Urban centrality

Numbers and geometry

copenhague

 

This week I had the chance to talk to a group of architects and urban planners (linked to the ifhp, mainly Danish) on a visit to Madrid. As always, talking to foreigner colleagues is interesting. I visited Copenhagen in 2002, and it seemed a very interesting city, with an attractive urbanism. Taking a look at the city map and its urban tissues, taken from the EEA Urban Atlas dataset, it is worth noting that this interesting city:

–           Does not respond to a pre-defined regular shape, but rather to adaptations to geographical features or to the subsequent growth moments.

–           Residential tissue is marked by man-made discontinuities, be it public facilities or infrastructure (gray, violet)

–           Shows varying densities. Centrality is clear, but its limits are fuzzy (red means dense housing, shades of orange show less dense residential areas)

And this (which in fact is common to most cities, good and bad in urbanism terms) raises the question of density and its measurement; city blocks are relevant for some measurements, but the neighborhood is also a meaningful border, as long as there is an agreement on its limits. Another conclusion is that good urbanism is a matter of coherence and quality at different scales, but not necessarily something that requires total regularity.

Biblio (56) Retail in Brussels

Biblio 56-combrux

The regional observatory on retail in Brussels has published its 2011 report on the status quo in the metropolitan area. An interesting view of the situation in the capital of Europe… which is far from stable, as in most of Europe.

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Calle Serrano (Madrid)

Serrano: 1,3 km of centrality, 31 m wide

Serrano: 1,3 km of centrality, 31 m wide

Serrano is one of the thoroughfares of the barrio de Salamanca, the Madrid extension of the XIXth century which is today one of the most powerful central areas of the city in economic terms and as an icon. It is a street in which choice, selected goods (apparel, shoes, luxury) shops flock, as well as high end office space. Its location near the Castellana, but with a width substantially better for retail and other activities, and the presence of an also sizeable retail base in adjacent streets, from the luxury of Ortega y Gasset to more stratified price ranges, lead to a concentration that can be compared to that of a large edge-city mall. One of the most interesting sections, even if asymmetric (no buildings to the west) is that of Plaza Colón, which concentrates some of the most exclusive shops (ant the images of this post).

Serrano has been refurbished with works ending in 2010; on street parking has been eliminated (creating a large underground parking), a bike path has been incorporated to the sidewalk, and the design of the floor surfaces, tree pits, benches and other elements is specific.

serrano-2 Serrano-1
serrano-4 Serrano-3

The Fifth Avenue

Fifth avenue BID: 1,2 km of central street. The red outline is that of the BID.

Fifth avenue BID: 1,2 km of central street. The red outline is that of the BID.

The fifth avenue is very, very long; avenues in Manhattan go from north to south in the island, and this is longer than 10 km. Along this distance there are many neighborhoods and diverse settings, and here I’m interested in the Fifth Avenue Bussiness Improvement District, one among a series of such public- private partnerships for the maintenance and retail promotion. Other parts of the avenue are included in BIDs, but this one is the most iconic for the image this street conveys to the world.

The BID encompasses a section of 1,2 km of the fifth avenue and a variable depth on lateral streets; for instance, the Rockefeller Center, drawn on the upper map with a hatched black rectangle, is not completely into the BID, while the 57th st section goes from Madison Avenue to the Sixth. This shows that the perception of space and its influence areas by retailers is adapted to specific factors, not related to geometric regularity.

Fifth avenue is slightly more that 28 m wide. There are three lanes in a single direction (towards downtown) and a bus lane. This leaves 6 m sidewalks. No doubt, this street is associated usually to luxury, but sidewalks are of concrete, without great detailing, but for some tree grids (there are few trees) as those of the Rockefeller Center. There are also remarkably few underground infrastructure access plates.

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alcorque rockef aceras fifth

Ibiza- Sainz de Baranda

Ibiza- Baranda 720 m

The title is about streets, not the island… With a total length of 720 m and a width of 30 m, lateral sidewalks slightly over 2 m, and a central promenade of 11 m, Ibiza and Sainz de Baranda streets are an interesting case. They have the same overall width and the same kind of building that Narvaez, their perpendicular street, has. They connect the Retiro, the grand central park of Madrid, and as they have central promenades they have a certain number of cafes and restaurants. The whole neighborhood is reasonably served with retail (not a magnet for shoppers as some blocks to the north, but not the worst area in the city either). But the more retail looking street is Narvaez: despite giving more space to the car, it gets up to the department stores in Goya- Felipe II, sidewalks are wider (some 5 m) and, probably, the fact there are less trees “distracts less” the pedestrians, that so can focus on the shops on the opposite sidewalk (essential…).

Calle Alcalde Sainz de Baranda

Calle Alcalde Sainz de Baranda

ibiza-baranda ibiza-baranda2

 

Real street in La Coruña

real-300m

Real street in La Coruña (Galicia, Spain) is one of the most relevant in the historical core. Some 300 m long and 7 m wide, it was historically an inner road as related to the seashore, today at a greater distance due to landfill. The urban patter is relatively regular, although not homogeneous in geometrical termes: the axis of the street is not entirely straight, but the end can be seen from the beginning.

The street was historically a retail core for the city; the metropolitan expansion, peripheral malls and economic crisis have since eroded that role, today largely diluted.

The architectural uniformity is rather maintained in the central section, but there have been relevant changes to the west (A). The paving, made of large granite slabs (that can give you “downside up rain” on rainy days if they move…) is still there. It is a pedestrian street, but for deliveries to retail, as many of the surrounding streets, not only by regulations, but also due to their dimension (and the lack of garages in such narrow lots…)

Real-1 Real-2

The Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona

Paseo de Gracia: 1,3 km of length

Paseo de Gracia: 1,3 km of length

The Paseo de Gracia is not just a choice location to see Gaudi Works in Barcelona, as it is also one of the first streets in the Ensanche; in fact, its layout has a slight angle when compared with the general grid, which follows the straight line of the Gran Vía, defined by distant points. It is a boulevard with a central main way, lateral planted alleys and side service traffic alleys.

With an overall width of 60 m, the central way is 22 m, and the sidewalks of the buildings are in some places 9 m wide. It is one of the prime retail locations in the city.

The intersection with the Gran Vía de les Corts Catalanes. The urban furniture is quite simple in this busy crossing.

The intersection with the Gran Vía de les Corts Catalanes. The urban furniture is quite simple in this busy crossing.

A zoom on the previous image. The Paseo is really divided in a set of central lanes and lateral service lanes, separated by platforms with trees

A zoom on the previous image. The Paseo is really divided in a set of central lanes and lateral service lanes, separated by platforms with trees

Urban furniture in the most Gaudi-esque section of the street.

Urban furniture in the most Gaudi-esque section of the street.

The calle Campos in Denia

Calle Campos: 500 m of central retail

Calle Campos: 500 m of central retail

Traffic management in central retail cores is not always easy. In Madrid it seems clear that the retailers in the Sol- Callao- Montera area have understood that despite the limita-tions to traffic and parking the zone works, mainly as the hub of a pow-erful public transportation system; but in smaller cities, or in other areas of Madrid, this can be contro-versial.
Some solutions try to please as well retailers asking for on-street parking as those asking for more pedestrian space. The city of Denia (Alicante) plays a certain centrality role for a set of neighboring municipalities, and this is clear in calle Campos. It is not in fact a high place for architecture (rather your average 1960s or later building, with all that this means in Spain), but its urban location and its retailers, as well as the presence of choice retailers in neighboring streets seems (at least during a short stay) to make it the place to be.
How to make both concepts work together? With a watch and a cal-endar. The street is pedestrian in certain moments, and it takes traffic the rest of the time (the most often, in fact). I am not sure this would be the best option in general, but it is an alternative that seems to work here (again, I have been a short time) in a city where most of the historic core is pedestrian.

The post says it all: on holydays and holyday eves the street becomes a pedestrian area, while parking is regulated the rest of the time

The post says it all: on holydays and holyday eves the street becomes a pedestrian area, while parking is regulated the rest of the time

A sidewalk cafe in the morning of a working day, with cars in the street


A sidewalk cafe in the morning of a working day, with cars in the street

A view across the street in the car-mode

A view across the street in the car-mode

Cars in the morning

Cars in the morning

A no-cars evening

A no-cars evening

The view from the sidewalk in a no-car evening

The view from the sidewalk in a no-car evening

A saturday afternoon in Madrid

The Sky as seen from the A3 (Valencia freeway) looking towards the urban core.

The Sky as seen from the A3 (Valencia freeway) looking towards the urban core.

After some rainy days, yesterday there was a nice afternoon, and the urban core was full of people cellebrating the King’s Coup victory for Athletico de Madrid. As usual, there were also lots of tourists, using those same spaces. To a certain extent, one of the most pleasant tourism experiences (or at least so I think) is not to go to pre-packaged resorts, but to see how a complex city is used by its citizens (somehow, sort of, as in large metropolitan areas citizen is a more vage concept…) and the urban landscape in which they live their lifes.

Calle de Alcalá, an historic axis of the old city.

Calle de Alcalá, an historic axis of the old city.

Details on calle de Alcalá

Details on calle de Alcalá. A former bank headquarters had this bell  spire as an ornamental element

Details on calle de Alcalá. A former bank headquarters

Details on calle de Alcalá. A former bank headquarters. The quadrigas control the intersection with calle Sevilla

Atleti's fans cellebrating around plaza de Neptuno (a change for the usually posh setting of the Ritz hotel and the Thyssen- Bornemisza museum)

Atleti’s fans cellebrating around plaza de Neptuno (a change for the usually posh setting of the Ritz hotel and the Thyssen- Bornemisza museum)