This weeks #urbanist goodreads go block by block

People check out Chalk the Walk in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Photo by Ben Kaplan, taken May 2, 2015.

What makes cities great? Did the size of city blocks spring to the forefront of your mind? Probably not, and that’s a shame because blocks are, um, the building blocks of great places. The length of a city block is one of the most important factors of a walkable city. Shorter blocks are more pleasant to navigate on foot, allow for more valuable corner lot real estate, and improve traffic flow. This week we explore why the size of a block is important, how to use the block as a jumping off point for urban revitalization, learn when to honor the street grid and when not too, and explore the urban history of Barcelona.

The Importance of Block Size — D Magazine

“So how long should blocks be? How big is too big? Not surprisingly, city block sizes vary greatly from city to city and even within different neighborhoods in any given city. If we look at some of the best interconnected and walkable neighborhoods (e.g., Greenwich Village in New York, Nob Hill in San Francisco, or our own Lower McKinney), we find the sweet spot to be about 250 to 450 feet. I would suggest that anything over 500 feet is unfriendly to pedestrian use.”

Joe Esposito walks us through the benefits of small block sizes.

How One Weekend in Dallas Sparked a Movement for Urban Change — Next City

“Vacant lots. Empty storefronts. Run down buildings, and scantly used parking lots. Overly wide streets for driving. This is a disheartening scene that can be found in almost every American city. And while many urban neighborhoods are thriving, too many others have not recovered from a half-century of systemic disinvestment. Bringing needed amenities to those — young and old — who have endured these conditions is hard to achieve because building rehabilitation costs are high and municipal policies and ordinances remain onerous and outdated. Yet, so many of these places have a strong social fabric, an interesting history, and possibly a bright future — and in Dallas, a group of artists and activists have shown us that you don’t need to wait for an angel investor or benevolent government agency to play the role of savior. Instead, the people that live in a neighborhood can jumpstart its revitalization in a single weekend, armed with nothing more than their energy, ideas and donated materials.”

Okay, so you have small blocks. Great! But, their isn’t much their besides blight, so what should be done? In this excerpt from Tactical Urbanism we learn the history of Better Block and how they brought permanent change to a blighted Dallas neighborhood.

The Case for Closing Portland Avenue in Downtown East — StreetsMN

“The grid is good–we like grids. They make sense and are one of the main things that come to mind when you think of the difference between urban and suburban spaces and why one is probably a better template for city building than the other. If we were going to break up the grid, it would need to be for a project that was worth it. Not a parking lot, or a one-story big box chain store, or a four story apartment building. A park with the potential to become a major regional amenity is one thing that is worth it.”

Nick Magrino, who is my new favorite writer, makes the case that a park in Downtown Minneapolis is probably worth making a bigger block.

Behind Four Walls: Barcelona’s Lost Utopia — Failed Architecture

“Surrounding the borders of Barcelona’s old city, the Eixample district is an unmistakable grid of some 900 seemingly similar city blocks master planned by Ildefons Cerda. Characterized by its unique 45 degree cut corners and home to Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila and Casa Batlloo, the area stretches from Mies Van der Rohe’s reconstructed Barcelona Pavilion at the base of Montjuic to Jean Nouvel’s Torre Agbar at Placa Glories Catalanes. From above, the density and magnitude of the city-block morphology is an unimaginable exercise in master planning and replication. From within, the uniqueness of each city block is a disorienting yet atmospheric pedestrian experience. The area however, did not develop as Cerda had originally planned.”

Speaking of urban parks, there was a lot more park space in the original Eixample master plan. What happened?

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