Tag Archives: Urban Design

How Bicycling Infrastructure Brings Economic Life Into America’s Communities

By Camilo Lopez, RMA Urban Designer

In a time where information is proliferated in all corners of earth, we become more and more conscious of the decisions that shape our cities and how they affect the quality of the spaces that surround us. We realize, more than ever, that traditional modes of transportation, such as bicycling, not only can improve physical, mental and social health, but also helps the environment while increasing local business potential.

BICYCLE INFRASTRUCTURE: CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT FOR MORE FOOT TRAFFIC AND THEREFORE MORE BUSINESS

It’s no secret that when you’re on a bicycle, you travel at a slower speed compared to driving a car. By default, you may pay more attention to the details around you, including the businesses you’re passing. You may be more tempted to get a delicious coffee at a local business because of the easy access you get from being on a bicycle, unlike when driving in a car, where you may not even see the coffee shop (unless you already know of it), or even if you do, you have the burden of finding parking and, in some cases, pay for parking. Creating bicycle infrastructure is an invitation to bicycle, which brings about a chain of positive effects that facilitate economic development.

For example, the Outdoor Industry Association released a study in 2017 on The Outdoor Recreation Economy, which found that bicycling participants spend $83 billion on trip-related sales (bicycle tourism), and generate $97 billion in retail spending. Each year, bicycle recreation spending also contributes to the creation of 848,000 jobs.

The numbers are clear, bicycling and bicycle infrastructure is a positive economic tactic that improves quality of life and benefits businesses. It brings a healthy equilibrium to city life dynamics.

How else can bicycle infrastructure drive the economy?

  • Increases spontaneous business purchases
  • Provides something that is in demand by millennials (population ages 20 to 35 as of 2016); the next biggest and more impactful generational population since the baby boomers (Richard Fry, 18)
  • It’s taking over the transportation industry— Bicycling is becoming more popular across America and among all types of people. More than 100 million Americans rode a bike in 2014, and bicycles have out-sold cars most years in the US since 2003.
  • Shows business attitudes toward solutions that care about the environment—According to the Queensland Government, promoting your environmentally friendly methods can set your business apart from your competitors and attract new customers who want to buy products and services from an environmentally friendly business
  • Expands the bicycle industry—people who ride bicycles need to buy bikes and related equipment, and that opens an opportunity for bicycle businesses, which in turn creates jobs
  • Saves people money compared to the expenses of having a car, which can benefit local businesses because money saved on transportation can be invested elsewhere
  • Helps private developers reduce parking requirements and costs—Building bicycle infrastructure reduces the cost of building and maintaining parking spaces because it is an invitation for an alternative mode of transportation, people may only need one car instead of two or three, and cities may have parking exemptions
  • Increases the area’s desirability by improving its visual aesthetic and flow – and that spurs property value

Armed with the knowledge that supporting the bicycling industry is a proven economic driver, RMA is actively incorporating the creation of bicycle infrastructure into their projects. Recently, in the City of West Palm Beach, RMA experts participated in the redesign of Broadway corridor (currently a four-lane road). In the proposed streetscape improvements, the team suggested doing a road diet: eliminating one lane in each direction, widening the middle space and creating a linear park with a shared bicycle and pedestrian path. These changes would provide shade from trees for bicyclist and pedestrian comfort, and on-street parking as a protective buffer. The improvements also create locations for successful businesses to thrive, which will generate positive economic development and an improved quality of life for the area’s residents.

Bike-Friendly Cities are Happier Cities

In a National Geographic magazine article from October 2017, rating the 25 happiest cities in the US, the author Dan Buettner noted, “There’s a high correlation between bikeability and happiness.” Even people who never hop on a bike benefit from bike-friendly improvements — a safer environment for walkers and drivers, less traffic and more active neighborhoods and business districts.

Neighborhoods also become more desirable when traffic slows down and residents have more transportation choices.

What now?

When cities build and support bike infrastructure, they are making some of the highest return investments in their community. The rise in popularity of biking, and its positive physical, environmental and economic benefits, are a signal that its time to take this mode of transportation seriously and recognize its enormous potential for creating more economically strong places and a happier community overall.

#RMABicycles

Sources:
Adventure Cycle Association, Economic Impact
https://www.adventurecycling.org/bicycle-tourism/building-bike-tourism/economic-impact/ Richard Fry, Millennials projected to overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation, March 1 2018, Pew Research Center, Fact Tank News in Numbers
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/01/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers/The benefits of an environmentally friendly business, Queensland Government, Business Queensland, 2014
https://www.business.qld.gov.au/running-business/environment/environment-business/benefitsDarren Flusche, Bicycling Means Business: The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Infrastructure, July 2012, League of American Bicyclists
https://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/Bicycling_and_the_Economy-Econ_Impact_Studies_web.pdf Scott Shelter, Seeing Indianapolis via the Cultural Trail, Quirk Travel Guy
https://quirkytravelguy.com/seeing-indianapolis-via-the-cultural-trail/ 10 Reasons Bicycling Will Continue to Soar in Popularity
https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/2/9/12-reasons-bicycling-will-continue-to-soar-in-popularity

Capitalizing on the Trend: Lake Park’s New Regulatory Framework Promotes Placemaking

By Camilo Lopez, Jr. Urban Designer

The art of transforming a space into a place. Walking along the waterfront under a row of shade trees, buying fresh seafood from the local fisherman at the marina, sitting at a sidewalk café listening to a street performer, greeting your neighbor sitting on the porch, having dinner with a loved one under a string of romantic lights hung between historical buildings, contemplating the sunrise at the park; all are part of placemaking for a town in Palm Beach County, Florida. The Town of Lake Park’s new form-based code promotes placemaking such as this through its new regulatory framework.

Placemaking FormulaSpace (physical environment) + People (life) + Purpose (program/activity) + Identity (uniqueness/ character) = Place

Building inclusive, healthy, functional, and productive towns/cities is perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity today, and there are no easy solutions, but a key part of the puzzle lies right at the heart of the world’s urban areas: its public spaces[1].

A January 2017 article published in Smart Cities Dive states that “Public space is more than just a pleasant amenity in our towns and cities, it is an important connection between our homes, businesses, institutions, and the rest of the world[2]“. In recent years, the importance of public space has grown and the concept of “placemaking” has come to the forefront of many urban centers.

Placemaking is a people-centered approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces.  This practice capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, vision, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being.

The Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a non-profit organization promoting placemaking, asserts that most great places, whether a grand downtown plaza or humble neighborhood park, share four key attributes:

  1. They are accessible and well connected to other important places in the area.
  2. They are comfortable and project a good image.
  3. They attract people to participate in activities there.
  4. They are sociable environments in which people want to gather and visit again and again.

PPS also describes a philosophy of “The Power of 10+” – the notion that cities of all sizes should have at least 10 destinations where people want to be in order to attract new residents, businesses, and investment, as well as the people who already live there[3].

Based on these premises, the Town of Lake Park, with the help of RMA experts, undertook a process to establish a new land development code with the purpose of creating a framework that promotes a community focused on the pedestrian experience with streets that are comfortable, accessible, entertaining, and safe. For example, by having defined routes and with the purpose of being active, the buildings must be close to the street, they must provide multiple activities on the ground floor, they must provide weather protection in the form of an overhang and provide tables and chairs on a wide sidewalk.

With Lake Park, every decision that was made and established as a regulation in the code of the town was in consideration of the kind of ‘daily activities’ that embodied their character and identity. For example, along Federal Highway (main commercial corridor). The opportunity to dine inside a building while looking at the street and see people on the sidewalk walking and dining, is translated to the minimum requirement of wall transparency in the code.

Our team also had a very special opportunity to propose and create a Waterfront Marina ‘place’. The idea was to create a flexible public space where the community can meet and enjoy public art, performances, artists, live music, cafes, dining, etc. The code clearly established the parameters for this area to become a pleasant and unique public space for its residents and visitors, providing social and economic benefits to the community.

Another placemaking aspect of the new Lake Park code for the Federal Highway Mixed-Use District is the transition between the single-family homes on 2nd Street and the increased intensity towards the Federal Highway Corridor and the Marina Waterfront. It is important to classify and propose certain elements depending on the context in which we find ourselves. As the character of 2nd Street is low in intensity and only residential, our experienced team proposed to maintain, and where possible improve, this environment through the code to create a family place which is pleasant and safe with the architecture that reflects the towns feel.

Furthermore, in the process of creating the code with the idea of making a ‘place’ that has multiple options for different people of all ages and for a variety of uses, the proposed code addressed a very special space in front and around Kelsey Park. This park is a gem that has the potential to provide a local and friendly environment for its residents and visitors. The components of the park as a public space have the basis to create a place; such as open spaces, space for outdoor activities, sports, having an amphitheater for special events that bring together the community, walking in front of the water, sitting on the grass and watching the boats go by, and a local weekly fresh market. In addition, around the park we found a very special building typology that consists of buildings with historical significance along Federal Highway and wide lots along the main downtown thoroughfares with the potential of having active use on the ground floor, with offices and housing above. A space with people, programming and identity.

Set the right built environment first. It is important to understand that if the built environment framework has the right basis to make a place where people feel comfortable, that has a direct relationship with the sense of a community, with the unity of the community, with a successful place, with the sense of belonging and with economic stability.

When you create a place with the components of space, people, programming and identity, inevitably that will generate more living spaces which translates into more people, more businesses and more jobs, making a city, and in this case the Town of Lake Park, a successful place to live, work, and play.

 Works Cited

[1] https://www.pps.org/article/ten-strategies-for-transforming-cities-through-placemaking-public-spaces

[2] https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/introduction-placemaking/1291822/

[3] https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/introduction-placemaking/1291822/

West Palm Beach Palm Coast Plaza

Agency

City of West Palm Beach

Services Provided

Master Planning
Urban Design

Performance Period

2015-2016

West Palm Beach Palm Coast Plaza

Issue

The City of West Palm Beach owns the municipal golf course at 7001 Parker Avenue and the vacant land at 8111 South Dixie Highway. These properties along with the Palm Coast Plaza and surrounding area total approximately 220 acres, and are greatly underutilized prime properties within the City. RMA was contracted to assist the City with a Market, Real Estate and Design Analysis of the sites and surrounding areas and make recommendations to the City based on the findings. The City decided to move forward with presenting the concepts to developers to engage interest for future development.

Strategy

A thorough analysis of the adjoining residential neighborhood and high school along with a market analysis of the commercial areas was conducted. Results showed that the residential neighborhood was stable, while as in many cases, the commercial areas were severely underutilized while amassing a great amount of area for surface parking.

Results of extensive stakeholder interviews indicated that there was still demand from the public for the golf course. An analysis of the traffic patterns, parking and vehicular issues presented by the high school was conducted. Results showed that lack of street connectivity created cut through traffic problems through the neighborhood.

It was through the public input process that RMA created 4 design scenarios that would present a scheme for the development of the 8111 parcel, and the partial development and reconfiguration of the adjoining golf course. These golf course scenarios would vary in concept, allowing the golf course to be reconfigured yet still service the community. The 8111 parcel would become a mixed-use development, providing waterfront
public areas for the community. A scenario making the Palm Coast parcel more efficient by adding a mixed-use component and increasing retail square footage was designed by the team.

Outcome

The completion of the project resulted in several outcomes. The project developed existing conditions and data analysis. Public Involvement through Stakeholder Interviews and Idea Exchange Open House presentations of design solutions to the public resulted in the development of the masterplans for the 8111 site, Palm Coast Plaza site and 4 varied golf course with real estate and economic feasibility studies. Analysis of the development feasibility for the entire study area illustrated the appropriate street connectivity along with redevelopment.

Is Your Zoning Code Holding Back Your City?

By Natasha Alfonso-Ahmed, Director of Urban Design & Planning

Many cities that are facing blight and lack of development interest are watching how other cities around them are thriving and don’t understand why. While there are many factors that can contribute to lack of investment, one main factor that cannot be overlooked is the existing zoning regulations. It’s important to be proactive and evaluate if amendments to the existing zoning regulations are needed on a regular basis, rather than wait for a development to initiate an amendment. We all know what typically happens when a development initiates a change – the community feels threatened. If cities are cognizant of the changes in the market early on, they are better able to embrace growth and plan for it. By planning for change, cities have the ability to make better decisions on the appropriate development pattern for new development, in terms of density and height, as well as the desired public benefits that can enhance the quality of life for residents. This means taking a real close look at the regulations and understanding if they are too relaxed or too restrictive.

Some cities, for example, don’t realize that the densities they currently allow, for a particular district that is intended to be in an urban high density residential area, are too low. In fact, in many of these areas the maximum permitted heights are way higher than what will ever be needed to fill the envelope with the maximum permitted densities. In order to check if the density matches the height, cities should conduct site design studies that can generate multiple development scenarios, including at maximum build-out.  Another important thing to consider is whether the standards will encourage the right type of development. If the goal, for example, is to attract quality development but every development application that comes in is sub-standard it’s time to look at how the code addresses building design and the public realm. Developers will invest in cities that have the best kept streets and buildings. Zoning codes should have clear building and street standards that define the minimum percentage of active use and fenestration required along the ground floor, sidewalk and landscaping widths, tree requirements, lighting, street furnishings, etc. Last and most importantly, cities need to evaluate their development approval process. Is it simple, clear and hassle free? Is the city truly business friendly?

One successful example is RMA’s award‐winning redevelopment strategies for North Miami Beach, which have spurred land sales of over $200 million, with an estimated $500 million in new construction now underway or approved. Our firm was hired to reinvent the City in order to compete with other thriving municipalities. Since implementing RMA’s form based zoning regulations and Mixed‐Use Comprehensive Plan Initiative, which won the APA Florida Award of Merit, the City has become a coveted location for developers. Prior to RMA’s involvement, investment in the city was hindered by restrictive codes and poorly planned incentive programs. The City was previously viewed as anti‐business and anti‐investment. Their reputation changed with the City’s new leadership and resulting vision plan. RMA conducted a thorough market and financial feasibility assessment of North Miami Beach which helped guide the vision plan. The assessment led to market based code revisions on height and density, attracting new developers. Thanks to the new vision plan, there are now over 1,500 residential units, 270 hotel rooms, 215,000 sq. ft. of retail and over 100,000 sq. ft. of office space approved or underway. The vision plan and form based zoning regulations centered upon the principles of good urban design and achieved a balance between the needs of the community and the market realities.

Pompano’s Rising Innovation District

by Sharon McCormick

Trend-setting cities around the globe are establishing Innovation Districts—transforming forgotten areas into dynamic amalgams of corporate sophistication, startup edginess, walkable communities, trendy restaurants, hip housing and cultural clusters. While considered an emerging phenomenon, the paradigm is something RMA has already embraced. Our current Pompano Beach project incorporates all of these concepts and more.

For years, innovation occurred in sprawling corporate campuses that were isolated. Think Silicon Valley and Research Triangle Park. Today, innovation emerges from a mash-up of ideologies where people co-invent, co-produce and stay connected to all of the dynamic energy because this is where they work, live and socialize daily in an urban environment.

When RMA was hired to reinvent Pompano Beach, they immediately saw a vast under-utilized area, near a highway system, that could be developed to incubate creativity and spur economic growth.

The area was attractive for innovative transformation for many reasons. First, it was historically the downtown area of Pompano Beach offering easy access to transit via interstate, rail and air. This area also offered many acres of vacant land that were available for new construction.  Additionally, two historically significant dilapidated buildings located there were envisioned as thriving cultural facilities. In addition, the city and county had entered into an agreement to build a new library and cultural arts center in the same vicinity.

All of these positives led us to believe that this area was ideal for the creation of the “innovation district.”

The process to realize innovative reinvention incorporated three key areas of our firm’s expertise.

Our Economic Development director, Kevin Crowder, conducted a market analysis and determined there was regional demand for Class A office space, urban residential product and retail. He calculated the market potential and how much new development could be supported.

Next, RMA’s Urban Design & Planning director, Natasha Alfonso-Ahmed, developed a plan which incorporated a unique drainage system, one that would act as a canal system similar to those in San Antonio or Amsterdam, rather than a typical circular suburban drainage pond often seen in South Florida. RMA’s plan envisions an urban and pedestrian environment with streets and canals lined with offices, outdoor cafes and restaurants. One benefit of this is development projects that would have dual frontage (water and street sides) dramatically increasing real estate values. The physical environment would also connect people together with nature through the pedestrian friendly creative design.

While Kevin and Natasha focused on their respective elements, I went to work developing plans to connect the human capital to the project. Through a new “Innovation Organizers” program, we will connect knowledge, talents, experience, intelligence, training, and wisdom among entrepreneurs, innovators, artists and interested locals.

One aspect of my leadership role is to oversee two of the city’s cultural facilities, Ali Cultural Arts and Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA). The mission and programs of these venues will act as the catalyst for innovation advancement, supporting an exciting new frontier for artists and makers. The “maker culture” typically includes engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronicsrobotics and 3-D printing, as well as more traditional arts and craft activities such as metalworkingwoodworking and painting.

Technology, creativity, leading-edge anchor institutions and companies that cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators, coupled with ‘pride of place’, results in innovative transformation —–and this is what makes an “Innovation District.”

RMA On the Move – October 2015

d4abd743-200b-4292-8658-446caea5889eRMA Accepts Certificate of Appreciation from the City of North Miami Beach
RMA Director of Urban Design & Planning, Natasha Alfonso-Ahmed accepting, on behalf of the entire team, a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of North Miami Beach for the Mixed-Use Comprehensive Plan Initiative which won an APA Florida Award of Merit.

American Planning Association, Florida Chapter, Conference in Hollywood
Rachel Bach, RMA Sr. Redevelopment Administrator and Jean Dolan, RMA Sr. Planner, attended the American Planning Association, Florida Chapter, Conference in Hollywood, FL 9/8-9/11/2015

International Downtown Association 61st Annual Conference in San Francisco
RMA Sr. Redevelopment Administrator/City of West Palm Beach CRA Director, Jon Ward; RMA Sr. Project Manager, Allison Justice; and RMA Director of Business Attraction & Marketing, Sharon McCormick, attended the Int’l Downtown Association 61st Annual Conference in San Francisco, CA 9/30-10/2/15