a nice middle ground

MLewyn's picture

I was reading a book ("A Modern Arcadia" by Susan Klaus) about Forest Hills Gardens (a neighborhood in Queens a few blocks south of my current apartment in northern Forest Hills, designed in the 1910s by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr) and noticed one thing I'd never noticed before: that it creates an interesting middle ground between the curvilinear streets typical of even 1920s suburbs and the urban grid.  North-south streets such as Ascan and Continental Avenues create the bones of a grid, while the east-west streets are a mix of east-west curvilinear streets connecting Ascan and Continental with the neighborhood's eastern edge, one-block streets connecting the curvilinear streets with each other, and even the occasional cul-de-sac, creating an oasis for people who want the (real or imagined) privacy of cul-de-sacs. (See map here).

But the cul-de-sacs are so short that one is never far from a grid; thus, even someone who lives on a cul-de-sac can walk from one residential street to another without having to go through the neighborhood's commercial center (unlike where I used to live in Florida, where trips from one subdivision to another often required visiting the neighborhood's eight-lane commercial street).

So what Forest Hills Gardens tells us is: you don't need a pure grid for walkability; a few curvilinear streets and cul-de-sacs are OK as long as they don't dominate the landscape.

I also discovered that when it was built, Forest Hills Gardens was subjected to the same kind of criticism as today's New Urbanist developments: critics described it as too artificial (or in Klaus's words, "like a stage set for an operetta") and too expensive (since it was clearly not a working-class community).


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