health Village with the backs facing the new street

I'd really like to hear from local architects as to what is going on. Has all taste and sensibility been thrown out the window?

Anyone have any other examples of atrocious suburban design? Maybe it'd be easier to list well-designed recently built suburban buildings. :P

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I saw that one building in the first photo get built as its on my way to work. To me it seems like a sim city building where someone just plopped it down with no thought.

The beltine is a mess of buildings that have no cohesion to each other.

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I saw that one building in the first photo get built as its on my way to work. To me it seems like a sim city building where someone just plopped it down with no thought.

The beltine is a mess of buildings that have no cohesion to each other.

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I also thought that one looked jute like GVSU's downtown campus? Was it the same architect just recycling the same basic theme to keep it cheap or what?

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I would bet money that the planning commission had more to do with it than the architect.

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I would bet money that the planning commission had more to do with it than the architect.

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My mother and I refers to East Beltline as "East Buttline" because of the way some of the buildings are backwards...

Funny you bring this up because we were just discussing it the other day.

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...Or how there's a sidewalk on Byron Center Ave., a sidewalk in front of stores in "Bayberry Market," but no pedestrian corridor connecting the two. Just as Veloise in Waterfall Shoppes, I have walk down a curb to get to work from the bus stop.

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...Or how there's a sidewalk on Byron Center Ave., a sidewalk in front of stores in "Bayberry Market," but no pedestrian corridor connecting the two. Just as Veloise in Waterfall Shoppes, I have walk down a curb to get to work from the bus stop.

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Celebration Cinema really kicked it off with their horrible, horrible, horrible design for a building, followed with the village's piss poor layout of strip malls.

Does a planning committee do anything, or just salivate at the idea of someone building something in their area... really.

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Interesting...

Who to blame?

Planning Commission, Architect, developer, citizen, environmental regulations, zoning regulations, environmental extremists, property right nut jobs, engineers, etc, etc.

There is plenty of blame to go around here. That is the crux of the problem. There are so many hinderances to creating the kind of design that you all would like to see.

But first and foremost, what is bad suburban design? Is it siting? Is it use? Is it the architecture? and if it is the architecture, is it materials? composition? massing? scale? what exactly is so terrible?

IMO, suburban design is about a lot of things. It's problem is that it is representative of a cancerous system that attacks both the rural and the urban, transforming these places into monocultures of low density compromises, which are auto-dependent and auto-oriented.

Auto-oriented is essentially an all encompassing category that leads to:

Piss poor materials (because if you are zipping by at 50 miles an hour, it just doesn't matter if it is plastic)

No detailing (for the same reason as above)

Sited so that it can be accessed from the vehicle and damn everything else (parking lot is main feature of siting, along with safe access for customers, fire trucks, garbage trucks, and deliveries. )

Signage that is larger than life so you can see it when zipping by.

No visible entry, because who really cares!!?

Also, these buildings are all about single use and regulated to death by misplaced planning legislation.

But most importantly these buildings - NONE of them - anywhere in far-flung areas - are SUSTAINABLE!!! These are huge wastes in resources both at the time of construction and at the life cycle of the building. If we continue to build in this fashion, we will cook ourselves.

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Personally, I feel that the suburban municipalities need to "scrap" their ideas of creating a "village feel" along these major trunklines like the East Beltline, Lake Michigan Drive (Standale), Rivertown Parkway, Gezon Parkway, etc.. and stick to trying to make aesthetically pleasing suburban buildings. They are what they and there's pretty much no going back. Suburban buildings should stick with suburban design. I think that's how they end up with buildings that are all turned around the wrong way. Plus, it seems like just adding a peaked roof to a building suddenly makes it a village. :rolleyes:

Also, I think they need to work on

) Ordinances that restrict the number of trees and natural features that can be removed from a site. A lot of people move and live here because of the beauty of West Michigan's hills, ravines, trees, lakes and streams. Why are we just allowing all this to be bulldozed?

) Ordinances that require buildings to go through a "design approval" process, including exterior materials, styling (how the building will mesh with surrounding buildings, etc.), siting, etc. I think it's great when they put parking lots in the back or to the side, as long as the road side is considered the "front" of the building and not the "utility" side.

) The developments need to be reviewed for their connectivity for pedestrian traffic, not only on the site but to neighboring sites.

Thoroughfares like the East Betline used to be quite nice to drive along, but that is quickly changing. Not BECAUSE of development, but because of how the development is being executed. The most confusing part is that it seems like the East Beltline Overlay District (?) was set up to maintain just such standards across multiple municipalities that are served by the E. Beltline. Am I wrong???

Like why can't we even get some buildings that look like this? Afraid of glass are we?

Picture134-1.jpg

Picture157-1.jpg

Or look at this. Only clearing the trees where the building and parking lot will sit, and not every square inch of the parcel:

Resized_EPA_Facilities2.jpg

Au naturale anyone?

cw_forum_550_drop.jpg

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Also, I think they need to work on

) Ordinances that restrict the number of trees and natural features that can be removed from a site. A lot of people move and live here because of the beauty of West Michigan's hills, ravines, trees, lakes and streams. Why are we just allowing all this to be bulldozed?

think it's great when they put parking lots in the back or to the side, as long as the road side is considered the "front" of the building and not the "utility" side.

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Since I'm still a total n00b when it comes to planning/design, can somebody point out a "village" or development that actually works? When I think of horrible design I think of the Cascade Target/Costco development as being totally asinine. I think the Knapp Celebration complex is at least better than that. But who in the GR area (if anybody) did it right?

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Since I'm still a total n00b when it comes to planning/design, can somebody point out a "village" or development that actually works? When I think of horrible design I think of the Cascade Target/Costco development as being totally asinine. I think the Knapp Celebration complex is at least better than that. But who in the GR area (if anybody) did it right?

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Personally, I feel that the suburban municipalities need to "scrap" their ideas of creating a "village feel" along these major trunklines like the East Beltline, Lake Michigan Drive (Standale), Rivertown Parkway, Gezon Parkway, etc.. and stick to trying to make aesthetically pleasing suburban buildings. They are what they and there's pretty much no going back. Suburban buildings should stick with suburban design. I think that's how they end up with buildings that are all turned around the wrong way. Plus, it seems like just adding a peaked roof to a building suddenly makes it a village. :rolleyes:

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Since I'm still a total n00b when it comes to planning/design, can somebody point out a "village" or development that actually works?

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Surely the townships need to scrap their ideas of creating a village (feel), because they are not capable of doing it!! They are creating shopping centers that try to look like a "village", and fail miserably. They are creating office buildings that look residential, complete with gable roofs, lick and stick stone chimneys and dormers. They still force berms with pine trees and junipers to soften the development pattern, because the development pattern is not contextually correct, aesthetically pleasing or socially rewarding.

A village, or a town or a neighborhood contains a mixed-use (preferably vertically integrated) pattern, made up of a fine grain network of streets, blocks and buildings. It is based on a 1/4 mile (15 minute walk) radius.

A correct built environment creates a public realm, it doesn't simply build a bunch of incoherent architecture surrounded by parking lots and then hope that whatever is left is worthwhile. Hint - adding a "park" surrounded by debris and parking lots does not constitute a dignified public realm.

Look to traditional urbanism (note, not traditional architecture per se) for queues in how to do this properly. The pattern of traditional urbanism worked for hundreds of years until it was hijacked by special interest groups, politicians, zoning ordinances and a slew of other slimy organizations.

It is no coincidence that things look the way they do, the system that is in place forces them to look just like they do. And it is damn near impossible to build anything else.

The best way to fix all this is to certainly scrap all zoning ordinances and their misguided master plans... and then go even farther, scrap township government, which is a miserable failure.

Then....stop allocating anymore funding for new road construction and create a network of public transit.

Oh, and don't give brownfield tax credits to crapty big box developments in Walker or any other place. We should not be rewarding the mediocrity and shortsitedness of Cabelas, Walmart or the obligatory power center.

If we do not start now, we will ruin our children's future.

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Funny, I've never figured out where the DT of Jenison really was. There were pictures in the McDonalds at one point, but it seems like all the old buildings were torn down over the years and thus, I could never figure out where it was. There is the house museum, by Ronald's new digs, which I've never been in that would probably fill me in. With the new off-ramp going in, it seems like Jenison will be nothing but car-oriented.

I've been contemplating the same thought with planning scheme I've been continuously been working on for Jenison/Georgetown Twp. for some time (albeit merely for my own enjoyment). After McDonald's renovated their restaurant in this strip and seeing how nice it turned out (even though its suburban) made me realize that not all corridors are created equally and a 'village' like feel is just not appropriate for this corridor. There are other areas in the community which could be transformed into a village community much easier and probably with a lot more success, particularly the 20th Avenue/Baldwin area. It is surrounded by residential homes on all sides, is within walkable distances of the high school, junior high school and numerous elementary schools as well as the township office, library, and countless churches.

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Surely the townships need to scrap their ideas of creating a village (feel), because they are not capable of doing it!! They are creating shopping centers that try to look like a "village", and fail miserably. They are creating office buildings that look residential, complete with gable roofs, lick and stick stone chimneys and dormers. They still force berms with pine trees and junipers to soften the development pattern, because the development pattern is not contextually correct, aesthetically pleasing or socially rewarding.

A village, or a town or a neighborhood contains a mixed-use (preferably vertically integrated) pattern, made up of a fine grain network of streets, blocks and buildings. It is based on a 1/4 mile (15 minute walk) radius.

A correct built environment creates a public realm, it doesn't simply build a bunch of incoherent architecture surrounded by parking lots and then hope that whatever is left is worthwhile. Hint - adding a "park" surrounded by debris and parking lots does not constitute a dignified public realm.

Look to traditional urbanism (note, not traditional architecture per se) for queues in how to do this properly. The pattern of traditional urbanism worked for hundreds of years until it was hijacked by special interest groups, politicians, zoning ordinances and a slew of other slimy organizations.

It is no coincidence that things look the way they do, the system that is in place forces them to look just like they do. And it is damn near impossible to build anything else.

The best way to fix all this is to certainly scrap all zoning ordinances and their misguided master plans... and then go even farther, scrap township government, which is a miserable failure.

Then....stop allocating anymore funding for new road construction and create a network of public transit.

Oh, and don't give brownfield tax credits to crapty big box developments in Walker or any other place. We should not be rewarding the mediocrity and shortsitedness of Cabelas, Walmart or the obligatory power center.

If we do not start now, we will ruin our children's future.

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Funny, I've never figured out where the DT of Jenison really was. There were pictures in the McDonalds at one point, but it seems like all the old buildings were torn down over the years and thus, I could never figure out where it was. There is the house museum, by Ronald's new digs, which I've never been in that would probably fill me in. With the new off-ramp going in, it seems like Jenison will be nothing but car-oriented.

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Wow. Your comments are pretty harsh if I am reading this correctly. It seems quite a stretch to place the blame for this solely on township government - and use it as justification to eliminate the voice of suburban dwellers in a dangerously wholesale fashion. There is plenty of blame to spread around: ignorant consumers, profit-driven retailers, spine-less developers and vision-less architects all play a role in perpetuating poor design. It clearly isn't just township government.

While I would agree that the system does not create voluminous opportunities for townships to influence decent development, your post above offers absolutely no description of an alternative. You've simply made a frightfully broad statement that it all should be "scrapped". This type of argument does nothing to move the world in a better direction.

Quite frankly, it could easily be argued that many townships have done a much better job than some city governments when it comes to acceptable outcomes. Knapps Corner is an excellent example of how City government is clearly no more adept than anyone else. I could write volumes about how State government has proven its ineptitude in thousands of cases. I certainly don't see County or State government as any sort of savior in this scenario. Goodness knows the KCRC and MDOT aren't gleaming examples of visionary excellence.

I'm all for encouraging transit and creating "proper" public spaces. But I also know that these solutions cannot be shoved down the throat of individual property owners. Then again, maybe you know something about property owner's rights that I don't know?

Next time you suggest throwing the entire system out with the bath water - please respect this discourse and outline a system you think would do better.

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As GRDad mentioned, local governments can require that the developer build around and preserve as many mature trees as is possible. They can require that the developer design the parking so its in the back of the building. They can require that developers build buildings out of something other than vinyl siding. They can develop and adopt TDR programs to preserve farmlands and direct development into developed areas that are prepared to accommodate it. These are the kinds of steps that need to be taken, at least for now, to improve our suburban environments.

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But remember, the municipalities that adopt these policies do so as elected officials.

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This is exactly the response that I was looking for in making my "harsh" comments. I appreciate the last few comments calling me out on this, as the kind of discourse that is needed is not happening at any level, anywhere.

I am so tired of talking about these things. This has been going on for many years and there is still no sign of solution, we still get the question of "bad suburban design".

No solutions? There are solutions, but the current system is dead in the water and if it is not fixed it will absolutely drag us all down.

Filmaker: "Wow. Your comments are pretty harsh if I am reading this correctly. It seems quite a stretch to place the blame for this solely on township government - and use it as justification to eliminate the voice of suburban dwellers in a dangerously wholesale fashion. There is plenty of blame to spread around: ignorant consumers, profit-driven retailers, spine-less developers and vision-less architects all play a role in perpetuating poor design. It clearly isn't just township government.

While I would agree that the system does not create voluminous opportunities for townships to influence decent development, your post above offers absolutely no description of an alternative. You've simply made a frightfully broad statement that it all should be "scrapped". This type of argument does nothing to move the world in a better direction.

Quite frankly, it could easily be argued that many townships have done a much better job than some city governments when it comes to acceptable outcomes. Knapps Corner is an excellent example of how City government is clearly no more adept than anyone else. I could write volumes about how State government has proven its ineptitude in thousands of cases. I certainly don't see County or State government as any sort of savior in this scenario. Goodness knows the KCRC and MDOT aren't gleaming examples of visionary excellence."

Townships have done a better job? Where?

In my first post I also indicated that there is plenty of blame to go around and I stand by that. The townships are just one facet of the problem. I will say it again, that I see nothing that townships have done or are doing that speaks to the long term sustainability of our culture.

The cities are no better?! Maybe not at Knapps Corner, but certainly within their real context they are doing a much better job of getting their hands around this. Knapps corner is nothing more than more of the same, packaged differently. It is only failure. But a majority of what is going on in the cities is moving in the right direction, although their is still some of this "suburban" cancer permeating. I think there is a new development on the corner of Fuller and maybe Leonard (a Subway) with all brick that fronts the street and is absolutely a short sited abysmal excuse.

Filmaker -"In my neck of the woods, we routinely approve less parking than is required by ordinance; we have very aggressive sign and lighting ordinances; we have a more extensive landscaping ordinance than most townships; we've identified inventoried and have been working diligently to preserve natural features; we've embarked on what will be the most environmentally friendly sewer treatment facility in this part of the state; we've engaged with FEMA and other agencies to pursue acquisition of properties in our many river front flood plains; and since I have been griping about a tree ordinance for long enough - I think I've actually got a few people seriously thinking about it now... TDR is another program I'm very fond of, but the public in my area is still grappling with the funding methodology. Of course, all this hasn't yet manifested itself on an earth-shattering scale in my area - but these kinds of things take years to to become evident in what gets built over time".

Of all the things you mention above, exactly which ones are leading you to a more sustainable system or the creation of a quality public realm?

Less parking? What about the location of the parking, relative to the street and building? What about on-street parking?

Landscaping standards? How exactly are these working out for you? Parsley on the pig will not work. Landscaping, like everything else needs to be contextually calibrated to properly define the public realm. I have yet to see a landscaping standard that promotes anything other than trying to hide the other deficiencies of the development.

Signs and lighting? Get real. What are these doing? From what I can tell, absolutely nothing - you are rearranging chairs on the Titantic. What about building placement relative to the street? What about building massing, scale and composition? What about the creation of walkable block sizes and decent street cross sections? What about a clear distinction of proper building types relative to the context of the area?

Tree ordinances? Honestly!! Would the building and subsequent site that was used as an example at the beginning of this thread, located on the corner of Lake Drive and the Beltline be any better if more trees had been preserved? I highly doubt it. Some of the best places in this nation cut down all the trees and filled in streams to build the neighborhoods that we cherish today. A tree ordinance is a band-aid, just like a sign ordinance or a lighting ordinance. These things are important, but they are not getting it done and will not get it done without more sweeping changes.

Then, this sewer facility, which is a shining example of the contradiction within this whole system. While people are clamoring for "less density" these northern townships build a waste treatment facility and then run water and sewer to areas that did not have service. You defend townships with this kind of contradiction? This plant should have never been built.

No description of a solution? The solution is simple, stop doing what we are doing and begin to rearrange the way we build our human environment. These solutions include:

1. Scrap the zoning codes and replace them with highly visual form-based documents that deal with the creation of the public realm, based on a human scale and not an automobile scale. This includes every aspect of the built environment, including the obligatory landscape and sign ordinances.

2. Build development in a compact, mixed-use, neighborhood-scaled pattern.

3. Begin an aggressive plan to protect viable farm land with some sort of a combination of PDRs, TDRs and coherent regional planning (which by the way does not seem possible with township government entitlements), and of course not running sewer and water to it.

4. Invest in transit....aggressively. That means reallocating funding and focusing on making this a prime objective - instead of building more highways and widening roads.

5. Stop running sewer and water to the hinterlands.

6. Start retrofitting the suburbs by removing single use zoning and wasteful land uses (amongst a whole slew of other things - including homeowners associations)

7. Read the charter for New Urbanism (www.cnu.org). And do what it says.

8. Start an aggressive campaign to reduce (by significant margins) the carbon emmissions by any means possible, including wind turbines, solar power, and any other techno-gizmo that comes along. Stop reliance on fossil fuels.

These are daunting tasks, that can not be done under our current system, especially at the political side. These will be hard and painful and there will be winners and losers, and that is unfortunate. But reality is hard and it will get harder. We can not continue to do what we are doing and we do not have 40 years to fix the problem, we maybe have 10.

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