Last month I had a brief road trip through Kansas with my friend Rich, a Seattle architect. Rich was doing roof inspections for a large property managment firm with properties in small rural towns. On the last day of our journey we visited Lawrence KS (see post 1/2). We had finished Rich’s work in Topeka that morning and we met up with a couple for lunch.
In our younger days meeting friends for lunch was just that — college friends hanging out. One of Rich’s best friends from high school in Oklahoma lives with her husband in Lawrence, both alumni of the University of Kansas. In fact, both now teach at KU. See, we get older and our old friends become respectable. Rich’s friend from high school graduated the same year as me, 1985. I met Bonnie years ago when she was a planner for the city of Liberty Missouri. These days Bonnie Johnson has a Ph.D. and is park of KU’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning. Once Rich & Bonnie stopped talking about who they saw at their respective 20-year reunions we talked about planning issues, including those in Lawrence. Bonnie is a former member of the Lawrence Planning Commission.
In my prior post on Lawrence I looked at the main drag — Mass (short for Massachusets St.
Ave). This post will look at a few other areas.
In the next block east of Mass some interesting things are happening. For starters, a parking lot is overtaken each Saturday morning for a Farmers’ Market. We arrived after noon on a Saturday which is a shame as I would have liked to have seen the staging for the market as well as the volume of customers.
Attached to some parking meters are retrofit bike racks. These make it easier to secure a bike’s frame to a solid object. My only question is how much of an obstacle might this pose to someone trying to use the meters. Perhaps this is a good low-cost solution for getting more bike parking?
Above is a good example of how a curb “bulb” can help shorten street crossings and to create ends for parking lanes. ADA ramps are able to be more in line with the direction of travel and not pointed out into the middle of the intersection from the corner of the sidewalk. This view is looking north from 7th & New Hampshire St. (google map). Up ahead is a failed downtown outlet mall converted to a riverside hotel.
Yes, downtown Lawrence KS has a Borders bookstore while St. Louis does not. Here the city required the corner building, at left, to be saved. A new building was built next to it and the combined buildings make up with store with the main entrance to the right, facing a small parking lot.
From the other way we can see how the parking lot is behind a stone wall. Pedestrians can easily get to the entrance without having to walk through a parking lot. Still, I would have liked to have seen the corner building have some activity — sure it was ‘saved’ but the corner remains rather lifeless. Also in the above image we can see bike parking provided along the public sidewalk (very visible where a thief is less likely to try to steal it). Also here is another use of a “bulb” but in this case it is detached from the curb so that water can still flow downhill to the drain system.
Adjacent to the Border’s parking lot is a new loft building, next to another new loft building. Or is it?
OK, this is not the four buildings that it appears to be — this is one fairly new building. The intention is to give the impression of multiple buildings rather than one potentially overbearing building. As such facade treatments go, I think they did an excellent job with the materials and details. The main entrane to the residential units is through the narrow section that is 3-stories. The ground floor is reserved for retail — each having their own entrance. With the exception of the bank at the far end, all the spaces were empty.
The main residential entrance is under the canopy. For me, the green grass just doens’t communicate commerce. The area is attractive and the grass is flawlessly maintained but this just doesn’t feel like a good place for retail activity.
The far south corner with the bank also disappoints from a downtown perspective. I like the sign being on the corner but the entrance is a bit up the sidewalk — not on the corner where it belongs. Corners used to mean something architecturally.
Across the street and down the block we headed back to our rental vehicle. Note the worn grass next to the sidewalk in the above picture. This brick wall marginally narrows the width of the sidewalk but enough so that a clear path is worn in the grass. The sidewalk is comfortable for two to walk side by side until you get to this point — it appears many will walk in the grass/dirt before giving up their position next to another.
We headed out to see some of the new sprawl on the western edge of Lawrence. The above subdivision is one of the newest. Here we see the post office. The sidewalk cuts between the houses so that people can walk to get their mail. Of course, note the lack of sidewalks along the actual street! Bonnie noted Lawrence has since changed their code, they now require sidewalks. From this view we can see this house’s 3 garage doors but not the front door for humans.
After we dropped off Bonnie back at her home we headed out of town, back northbound on Mass. But we are further south than the main downtown, this is near 23rd. We can see a recently constructed Family Video store next to an older strip mall. Lots of new sidewalks but not a one taking the pedestrian from the public sidewalk to the front door of the store.
Above is the older strip center that the Family Video was attached to. A grocery store in on the far end with the green mansard roof. As you can see, the older area was much harsher than the new — completely lacking in any grass or trees. The St. Louis region has many such strip centers just ready to be improved. In the background is one of the taller buildings in the area.
Although I couldn’t really tell, my guess was senior housing. The greenery here certainly helps soften the solid concrete forms of the building. I’m sure the original renderings were lovely with many people milling about in the pseudo park setting. On this lovely day, the area was empty. Maybe all the residents were north in the main area of downtown with the rest the other direction at the new Family Video.
Lawrence has much of the same sprawl as other cities, the new area with all the big boxes like Target and Wal-Mart. We saw a site out on the edge of town where Wal-Mart is fighting to build a second location. Over the years Lawrence has managed to keep a lot of sprawl at bay but things are changing — more and more voters live on the edge in sprawl. Their voting patterns could change the shape of Lawrence in the future and have a negative impact on downtown.