Setting good standards

One of the goals of modern urban design is to create pedestrian-friendly streetscapes. This is to encourage people not only to walk or bicycle instead of driving, but also to use public transit more often.

One idea to make cities more walkable has been to situate commercial buildings next to the street, with parking located out of sight in the rear. The idea is to create the kind of urban streetscapes found in such places as San Francisco and Portland, Ore.—and downtown Chico, for that matter—where pedestrians can enjoy looking into shop windows.

But when the concept is applied dogmatically, without consideration of its ultimate intention, it fails. That’s what happened when the city compelled Long’s Drugs to place its new store at East Avenue and Marigold next to the street. The result was a loading dock next to the sidewalk on Marigold and a blank wall on East Avenue—hardly pleasing features.

Long’s wasn’t happy with the outcome, either, so when the company recently sought approval of another new store at the corner of The Esplanade and Lassen Avenue, it said it would drop the project if forced to repeat the East Avenue design. Instead it presented a “compromise” design with some parking near the street but most set back a ways.

At its Dec. 20 meeting, the Planning Commission wisely accepted Long’s proposal. Lacking clear guidelines about the options for creating esthetic streetscapes, it went ahead and approved the project, with some minor modifications. But the process showed the importance of the city’s general plan process—and of coming up with clear design standards for creating the kind of community we all want.