Transportation II. The pedestrian environment A. Private frontages

The benefits promised by New Urbanism spring directly from its emphasis on walking as the main way of moving through the world. Where places are made genuinely walkable, private vehicle mileage likely will be reduced and public transit will certainly be more viable. The convenience and interest of living at higher densities will more than make up for any annoyances. Children, the elderly, and those with physical impairments will gain greater quality and quantity of access, and that sometimes-elusive community glue called social capital is likelier to be produced in places with pedestrians inhabiting a public realm.

The last decade and more has seen not only the spread of a general public demand that the human environment be walkable, but also the rise of public and professional awareness of the specific components contributing toward that end. Personal safety must be assured, wind and weather shelter provided, and buildings shaped and plants situated to contribute positively. These things must be considered in and of themselves and in how they combine to form pedestrian sheds of plausible scale, with rewarding destinations at both centers and edges.

Despite the renaissance of knowledge on design for pedestrians, there is still one technique for systematically relating the components of walkability that is often overlooked — the design of the frontages along the walking route.

forming the pedestrian experience

Frontage is the general term for the configuration and placement of building and landscape elements immediately forming the pedestrian experience. The frontage includes the vertical walls of a building’s first floor (often too its second floor) as it relates to a sidewalk or path, as well as the various landscape elements horizontally laid out between them. It is the middle realm between the streetspace and the interiors of the buildings along a path, and it may be finely tuned to engage or screen either side. Indeed, that element of participation or distancing not only enables but constitutes much of the genuine attraction of the pedestrian experience.

Systematic consideration of frontages can provide the discipline that transforms mere well-intentioned bits of pedestrian confetti scattered along a route — the brick pavers, random benches, and Pollyanna banners of architectural renderings — into something larger than the sum of its parts. Well-ordered frontages provide both usefulness for the inhabitants of the buildings and visual stimulation for passersby.

The frontages within traditional urbanist practice are many and varied, but their number is not infinite. Eight generic frontage patterns that are truly supportive of pedestrians can be reliably identified as widespread and perennially successful. All have been and may be embodied in different materials and components suited to local circumstance, but are still recognizable in their similarity. Thus too, they may be codified in the planning for a neighborhood.

These basic frontages can be arranged in relation to each other according to where they have most often appeared in rural and suburban districts, villages, towns, and cities across different places and times. Indeed, the differing character of the frontages is so marked that they provide what is perhaps the most reliable set of touchstones for where along the rural to urban Transect a given locale lies. (As an aside, it is arguable that a code prescribing only building types and private frontages would suffice to create good urbanism at almost any density.)

The eight patterns, from more rural to more urban, are: 1. Common yard; 2. Porch and fence; 3. Terrace or light court; 4. Forecourt; 5. Stoop; 6. Shopfront and awning; 7. Gallery; and 8. Arcade. The next installments of the Technical Page will discuss, two at a time, the frontages and their refinements. u