the urban prospector

Searching for Golden Opportunities in America's Cities


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Small Streets

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Lombard and 4th in Philadelphia

Small streets are essential for the success of cities. While this is applicable to the street’s entire Right of Way, in this post I focus on the cartway; the area dedicated to automobiles. The ultimate key here is to make streets safer and more enjoyable for pedestrians. Continue reading

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Newark Walks to The Water

IMG_1965-COn June 14, I participated in a march from Newark City Hall to Newark’s riverfront. This long neglected post-industrial city is making a comeback. Having lost over 150,000 residents (37% of its population) in the last half of the 20th century, Newark gained a national reputation for urban decay and decline. With rising prices in nearby New York City as well as Hoboken and Jersey City, this transit hub is seeing an influx of residents and investment. While there is renewed interest in Newark, there is an industrial legacy that needs to be addressed. Continue reading


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Oakland: Adult Recess

Adult Recess at Ogawa PlazaWhile in Oakland, I stumbled upon Adult Recess in Ogawa Plaza. Ogawa Plaza, directly in front of Oakland City Hall, is a fairly well designed public space. There is a central amphitheater area with plenty of ledges for seating. While shade in this area is not abundant, the moderate temperatures of Oakland allow for a comfortable stay nonetheless. Other areas have many benches and even some shade trees. The plaza is well framed by neighboring buildings, many of which include restaurants or retail. These amenities both benefit from the plaza as well as bring people to the plaza. Continue reading


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Amazing Residential Sidewalk

This sidewalk in Bernal Heights, San Francisco frames space and provides visual texture incredibly well making this one of the most enjoyable streets to walk down.

During my trip to the Bay Area, I walked down perhaps the greatest sidewalk I’ve ever seen. Space on the sidewalk is incredibly well framed by the various elements. Starting with the buildings, there is only a small setback of roughly 10 feet. This 10 feet of space is also very well used with steps, wooden fences, patios and other details. The planter strip between the sidewalk and the cartway is planted with short, wide and dense trees. The trees, are the primary object shaping space on the sidewalk as the trunks provide vertical form and the branches extend over the sidewalk at a height of roughly 7 feet. The sidewalk is further enhanced with other plants in the planter strip and in the patios of the houses. While some streets try to improve the visual quality of space through the use of fake brick patterns and small plants, this sidewalk successful frames the space, leaving small plants in a supportive role and leaving fake brick for another location. Framing the pedestrian space is much more critical than dressing up pedestrian space. Continue reading


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City Center: Oakland

I recently went to the Bay Area for a couple of days. During this time, my girlfriend and I explored Oakland for a day. One place we stumbled upon was City Center. According to Wikipedia (I wish it was a better source, but for the time this will have to do) this is an outdoor shopping mall and is a “textbook example of redevelopment urban land planning…” The site was developed through eminent domain and involved the displacement of many residents and businesses. This is the sort of history that I cannot support and unfortunately has happened too many times across the country. However, compared to typical urban redevelopment projects, this one has a great physical design. Continue reading


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Prioritizing Pedestrians

While writing in further depth about the benefit of the small for cities, I realized that I had glossed over a bedrock principle of my view of urbanism: pedestrian priority. Why should streets be made small? For pedestrians. Why should shops be made small? Pedestrians. Why the hell should we care about pedestrians? Pedestrians. It’s worthwhile to explain why pedestrians are important before arguing that they make other issues important. How do pedestrians benefit society? Continue reading