Does DESIGN MATTER in our Downtown? Volume 3

Posted On: July 28, 2012
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Does DESIGN MATTER in our Downtown?

My last article strategically described how the Variety of “Uses” within a Downtown environment creates Synergy. Dining, Shopping, Recreational, Cultural and of course Living opportunities create diversity and choices. These choices are essential to creating a dynamic evolving pedestrian realm in our Downtown.  The recent branding campaign for Boca Raton’s Downtown “It’s Happening” is marketing our special places and entertainment venues to promote and attract citizens to come and experience the energy of our downtown.

This third volume of Why Design Matters in our Downtown will focus on the Urban and Architectural spaces that weave all the various “Uses” together and how these unique strategies truly enhance the experience.  It is no accident that successfully designed promenades, on street parking convenience, continuous covered loggias and creatively designed landscape  composed together, creates a haptic realm that enhances the activities of shopping, dining or casual strolling.

Downtown Boca Raton continues to evolve. As mentioned in a previous article, Mizner Park has become a Urban Land Institute legacy project. It is a case study for all Urban Design students and professionals. We can experience an open park stroll along paver walkways with fountains, pavilions and benches.  We have 1,000 lineal feet of options of being outside or strolling along the covered loggias, window shopping or people watching:). The outdoor dining areas covered with umbrellas located in open space or tucked into courtyards offer us multiple experiences.

The “Promenade” recently constructed continues the Mizner Park pedestrian boulevard south across NE 2nd Street and over to NE 1st Avenue along Sanborn Square. Yes, we have a downtown park and it, along with the amphitheater provides us with natural landscape to relax, play “catch” with our kids or enjoy  a concert. The trees become the overhead shelter and acts as sun filters. These light shadows are playful and create beauty along a path or in a quite space.  These spaces are bordered by tall buildings but cohesively co-exist.  One of the best features of the Promenade is that there are no curbs. The car must subordinate to the pedestrian and when we have festivals like “Meet me Downtown”, the roads, parking spaces and sidewalks become a continuous boulevard.  This project was critically important and our city’s leaders were unfairly criticized for the expenditure. If our City is ever to reach its potential, we need both public and private development to evolve together.  Although I feel the Promenade is successful today, time will tell how it will be received by the public once the Yardhouse  and Jazziz Bistro join IPIC on the South end of Mizner Park and these destination places spill out onto the Promenade. There has been exhaustive discussion about the “Spine” ( a main urban boulevard connecting Mizner Park and Royal Palm Place) for decades. The Promenade is not a spine but a very successful improvement in space connectivity.

And then there is Palmetto Park Road. We have all heard the dabates. Why can’t we get Palmetto  to become energized? Why are the shops struggling? What about traffic? Why hasn’t it become our Downtown Delray or Fort Lauderdale?

These are all important topics. Again, I have seen significant progress beginning with establishing our Downtown Design Guidelines and Pattern Book. This “How To” manual authored by Urban Design Associates in collaboration with our Citizens and City Leaders IS THE MAP TO FOLLOW. We are beginning to see the potential of Palmetto Park Road with Projects like 200 East and 5 Palms. Their connectivity to the street creates unique sidewalk experiences, on street dining and nicely amenitized landscape features.  I firmly believe we need to isolate the types of commercial spaces that front the street which are closed at night and create dark pockets of inactivity along a pedestrian path. However, I will save that for another article on “Strategic Zoning and Uses”.

In the meantime, bring on the rental communities recently approved. Over 1,500 new apartments will bring downtown living residents. HOOWA!!  These young professionals and downtown residents will spill out onto the streets and seek out services and entertainment opportunities. I believe that our Urban Environment will come alive with activity. The successful spaces we have now will only be enhanced by these new projects and further demonstrate WHY DESIGN MATTERS in our Downtown……

Douglas A. Mummaw, AIA, NCARB
President – Mummaw and Associates, Inc.
President – The Rotary Club of Boca Raton, 2011-2012
Adjunct Professor – Palm Beach State College – Architecture Department