Translating the Urban Experience

Take a walk down Main Street—any Main Street, really.

You’ll see restaurants and boutique shops. You’ll probably see a few offices in gorgeously renovated historic buildings, and you’ll see people. Lots of people.

Cities are bouncing back for the first time since the 1920s as younger and older generations move back into urban environments boasting mixed-use offerings—anything from hip offices and trendy restaurants to local shops and loft apartments.

The concept of the urban setting is suddenly appealing again. What does that mean for a city as whole?

On March 6, Burt Pinnock, AIA, principal of Baskervill’s community studio, will be speaking about this idea of resilient cities at the Urban Design Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina.

He believes there is immense value in the resurgence of mixed-use development inspired by the urban experience, both in downtown settings and in suburban settings.

“Cities are becoming resurgent not because of pockets of development,” Burt says. “It’s happening because people are starting to connect the individual elements of the urban core, middle suburbia, and new suburbia to transform the city as a whole into something bigger and better.”

UrbanExperience_Diagram_web

That’s a trend happening in cities across the country, especially in smaller cities like Richmond, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Houston. Fueled by a shift in generational lifestyles, these second-tier cities are becoming a blend of the urban and suburban, both in design and function.

“What designers and developers are doing is getting the best of both worlds,” Burt says. “We’re not pitting city against suburb, but instead incorporating the best traits of each into livable destinations that people want to live, work, and play in. We’re translating the highly desired urban experience for non-urban settings.”

GreenGate, a project slated for Richmond’s West End, is one such project. The mixed-use community features offices, restaurants, retail space, and single and multi-family housing. Baskervill’s community design studio is planning and designing a portion of the project called The Row @ GreenGate, which includes six buildings along a Main Street-like corridor.

UrbanExperience_GreenGate

The buildings will be connected by pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, restaurant patios, and landscaping, all of which add up to create a walkable community that reflects the best practices of urban design but also has its own unique identity.

That can be a challenge, considering the site: ten empty acres.

“When you do any sort of development within an urban core, you have an established context that you design around,” Burt says. “Everything’s already there, from the utilities, water, sewer, and parking structures. So your design responds to that context, because that’s what has to happen.”

But with suburban development, you have to create the context from scratch. Where do you start?

“By going back to the tried and true practices of urban design,” Burt says. “The Row @ GreenGate is modeled on components people respond to most in the urban core, like the scale of the streets, sidewalks, and buildings and how they all coexist with one another.”

Crafting a sense of place and identity in an area that typically doesn’t have one was also a big challenge, says Jason Moore, project designer for The Row.

From the beginning, the design concept called for a collection of buildings that didn’t look like they were built at the same time. Part of the reason a downtown setting is so appealing is that it’s a tapestry of styles and time periods.

“Inspiration came from the architectural features of downtown Richmond and even a few other cities,” Jason says. “There’s a building I like in Boston that I used as inspiration for one of the buildings at GreenGate. I think the design was successful because a piece of Boston next to a piece of Carytown made a really cool place that became something completely new and different.”

GreenGate is set to begin construction in the fall of 2015.

“It’s so much more than recreating the spirit of downtown,” Burt says. “It’s about recreating the community feel of popular neighborhoods. That’s what people are drawn to.”