Tag Archives: Urban Design

Urban Patterns | Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas USA

“We’ll be standin’ on the corner of 12th in line
With our Kansas City baby and our bottle of Kansas City wine.”
Kansas City, Little Richard

Urban Patterns | Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas USA
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Kansas City, Missouri is the largest city in the state and the sixth largest city in the American Midwest. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city had an estimated population of 481,420 in 2016, making it the 37th largest city by population in the United States. It is the anchor city of the Kansas City metropolitan area, which straddles the Kansas–Missouri border. Kansas City was founded in the 1830s as a Missouri River port at its confluence with the Kansas River. On June 1, 1850, the town of Kansas was incorporated; shortly after came the establishment of the Kansas Territory. Confusion between the two ensued and the name Kansas City was assigned to distinguish them soon thereafter. Kansas City, Kansas is the third-largest city in that state and the third-largest city (after Kansas City, Missouri and Overland Park, Kansas) of the Kansas City metropolitan area. The Kansas City metropolitan area is a 15-county metropolitan area that straddles the border between Missouri and Kansas. With a population of about 2,340,000, it ranks as the second largest metropolitan area in Missouri (after Greater St. Louis). Kansas City, Kansas is abbreviated as KCK to differentiate it from Kansas City, Missouri. As of the 2010 census, Kansas City, Kansas had a population of 145,786 residents. (Source: Wikipedia).

Satellite view from 15 km of Kansas City Missouri-Kansas USA (Source: Google Earth).

There are two distinctive characteristics to the urban pattern of Kansas City at different scales of the city. The first is the series of large building footprints and urban blocks composing a series of small-scale (in relative terms) offset grids adjacent to the Missouri and Kansas Rivers. This is most apparent in the close-up satellite view from 15 km of Kansas City (see above). This is a direct result of its historical origins in water transportation, which remains important to this day for the city; namely, the laying out of street networks to ensure a rectangular shape to the plots on the most valuable land immediately adjacent to the rivers.

Satellite view from 30 km of Kansas City Missouri-Kansas USA (Source: Google Earth).

When examining the Kansas City urban pattern at the large-scale (see satellite view from 30 km above), the second distinctive characteristic becomes much more apparent; namely, a strong north-south and east-west structure in the street network of Kansas City. Initially, some people might think this occurred due to the stereotypical view about the ‘flatness’ of the American prairie. However, the topography in and around Kansas City is composed of gentle, rolling hills and river bluffs. Instead, this is evidence of the emergent pattern of the Jeffersonian grid in the 1785 Land Ordinance.

Urban Patterns is a series of posts from The Outlaw Urbanist presenting interesting examples of terrestrial patterns shaped by human intervention in the urban landscape over time.

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Urban Patterns | Doha, Qatar

“Ya’ know that, this town’s like a painted desert
Dead heat, movin’ in the city, I’m lost in a painted desert.”
— Painted Desert, Pat Benatar

Urban Patterns | Doha, Qatar
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Doha (Arabic: الدوحة‎‎, ad-Dawḥa or ad-Dōḥa) literally meaning “the big tree” but, locally, “rounded bays” is the capital city and most populous city in the State of Qatar. Doha has a population of 1,351,000 in the city proper with a metropolitan population close to 1.5 million. The city is located on the coast of the Persian Gulf in the east of the country. It is Qatar’s fastest growing city with over 50% of the nation’s population living in Doha or its surrounding suburbs. It is the economic center of the country. Doha was founded in the 1820s as an offshoot of Al Bidda. It was officially declared as the country’s capital in 1971 when Qatar gained independence from being a British Protectorate. As the commercial capital of Qatar and one of the emergent financial centers in the Middle East, Doha is considered a world city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network. The city of Doha was formed after seceding from another local settlement known as Al Bidda. The earliest documented mention of Al Bidda was made in 1681 by the Carmelite Convent in an account, which chronicles several settlements in Qatar. In the record, the ruler and a fort in the confines of Al Bidda are alluded to. Carsten Niebuhr, a European explorer who visited the Arabian Peninsula, created one of the first maps to depict the settlement in 1765 in which he labeled it as ‘Guttur’ (Source: Wikipedia).

1947 Aerial photograph of Doha, Qatar (Source: UCL Qatar).

Recently, UCL Qatar created a new interactive map to explore the history of Doha from the late 1940s to the present day here. The Origins of Doha is a UCL Qatar research project, supported by the Qatar National Research Fund, which aims to explore the foundation and historic growth of Doha, its transformation to a modern city, and the lives and experiences of its people through a combination of archaeological investigation, historical research, and oral testimony (Source: UCL Qatar).

What we see in this 1947 aerial photograph (see above) is a very compact settlement gathered along the shoreline of the Doha Port on the Persian Gulf. The settlement is so compact that it is difficult to discern its spatial structure. However, if you focus on the center of the image, then look slightly southwards and eastwards, you can see a clear ring of circulation around a large block possessing an intricate street network. From this ring of circulation, we can discern at least four (4) diagonal streets radiating outwards in all directions. Given the rapid growth in Doha over the last 30 years, it is extremely difficult to assign modern day names to these places but it appears, more or less, consistent with the modern ‘downtown’ area. The older town of Al Bidda appears to be eastward of this area.

Satellite view from 15 km of Doha, Qatar (Source: Google Earth).

If we examine the urban pattern of Doha at the large scale (see the satellite view from 15 km above), then there is a distinctive ‘deformed wheel’ structure of diagonal streets radiating outward in most directions from the port. This network is connected together by a series of orbital roads, which encircle the city based on an increasing radii, as measured from the shoreline of the port. At this scale, the Doha urban pattern appears to be composed of massive ‘super blocks.’ However, this is misleading. The network of publicly-accessible space is more intricate than this, indicating an attempt to somewhat separate large-scale vehicular traffic from more localized types of traffic in these ‘super blocks.’

Satellite view from 2 km of a ‘super block’ neighborhood in Doha, Qatar (Source: Google Earth).

This is more apparent if we zoom on one of these ‘super blocks’ (see the satellite view from 2 km above). We can discern the prototypical pattern you might in some older Middle Eastern settlements with narrower streets and a marginal offsetting of blocks, designed to subtly deter through traffic in the area. Functionally, this is more akin to Olmsted’s efforts to do the same in the Riverside suburb of Chicago, though representing a much different geometrical strategy. In fact, this is more practical than the modern suburbia model of massive blocks of nebulous shape and minimal street connections, which you will find in many post-war suburbs of the United States, especially those constructed over the last 40 years. It seems likely these attempts to retain a traditional type of urban pattern while still accommodating the requirements of a modern vehicular traffic system has resulted in a tension in the urban street network, especially due to the rapid growth during the early 21st century.

Urban Patterns is a series of posts from The Outlaw Urbanist presenting interesting examples of terrestrial patterns shaped by human intervention in the urban landscape over time.

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Urban Patterns | St Louis, Missouri USA

“I will be your tootsie wootsie,
If you will meet in St. Louis, Louis,
Meet me at the fair.”
— Meet Me in St. Louis, Judy Garland

Urban Patterns | St. Louis, Missouri USA
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

St. Louis is an independent city (meaning it is not part of St. Louis County) and major American port in the state of Missouri, built along the western bank of the Mississippi River, on the border with Illinois. The city had an estimated population of 311,404 in 2016. It is the cultural and economic center of the Greater St. Louis area (metropolitan population of 2.9 million people), making it the largest metropolitan area in Missouri and the 19th-largest in the United States (Source: Wikipedia).

A map of St. Louis in 1780. From the archives in Seville, Spain (Source: Wikipedia).

Prior to European settlement, the area was a major regional center of Native American Mississippian culture. The city of St. Louis was founded in 1764 by French fur traders Pierre Laclède and Auguste Chouteau, and named after Louis IX of France. In 1764, following France’s defeat in the Seven Years’ War, the area was ceded to Spain and retroceded back to France in 1800. Nominally, the city operated as an independent city after 1764 until 1803, when the United States acquired the territory as part of the Louisiana Purchase. During the 19th century, St. Louis developed as a major port on the Mississippi River. In the 1870 Census, St. Louis was ranked as the 4th-largest city in the United States. It separated from St. Louis County in 1877, becoming an independent city and thus, limiting its own political boundaries. In 1904, it hosted the World’s Fair/Louisiana Purchase Exposition and the Summer Olympics (Source: Wikipedia).

Satellite view from 15 km of St. Louis, Missouri in the USA (Source: Google Earth).

The St. Louis urban pattern is composed of a series of small-scale regular grids of varying size, which are offset in relation to each other. This originally occurred due to adapting the regular grid layout to the topography of the Mississippi River adjacent to the riverfront at this location to ensure that most valuable lots were rectangular in shape for the purposes of buildability. Like other cities in the world composed of offset, regular grids (such as Athens, Greece and New Orleans, Louisiana), this – in combination with the distribution of land from afar by the French/Spanish crowns during the Colonial period – had a ‘cascade effect’ in shaping the layout and orientation of future parcels of small-scale regular grids in the city. Later, railroad lines running east-west introduced a very strong north-south divide in the city, which persists to this day. Oddly, this divide (historically reflecting a post-war racial divide in the city, e.g. whites in south St. Louis and blacks in north St. Louis) has been reinforced by Federal, state, and city planning efforts such as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (i.e. Gateway Arch) grounds on the riverfront in downtown St. Louis.

St. Louis’ Warehouse District – same size as two New Orleans’ French Quarters – demolished during the 1930s to (eventually) make way for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial grounds and Gateway Arch though this riverfront land remained vacant for over two decades.

Urban Patterns is a series of posts from The Outlaw Urbanist presenting interesting examples of terrestrial patterns shaped by human intervention in the urban landscape over time.

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Urban Patterns | Chicago, Illinois USA

“Come on, babe, Why don’t we paint the town? And all that jazz.
I’m gonna rouge my knees, And roll my stockings down,
And all that jazz.
Start the car, I know a whoopee spot, Where the gin is cold,
But the piano’s hot! It’s just a noisy hall, Where there’s a nightly brawl,
And all that jazz.”

— Bob Fosse’s Chicago: The Musical

Urban Patterns | Chicago, Illinois USA
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Chicago is the third-most populous city in the United States with over 2.7 million residents. It is also the most populous city in both the state of Illinois and the Midwestern United States. It is the county seat of Cook County. The Chicago metropolitan area often referred to as “Chicagoland” has nearly 10 million people. It is the third-largest metropolis in the United States (after New York and Los Angeles). In terms of wealth and economy, Chicago is considered one of the most important business centers in the world. The town of Chicago was organized in 1833 with a population of about 200 people near a portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed. Within seven years it grew to more than 4,000 people. In mid-1835, the first public land sales began. The City of Chicago was incorporated in 1837. For several decades, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world. Chicago was one of the five largest cities in the world by 1900. Before the growth of new Chinese cities during the early 21st century, the urban growth of Chicago during the 19th century was largely unprecedented in human history (Source: Wikipedia and The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids).

Satellite view from 90km of Metropolitan Chicago, Illinois in the USA (Source: Google Earth).

Chicago has the most pervasively-realized regular grid in the world. In fact, the scale of the regular grid in Chicago is so massive that it is almost impossible to truly appreciate its scale. From one extreme to the other, it is probably the size of southeast England or twice the size of the European country of Luxembourg. However, it is only by examining the Chicago urban pattern at this scale that we can truly appreciate that there is a distinctive center-to-edge logic to the metropolitan region; most notably along the alignment of the Chicago River/Stevenson Expressway from the Loop in a southwest direction out of the area. This center-to-edge logic is replicated at the large-scale in the northern metropolitan region as well along the alignment of old Indian trails, which were incorporated into the urban fabric as paved roads; most notably a series of diagonal streets associated with the Northwest Highway out of town towards the state of Wisconsin.

Satellite view from 25 km of Chicago, Illinois in the USA (Source: Google Earth).

When we zoom in on the Chicago urban pattern, the crucial role of the Chicago River as a water-based transportation artery in the city becomes much more obvious. So does the multitude of skyscrapers in the central business district of the Loop (north and west of Grant Park at the shoreline of Lake Michigan). We can also see the large building footprints of Industrial land uses gathered around the entire length of the Chicago River from the southeast into the center of the city and then northward. All of these topographical, geographical, and infrastructure components are woven together within the ‘relentless’ regular gridiron layout, which serves to privilege downtown Chicago (and, in particular, The Loop) within the larger urban pattern of metropolitan Chicago. This barely begins to scratch the surface of why the Chicago grid plays such a significant role in its magnificence as one of the world’s greatest urban patterns.

Urban Patterns is a series of posts from The Outlaw Urbanist presenting interesting examples of terrestrial patterns shaped by human intervention in the urban landscape over time.

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PHOTO ESSAY | Country Club Plaza | Kansas City MO

PHOTO ESSAY | Country Club Plaza | Kansas City MO
Photographs by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Opened in 1923, Country Club Plaza is a privately owned American shopping center in the Country Club District of Kansas City, Missouri. The center consists of 18 separate buildings representing 804,000 square feet of retail space and 468,000 square feet of office space. The standalone buildings are built in a distinctive Seville Spain theme and are on different blocks mostly west of Main Street and north of Brush Creek, which blends into the Country Club neighborhood around it. The area as a whole is often simply called the “The Plaza” (Source: Wikipedia).

It is all-too-easy to examine the figure ground of building footprints (top, above) and conclude that Country Club Plaza is defined by ‘strong edges,’ especially to the south (Brush Creek) and east (Mill Creek Park). However, this is misleading and less important than the relationship of ‘edge streets’ to the larger context of Kansas City in all directions. In fact, the spatial logic of the Plaza area (and Country Club Plaza, in particular) is simple, yet quite sophisticated. A central cross-axis (cardo and decumanus) defines the local catchment area (in black, see below).

Central cross-axis defining the local area relationship and the layered ‘edge streets’ defining the larger contextual relationship to Kansas City in all directions.

A series of sequential ‘edge streets’ defined the relationship to the larger Kansas City context with the one closest to Country Club Plaza tending to split along the southern, eastern and western edges (in blue) for the purposes of traffic management. This includes Ward Parkway running parallel along both sides of Brush Creek (see below).

View along Brush Creek looking westward (Photograph: Mark David Major).

A series of major streets (in red, see above) farther afield – West 43rd Street to the north, State Line Road to the west, Gillman Road to the west, and West 55th Street to the south – define another edge to the Plaza area. It is this second edge that is the more important one for Country Club Plaza to access a regional catchment area since the cross-axis of the local catchment area reaches to each of these edge streets, helping to structure of the relationship of Country Club Plaza within a much larger area. The Plaza neighborhood itself then uses a series of streets of low/moderate length and connectivity within the interstitial areas formed by this classical morphology to generate its distinctiveness at different scales of movement (automobile, walking/biking) within Kansas City.

Looking north along Broadway at the corner of Nichols Road (Photograph: Mark David Major).

Plentiful on-street, short-term parking (2 hours or less) helps to slow down the traffic on the streets within Country Club Plaza itself though some road section improvements (central landscape medians instead of continuous left turn lanes) might prove more beneficial for the area over the long term.

Looking west along 47th Street at the corner of Wornall Road in the small public space associated with the Neptune Fountain (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Looking southwest along Broadway towards Brush Creek from the small square associated with what is called the Mermaid Fountain (technically, the fountain depicts sirens, as indicated by the ancient megaphones they are holding) (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Looking west through the small public square at the southwest corner of Pennslyvania Avenue and Nichols Road. I call this “Penguin Square” because of the three bronze statues of penguins at its center (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Looking west across the outdoor patio for the Gram & Dunn restaurant at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Ward Parkway across the street from Brush Creek (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Looking south down Jefferson Street through the outdoor eating plaza of Kaldi’s Coffee at the corner with Nichols Road (Photograph: Mark David Major).

Country Club Plaza makes very clever use of public squares and plazas (often in conjunction with fountains, for which the area is renowned) by turning over some of its most valuable parcels (street corners or “100% location”, according to William Whyte) for public uses. Some of these street corner spaces also operate as outdoor patio seating for restaurants and coffee shops. Most are quite successful, which emphasizes the greater importance of ‘people watching’ than the enclosure of space for a successful public square.

Streetside entry to interior parking building on Nichols Road near the corner of Broadway (Photograph: Mark David Major).

As pointed out by numerous New Urbanists over the years, Country Club Plaza provides for a generous allocation of off-street parking by ‘burying’ parking structures within the center of urban blocks. This is necessary due to the lack of an extensive rail transit system in Kansas City. The KC Streetcar, opened in 2016, has a limited route in downtown Kansas City. However, once that rail transit system expands, then Country Club Plaza would be an ideal candidate for a station; preferably in the central block, which is mostly composed of off-street parking and smallish, single-story retail space along the street frontage at this time (right of the photo below).

Looking west along Nichols Road at the corner of Central Street outside of Starbuck’s Coffee (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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