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February 12, 2008

New Urbanism: The Perfect City: effective mixed-use architecture

The lives we live, in this future-orientated America, are fast-pased and precisely accurate. We live by our clocks. We calculate commute times. Add in minutes for the occasional traffic jam, weather slowdown, or cup of joe. We determine our exact amount of sleep. We are constantly looking to improve. Looking to better accommodate ourselves and others. And with this a new architecture is born.

Definition: New Urbanism is an approach to designing cities, towns, and neighborhoods. New Urbanist town planners, developers, architects, and designers try to reduce traffic and eliminate sprawl. A New Urbanist neighborhood resembles an old European village with homes and businesses clustered together. Instead of driving on highways, residents of New Urbanist neighborhoods can walk to shops, businesses, theaters, schools, parks, and other important services. Buildings and recreational areas are arranged to foster a sense of community closeness. New Urbanist designers also place importance on earth-friendly architecture, energy conservation, historic preservation, and accessibility. http://architecture.about.com/od/communitydesign/g/newurban.htm

But this is not the first time these types of multi function structures were experimented with.

The idea of mixed-use structures may have been first seen with the Greeks, on the island of Crete. The complex at Knossos was built around 1900 BC and housed areas of cult rooms, formal areas, storage facilities for agricultural products, industrial areas and workshops of the palace and domestic apartments as well. It was basically a fully functional structure with the exception of agricultural growing. This may be the first example of structure planing for architecturally efficient complexes.

Today, city planners and designers all over the globe strive for convenience and community with their housing structures.

In 2005, the City of Bloomington, Minnesota, approved a massive transit oriented development project to begin construction. The $600 million dollar Bloomington Central Station project is arguably the largest transit oriented redevelopment project in the country. This transit oriented, mixed-use urban structure will be located right along the Hiawatha Light Rail Line, close to The Mall of America, and will include approximately 1200 housing units, 2,000,000 sq. ft. of office space, a hotel, and retail and entertainment space, as well as a central park area and other amenities.

The mixed-use complex is a radical advancement that crosses scientific reason with community. It is a highly economic and perfectly accessible based architectural design theory. Residents will have all the basic essentials while being steps away from fast reliable transportation. Some architectural critics speculate on high costs, planning difficulty, and the loss of individuality and culture with these complexes. But they must not be too quick to judge the future.

Excelsior and Grand
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In 2003, St. Louis Park, Minnesota, city planners devised a way to actually create a city center. It was a 15-acre Excelsior and Grand, $150 million dollar development project that engaged urban design principles and practices to help liven up a dull city. And it worked. On the corner of a heavily traveled intersection, Excelsior and Grand is a “…compact, vertically mixed-use development that features residential units—condominiums and apartments—over street-level retail and restaurants. To enhance the environment’s urban feel, the site features a well-manicured village green and adjacent open-air amphitheater, as well as store-front parking and wide, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks that accommodate outdoor dining.? http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.tcbmag.com/images/industriestrends/commercialrealestate/articles/asset_upload_file158_71796.jpg

I myself being raised in St. Louis Park can truly appreciate the positive impact of such advancement. I now had a common place to meet my friends for coffee, to have lunch, or do homework. The close by shops made errands fun and easy to accomplish. Many of my friends also found employment in some of the new businesses. The development also allowed me to compare my city-suburb to neighboring ones (ex. Hopkins Main street, Edina Main street) I am an advocate for smart developments.

The Bridges of Saint Paul
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The St. Paul City Council rejected a rezoning application for the Bridges of St. Paul. The landmark was estimated at costs over $1.5 billion dollars. It was proposed for the city's West Side.