Architecture For Making Neighborhoods More Walkable

Walking just feels right.  At least it can if given the right surroundings.  A beautiful walk in a pristine national park or along a sandy beach is one thing.  What about strolling through a densely developed urban environment?

Jeff Speck speaks to this idea in his well researched and remarkably interesting book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. In the book, Jeff lays out ‘The General Theory of Walkability’.  He describes the theory this way, “…. to be favored, a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting.”  The remainder of the book elaborates on how each of these conditions are critical in order for a walk to be an enjoyable experience.

The new Livingood Park Condominiums gives an example of how architecture can elevate each of these conditions. Located in Mariemont, Ohio, a planned community founded in 1925, Livingood Condos is a collaboration of Griewe Development working with North American Properties, K4 Architecture + Design and CR Architecture to continue the community’s tradition of tudor architecture in high end condo units.   

Author's Own Photo
Author’s Own Photo

You may be wondered how Livingood ties into this theory of walkability.  Let’s take a look at each condition.

We have already defined how this building is useful.  It provides the much needed living units just blocks from the main square of Mariemont village.  Maybe more importantly, it helps to bridge the transition between the edges of the neighborhoods of Mariemont and Madisonville.  You can clearly see this below in an aerial view of the project site.

Author's Own Photo
Author’s Own Photo

Safety is somewhat more challenging to define.  Livingood provides walkers with a feeling of safety.  The site previously held run-down two-story apartment units.  While they were not necessarily unsafe, their deterioration could potentially make a passer-by leery of the area.  In the future, they might take a different route to their destination.  This is fine in few instances but once bad, run-down or just ugly architecture begins to manifest itself, streets stop being walkable altogether.  With no one around the possibility for crime rises.

Comfortable criteria tends to overlap with safety criteria.  Part of feeling comfortable is the assumption that you are safe.  Well-maintained sidewalks, benches and properly located landscaping also help out. Walking along a busy state route with cars flying by is not a comfortable experience no matter how beautiful the architecture.  On the other hand, a well proportioned street with large trees and slow moving traffic can have a few less than desirable buildings and still feel comfortable. The Livingood project site maintained as many of the existing trees as possible while adding a variety of landscaping on both Murray and Madisonville Roads.

Image Source

The criteria for interesting is probably the easiest to understand.  Part of making a walk interesting, is creating architecture that is densely situated within a community.  It stands to reason that the more buildings you pass on a given walk, the more interesting that walk will tend to be.  The face of the Livingood condos is held only ten feet from the property line at Madisonville Rd.  This allows those passing by on the sidewalk to enjoy the beautiful rhythm of gabled bays and inset balconies up close.

With a better understanding of the criteria for an enjoyable walk, it is clear how this new addition to Mariemont adds so much to the pedestrian experience.  Similar to most well-designed buildings, the Livingood condos do not try stand out from their surroundings but instead looks to blend seamlessly into the existing context.  Producing a building that meets these four pillars is not a quick or easy process, but does provide the neighborhood with something of true value.