There are several simple conclusions one comes to after thoughtfully visiting the numerous squares outlined in this compilation. 

The first is that size matters, and the smaller, the better – at least up to a point. One of the most important issues in the creation of urban squares is fostering a sense of community. A square or crescent gives focus to a neighborhood, but if the space is too large, one comes away with just the opposite – division. Recognition of a neighbor (or a stranger) in an urban setting is important. With normal eyesight, we lose the ability to distinguish features in 200 or 250 feet. Codogan, in my view, is the worse. People on the other side are almost indistinguishable because the scale is no longer human. Squares like Belgrave are not much better; homes on one side feel very isolated from the homes on the other side. 

Small size has another benefit: less to maintain. Maintenance is extremely important to the success of any urban open area. Poorly maintained formal open space is a detriment to a neighborhood or community. 

Frequency also is important. the wonder of small, intimate formal open spaces within close proximity, each with watchful eyes on the square or crescent, increases the sense of safety that is totally missing at a place like Codogan. Frequency, so long as it is moderated to a distance of 900 feet or so, also increases real estate value – a plus for the developer as well as the tax man. 

Regarding form, I think there is a lot to be said for the shape of the crescent itself. The form of buildings around a crescent embrace the passerby. Instead of a sense of isolation, there is a sense of gentle enclosure. As one nears the end of the crescent, the actual enclosure ratio tightens, increasing the effect. Crescents also have the added benefit of taking up very little room, and “presenting” fine views of individual entrances as one proceeds down the softly curving frontage walk. 

Montpelier Square

The other crucial aspect of form is adequate height for the distance between facing buildings. My favorite London squares: Montpelier, Egerton Crescent and Chester, are reasonably small and have enclosure ratios that make the pedestrian feel enclosed and secure. Too little surrounding height loses a sense of enclosure (though this is not a fault of the squares in the area). Too much height overwhelms the observer, and several of our squares (Lowndes as an example) have had new buildings or stories added and suffer from this malady.

Finally, there is the issue of permeability. Belgravia and Kensington offer good examples of high permeability (the ability to move through and about a neighbrhood with ease) and low permeability. One feels the latter is the case two often when on the prowl for visiting several of our squares. We see this in particular with regard to Walnut Street which is virtually walled off from much of the Brompton Road area. Driven no doubt by developer and neighbrhood desires to isolate one economic strata from another, the result is poor walkability. Low permeability means long perimeter block lengths. We can see the result of connecting to adjoining urban fabric at Pelham Crescent and the disadvantage of not connecting at Egerton Crescent.  Permeability is a desirable characteristic of a truly walkable neighborhood.

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2 Responses to “4. Observations”

  1. Don Jones Says:

    Wow, I am just getting started and am very excited about this site. Love the format. Pls tell me that U of M Grad Dept in Planning is aware of this site and using it.

    Will comment furhter after I have read the balance of this pages. Nice work Rusty. dj

  2. joseph jutras Says:

    Yes, nice work indeed!
    -Joseph


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