NYC –> Shanghai, 14 days: Pop Quiz Time!

August 27th, 2013. 14 days!! That’s just two weeks!

Tonight’s mini blog is a pop-quiz! Put your notes away! Don’t worry, I promise it won’t be too bad! I’m not teaching this semester, so please indulge me. This will be the only exam I give for all of the 2013-2014 academic year! So this is an actual question I tend to give on my urban design exams (oops, spoiler alert – although, come to think of it, I doubt my students have been/will be reading this blog since it’s not required reading!). In any case, I really like this question as it captures many of the urban design principles we go over in class – and in this case, encapsulates much of what I’m been talking about in this mini-blog series so far. Also, I tell my students at the beginning of each term that I define success as them walking away from the class with at least 1/10th of my propensity to analyze and read the built environment in a near-compulsive way! Their answers to this question lets me gauge how close they’ve come.

So here goes — Please choose what you believe to be the best and worst scene in terms of its urban design quality and give two reasons why, each (put your answers in the comment box below!) “Grades” will be posted this Friday! Have fun 🙂

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 10.07.15 PM Scene 1

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 10.22.12 PM Scene 2

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 9.54.51 PM Scene 3

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 10.14.27 PM Scene 4

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 9.59.42 PM Scene 5


Learn more about this blog series!

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  1. Tracy McMillan says:

    The only one that truly bores me is Scene 4: no trees, no real life to be had–and how did you capture a city street w/out one car on it?! The others all have some redeeming qualities, with 3 being the gold standard for urban residential block & 5 being more mixed use lively. Do I pass, Teacher? 🙂

  2. Brian Hoyt says:

    3 best, 1 worst

  3. I think Scene 4 is the worst walking environment — it is a concrete canyon with no trees and little pedestrian activity — not a place I would want to walk alone at night. Scene 3 is the most attractive — walkable scale in terms of buildings and width of the street, and street trees.

  4. I like 5 best — retail activity, multimodal, outdoor seating to create active spaces, looks to be offices or residential on the upper floors. Maybe a bit more green space would be nice.

    2 is probably my least favorite — mainly because of the building with the garage doors on the right hand side — very unfriendly to pedestrians. The wide sidewalk on the left is nice, but there doesn’t appear to be anything to activate the space. Each of the others have elements I can appreciate as well as find very unappealing.

    Caveat — no urban design education for this planner 🙂

  5. Daniel Taytslin says:

    First, the worst: while I prefer the more modern architecture in Scene 2 to the drab buildings in Scene 1, I think the blank wall with all of the garage doors dings Scene 2, and Scene 1 has parks and trees that abut the sidewalk. Then again, Scene 1 also has parking lots. Scene 4 looks like a freeway with sidewalks, but it seems like there is some mixed use, and the sidewalks are in good shape. I would least like to walk along the right side of Scene 2, but I think Scene 1 might score slightly worse because the fences, parking lots, and architecture are quite uninviting.

    As for the best: Scene 3 is quainter and prettier with its mix of modern and classic brownstone architecture and leafy street trees, but I like the wide sidewalks, bike lane, bike racks, and mixed use in Scene 5. They’re both good. When in the mood for a relaxed stroll, I’d prefer Scene 3. When I’m after activity and buzz, Scene 5.

  6. Ryan Micik says:

    Scene 3 looks the most inviting to me, for its density and greenery. The narrow street makes it feel more walkable but could also lead to traffic congestion.

    Scene 1 looks the least inviting. Sort of desolate. Looks like Silver Spring.

  7. 3 is the best because the street is nice with trees – would be amazing if there were no cars. Scene 1 could be terrible but would have to see more info.


  8. 5 may be the best “design” since the program is broader (residential, commercial, buffers, etc.). 3 definitely feels the warmest.

    4 is pretty awful, desolate, more like a highway than a street. No trees, no places to interact.

  9. Lindsay Malloy says:

    I would have to go with scene 5 as the best because of the mixed use – hard to see but looks like there is some retail on the ground and places to sit and eat outside etc. There are also bike racks on the sidewalks but I can’t see if there are bike lanes…The street is a bit wide. Scene 3 is more pleasing to my eye at first glance, and probably nicer to walk down if one is just taking a stroll. Shade and I like ivy…

    Scene 1 looks like it’s straight out of an SVU crime scene including a large, white surveillance van where Benson and Stabler are clearly observing activity. Also, the parking lots on the sides are just dead space and I don’t like the chain link fences. That said, it does have trees and scene 4 is bad because it doesn’t have street trees and as scaffolding.

  10. Scene 3 is the best in my opinion. Buildings are interesting, nice street trees, and short distance to cross for pedestrians. Scene 2 is the worst because there is nothing interesting going on at the street level and on the right hand side, you have big blank walls without windows.

  11. Mike Powe says:

    I’m torn between Scenes 3 and 5 for the best option, and I think I’ll narrowly go with Scene 3 as the best. The buildings are narrow and their heights provide a nice sense of enclosure to the streetscape, and the street trees look abundant and look they provide some shade. Scene 3 lacks the cafe with outdoor seating that Scene 5 has, but otherwise, I think it looks best.

    Scenes 1 and 2 look like the worst pair, and I’ll go with Scene 2 as the worst. The long building with garage doors on the right side of the street look really uninteresting, and the buildings and storefronts on the left side look cold and uninviting.

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