New Urbanism Community

Photo Credit: [click here for source]

The following pictures show the transformation from late 1800’s to today of a 1/4 mile section (part of the Alameda de las Delicias) of  the 8 mile long Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins in Santiago, Chile.  The Avenue dates back to the founding of Santiago in 1541 and was later named after the Liberator of Chile, Bernardo O’Higgins. It was and still is the ‘Main Street’ of Santiago. In the 1820’s a section of the Avenue (about 1 mile in length) received a major face lift. This section was called the Alameda de las Delicias. Translated means ‘The delightful Poplar Grove’.  It was called such because 4 rows of poplar trees brought from Mendoza, Argentina lined the edges of a grand pedestrian promenade. For much of the 19th century the Alameda de las Delicias was the place to see and to be seen for the Chilean Elite. 

Photo Credit: [click here for source]

Fast forward 100 years and we see that this section of the avenue is still full of life. The photo above from 1925 and the photo below from 1930 (click on the photo for a larger version) speak for themselves.  The public realm that encompasses everything between the faces of the buildings on either side of the avenue strikes the right balance in creating a great space. Let’s walk through it from the outside in. The buildings ranged from one to four stories high and lined up with one another which created for a pleasant pedestrian experience as one walked down the sidewalk. Each building had its own look and style. The first levels addressed the street with appropriately scaled, unique, and beautiful storefronts/office fronts.  One can only imagine that the upper floors were a mix of residences and offices.  The sidewalks along the buildings were wide allowing plenty of room for pedestrians as well as shops and cafes to spill out onto.

Parallel Parking was available on both sides of the 3 lane wide one way streets.  This parking helped to create a safety barrier between auto and pedestrian. The Iglesia de San Francisco (completed in 1613) created a terminated vista along one side of the avenue adding interest and highlighting this beautiful historic church (labeled as #1 on photos). On either side of the promenade we also see electric trolley lines adding to the variety of transportation available at that time.  The way the streets and trolleys are distributed across the public realm allows for a heavy flow of traffic without sacrificing the comfort and safety of the pedestrian.

And truly the highlight of this avenue is its wide promenade, still maintaining the 4 rows of poplars on either side as it did 100 years earlier. And spread throughout the promenade as a sign of civic pride are several national monuments/statues.

Click photo above for larger image –Photo Credit: [click here for source] 

Now fast forward 20 more years to 1950 and we see a major transformation.  One that accommodates for more auto traffic and parking and less for the pedestrian. The wide promenade with its 4 rows of poplars have disappeared and have been replaced with a much narrower green area which contains no sidewalks for pedestrians only crosswalks. The one way streets on either side have gone from 3 lanes with parallel parking on both sides to a 3-4 lanes with parallel parking on the building side only with additional perpendicular parking closer into the buildings.  The electric trolleys are gone  giving over to the more popular use of autos and buses.  And several of the older 2 to 4 story buildings are gone as well and replaced with much taller buildings.

Photo Credit: [click here for source]

Now lets fast forward to today. The green space in the center has been further narrowed as well as fenced in with low metal fencing in some places to keep pedestrians out. The traffic lanes have expanded to 5 lanes on each one way street. And all the parking along the streets has been eliminated as they are now accommodated within underground parking garages throughout the area. The metro de Santiago was started in the 1970’s with one of its first underground lines now traveling under the Alameda de las Delicias. 

By this time most of the original low-lying buildings featured in the 1925 photo have been replaced with taller/wider buildings. I’ve highlighted 2 of the buildings throughout these photos that have survived the wave of changes. They are (1) Iglesia de San Francisco mentioned earlier and (2) Casa Central de la Universidad de Chile built in 1872.  And although not as easily approachable by pedestrians the national monuments/statues have also survived the wave of changes.

Photo Credit: [click here for source]

But it’s not all bad news.  We have been looking at just the first quarter-mile of the Alameda de las Delicias.  Now let’s step back another 3 quarters of a mile and look at what is left today of the remaining Alameda. At the top of the photo you can see the 2 surviving buildings I’ve been pointing out on each photo and as we move down the photo you can see the promenade starts taking shape again, narrow at first then widens back out as you continue down the Alameda. 

Photo Credit: [click here for source]

I must end by reflecting back on the 1930’s photo of the Alameda. What an incredible photo! This is what many Main Streets today strive for in order to become a ‘Complete Street‘ once again.  All the elements were there. With some slight adjustments the same Avenue of the 1930’s could again be the place to be seen and to see today (see photo below).

Here are my thoughts on those adjustments. For sure today a lot more traffic needs to flow through this Avenue, not just by auto but also by bus, metro, bike, and pedestrian. So I would first remove the parallel parking along the promenade and convert that lane to a dedicated bus lane (A) which is in line with the rest of the city that has recently created dedicated bus lanes throughout. Next I would remove the electric trolley. It hurts to say that but I would only do that because there is a high capacity underground metro line (B) that serves that purpose. And in place of the trolley lines I would create dedicated bicycle lanes (C). I would connect these bicycle lanes to the ever growing bicycle lanes being created throughout the city as well as develop a much needed network of bike sharing stations.

Now let’s go back to the street edges. I would keep the parallel parking along the sidewalks. This would accomplish 3 things; keep cars from driving to fast, help the businesses along the avenue to attract more costumers, and it provides a safety barrier for pedestrians utilizing the sidewalks. The final thing I would do is to encourage the businesses and shops at the first level to once again engage the avenue by creating appropriately scaled, welcoming, and interesting storefronts to draw in and retain the people (D).

The story and history of the transformation of Santiago’s ‘Main Street’, once a celebrated place but now more of a transportation corridor, is a much too common theme for many of our ‘Main Streets’.  Let’s reverse the thinking before it’s too late and we lose the ability to salvage what remains of these once celebrated ‘Main Streets’ and start transforming them back into places we can again enjoy and be proud to call our ‘Main Street’.


Millennials (Generation Y) are losing interest in the car

In my previous post we looked back in time when cars where selling off the shelf. Everybody wanted a car and the built environment was heavily designed to meet the needs of the car lovers.  Sprawl was born and has taken over now for more then 60 years. Now let’s look at today.  The story is changing.

In a recent article the New York Times reports how GM is turning to MTV to help convince the youth that they want cars.  The article goes on to note in 2008, 46.3 percent of potential drivers 19 years old and younger had drivers’ licenses, compared with 64.4 percent in 1998, according to the Federal Highway Administration, and drivers ages 21 to 30 drove 12 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 1995.

Jordan Weissmann of The Atlantic explains this phenomena further in his recent article ‘Why Don’t Young Americans buy cars’. Here is an excerpt:

Of course, Millennials are more likely than past generations to live in an urban community, and this may be part of what terrifies car markers. About 32 percent reside in cities, somewhat higher than the proportion of Generation X’ers or Baby Boomers who did when they were the same age, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center report. But as the Wall Street Journal reports, surveys have found that 88 percent want to live in an urban environment. When they’re forced to settle down in a suburb, they prefer communities like Bethesda, Maryland, or Arlington, Virginia, which feature plenty of walking distance restaurants, retail, and public transportation to nearby Washington, DC.

If the Millennials truly become the peripatetic generation, walking to the office, the bus stop, or the corner store, it could mean a longterm dent in car sales. It’s doubly problematic if they choose to raise children in the city. Growing up in the ‘burbs was part of the reason driving was so central to Baby Boomers’ lives. Car keys meant freedom. To city dwellers, they mean struggling to find an empty parking spot. 

Jordan Weissmann continues to elaborate on this subject in this video interview with RT

How does this influence the Built Environment

So let’s look at the numbers. Baby Boomers, the largest generation at that time (about 76 million) had a high demand for cars, which heavily influenced the built environment and so resulted Sprawl as we know it today. Now today the Millennials are the largest generation at about 80 million and they are looking for walkable urbanism. For sure there is a changing tide coming as it pertains to the built environment. The demand for walkable urbanism is showing itself.  And not just in this area but in many other areas as I will explore in greater detail in the upcoming Part 2.

Here’s an inspiring story

that will make you want to buy some land

and create a community tailored around your passions!

The South Main Story


When Jed Selby (at the age of 24 at the time) realized that the 41-acre parcel separating Buena Vista from the Arkansas River was on the market, a plan quickly started to evolve. He contacted his sister Katie and the two began brainstorming about a world-class whitewater park and environmentally friendly development. These two visionaries saw the opportunity to create a design that kept the river corridor open to the public and available to river enthusiasts everywhere. They also saw the potential to create a community designed around getting people out of their cars and talking to their neighbors during their walk to the market, coffee shop or kayak wave. Before them lay an opportunity to bring to life the type of community where people could walk to fulfill all of their daily needs.

They discovered The New Urbanism and quickly realized that its architecture and design aspects would be efficient and effective at creating the walkable, pedestrian friendly community they envisioned. Tree-lined streets, mixed-use residences, green building and a conscientious land-use design were elements of New Urbanism that truly spoke to Jed and Katie. They made a commitment to visualize, design and build South Main on these principles.

–  The Heart of the community – The Arkansas River  –

Since the project’s inception, South Main has helped to take the Arkansas River and make it an unparalleled community amenity. A century ago the river was viewed primarily as an industrial resource, and a garbage dump occupied the site of what is now South Main. Today more than a mile of new trails wind through the riparian corridor, and in-channel improvements create world class kayaking opportunities, pools and eddies for fishing, and beaches for summertime relaxation.

–  The Master Plan  –

The 41 acre community will contain 315 units on 200 lots. The project  includes single family & multi-family housing, shops & restaurant, offices, all with the river as their focal point. Among the planned amenities are a central river-front park, civic site, and a multi-use white water park.

To learn more about South Main and its story spend some time at their website:


Images & story taken from the South Main website

Additional Resourses:


This is a very exciting ‘New Urbanist’ project utilizing Traditional Neighorhood Development (TND) that has approval and is moving forward in Windsor, CT

    Image taken from

Here is an excerpt from a recent New York Times article on the project: 

Called Great Pond Village, the $1 billion development is intended to give employees who now drive an average 35 minutes to work at the Day Hill Road office park the opportunity to ditch the commute altogether… The idea is to “create the old New England village where we have a walkable, mixed-use village center,” and enough housing choices to accommodate a variety of age groups, said David Winstanley, a principal with the developer, Winstanley Enterprises of Concord, Mass… A study conducted by TischlerBise, a Maryland consulting firm, determined that tax revenues generated by the development will exceed town-borne costs for emergency services, schools and infrastructure by as much as $43 million over 20 years.Windsor is one of a growing number of towns using high-density development to address problems like overburdened highways, unaffordable housing, suburban sprawl and dwindling numbers of young people… The first phase, which could be under way as soon as 2012, will include 400 housing units.

There is a pent-up demand for ‘New Urbanist’ type communities and this project is proof of that.  Especially seeing it move forward during this time when the rest of the housing industry is trying to recover from the current housing crisis.

Other resources for Great Pond of Windsor:

Speaker: Dan Burden – Walkable and Livable Communities Institute

* As I review different sessions I will continue to highlight key resourses on future post

See following previous post for more info:

CNU 19 Sessions now online!

CNU 19 Online Sessions

If you are a member of the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) you now have access to listen in on most of the presentations that were given during this years CNU annual event in Madison, WI.  Just click on the link above and it will bring you to their page.

In Part 1 of Enhancing Community in Chile I discussed the great lack of ‘sence of community’ in the neighborhood I live.  My neighborhood is not unique in this regard.  It is typical throughout Vitacura, Las Condes, & most of the other communes around Santiago. A big barrier (not the only one, but one of the bigger barriers) are the walls and gates fronting the sidewalks and streets in my opinion.  As one walks along the sidewalks in these neighborhoods (as I often do) there is street, sidewalk, 0′ to 8′ of grass/landscaping, and then a 5′ to 8′ high wall or gate that front the individual houses.  There is little opportunity for human contact with those living in the neighborhood unless they too are on the sidewalk, but the normal reaction in this case is no mutual hello.

Understanding the Culture:   I’ve been told by many Chileans that when it comes to social interaction among other Chileans (well those in and around Santiaog) it is an all or nothing relationship.  If you do not know someone many times the choice is to be cold with one another, once you get to know someone you are very close with each other.  In many cases there is no in-between. 

What part does the built environment play?  Could the built environment be an influencer on this all or nothing phenomenon?  I believe it does have influence.  To support this I turn to Jane Jacobs who is regarded as one of the top urban thinkers of the 20th century.  In her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (one of the books she is best known for) she talks about how the built environment can create a ‘togetherness or nothing’ social environment.  Those built environments that tend to create isolated public vs private environments and don’t allow for social interaction to naturally occur tend to have this social environment she found. 

Is there a way to change the built environment in these neighborhoods to foster community?  The overwhelming answer in my opinion is Yes.  The first step in creating a sense of community is to create an environment that allows neighbors and strangers alike to engage one another on a daily basis.  As mentioned earlier this is happening on the sidewalks because of the mixed use area I am in so this is a good start.  But unfortunately this is only occuring between strangers.  So how can we get the neighbors involved?  Well the high front walls/gates to the homes are not helping.  My simplistic but very effective solution would be to lower these walls/gates, make them more transparent, and add a patio with pergola (no basements here) to the front of the house to engage the street, your neighbors, and the strangers walking down the sidewalks.

When I share these ideas with other Chileans they are very hesitate at first.  The high front walls/gates to them create a strong sense of safety and security.  Is it worth losing that ‘percieved’ sense of security to be able to engage more with my neighborhood?  I will try to address this question more in my upcoming blogs whose topics are below:

  • When it comes to safety ‘the eyes have it’.  Walls vs more transparency from front of house to the street.
  • Does fostering a sense of community really matter?
  • How would a front patio help create a sense of community?

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