the urban prospector

Searching for Golden Opportunities in America's Cities


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Victory Against Surface Parking Lots in Newark

Members of PLUG celebrate victory at the Newark Zoning Board of Adjustment

Members of PLUG celebrate victory at the Newark Zoning Board of Adjustment

On Thursday November 13th, the Newark Zoning Board of Adjustment stopped (at least for the time being) the continued spread of surface lots in the Ironbound. A property owner wanted to convert his parcel near Penn Station into a surface parking lot and required a D Use Variance. This variance was denied by a unanimous vote of the 7 of 9 board members present. This decision is the culmination of a process that started in February. Opposition was led by the Planning Land Use Group (PLUG) of which I am a member. Continue reading

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Can the Vancouver Style fix Newark’s Parking Crater?

Last week, I wrote about some pretty bad urban design developments in Jersey City. While looking at google maps, I noticed the development around the Newport PATH station and decided it would be worth exploring. I met my girlfriend Cailie at the PATH station to have a waterfront picnic as well as a chance to explore this recently developed urban neighborhood. During this time, I noticed several things

Urban Cul-De-Sacs

The southern section of River Drive in Jersey City has towers clustered around auto oriented cul-de-sacs.

The southern section of River Drive in Jersey City has towers clustered around auto oriented cul-de-sacs.

Along the southern section of River Drive, residential towers are clustered around cul-de-sacs. These cul-de-sacs offer building front drop-off and access to structured parking. In the middle of the cul-de-sacs are mini parks that offer seating for residents. At the entrance to the cul-de-sac is a wide gap between buildings and walking through one of these areas, one can tell that they were primarily designed for the automobile. Sidewalks are effectively cut off by entrances and exits to the garages. The wide entrances remove any sense of enclosure that is essential for good urban design. Along River Drive, these buildings offer ground level retail and restaurants, but in a disjointed fashion. It appears that this is an attempt to create a better pedestrian experience on River Drive, but unfortunately it fails at this goal. Continue reading


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Downtown Development Lessons from Jersey City

As I’ve said before, I feel that the prospects for renewed development in downtown Newark are fairly high. This wouldn’t be the first city in New Jersey to go through a period of massive development in recent times. Two PATH Train stops to the East is Jersey City. Here, on land previously dominated by rail yards serving New York City, new towers have been going up. While there are some developments that do very well in terms of creating a pedestrian friendly public realm, the buildings along Christopher Columbus Drive unfortunately do not. If Newark is not careful, developers may repeat these mistakes. Unfortunately many of these mistakes will leave a multi-decade legacy. Newark cannot afford to make such costly mistakes. From my walks around this area, I think there are four lessons that can be learned from these developments. These lessons can be applied in Newark and any other urban area.

Buildings should front directly on to pedestrian space

One Evertrust Plaza does its best to keep people away by being set back from the street and separated by a fence.

One Evertrust Plaza does its best to keep people away by being set back from the street and separated by a fence.

One Evertrust Plaza at the corner of Christopher Columbus Drive and Washington Street is a great example of this problem. The 17 story high-rise is separated from the street by large swaths of grass, some parking and what appears to be a 5 foot tall fence. Fortunately this building does not include parking underneath. If that was the case, the pedestrian entrance would be largely ornamental. An entire block in this superbly transit accessible neighborhood is completely devoid of street activities. It is possible to cut this building some slack; it was built in 1986, at a time where the developers can claim they didn’t know any better. Ultimately, the one message that One Evertrust Plaza gets across is, “Stay away!” Fortunately, this appears to be a correctable mistake. The first floor of the high-rise could be converted to pedestrian oriented activities, the fences could be removed and the excess space could be redeveloped. The space between the building and the intersection of Christopher Columbus and Washington could hypothetically become a well activated pedestrian plaza. Continue reading


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Newark: The streets of Downtown

Broad Street near Military Park looking north.

Broad Street near Military Park looking north.

A major task that the city of Newark will have to undertake to improve its downtown area is to make streets more pedestrian friendly. Currently, walking around downtown, the dominance of the automobile is easily felt. Roads like McCarter Highway allow large volumes of autos to travel through the city while making a dangerous crossing for pedestrians. Cars here are so dominant that the cross walks don’t even turn to walk unless someone pushes a button. 6 lanes of traffic turn Market Street into a cluster of traffic, parked cars and buses. Perhaps most absurdly, Park Place has three lanes of traffic and two lanes of parking on a short street that borders Military Park. After spending $3 million on a Bryant Park inspired renovation, and dealing with historical preservation challenges, the park is still separated from the city by a large street. In the case of Park Place, this is an unjustifiably large street. Not every street in downtown can become as pedestrian friendly as Halsey Street, but there is still a lot of work that can be done. Continue reading


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Improving Downtown Newark

Newarks Gateway Center-1930-2012

The area of Newark’s Gateway Center in 1930 (left) and 2012 (right).

The city of Newark, NJ is receiving renewed interest after years of decline. This is not the first wave of re-investment in the city after the 1967 riots, but it happening under different circumstances. When the Gateway Center was built, urban renewal was an auto-centric retreat from city life. Though the gateway center is connected to Newark Penn Station by an architecturally parasitic skywalk, much of the commuting is by car. There are a couple of parking garages associated with the Gateway Center as well as numerous surface parking lots (According to the 2012 Master Plan, within a half a mile of Penn Station, there are more than 20 acres of surface parking lots). The streetscape along the Gateway Center is one of the worst in the city. Here, transit riders could walk on the sidewalk from Newark Penn to their downtown jobs, but between the hostile built environment of Market Street and the welcoming environment of the skywalk, much of the pedestrian travel avoids the street. This style of development is no longer acceptable and threatens to hamper Newark’s renewed growth as an urban hub. Continue reading


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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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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