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  #1  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 4:39 AM
ue ue is offline
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How do smaller blocks help enhance walkability?

I always hear that smaller blocks make cities more walkable, dense, and increase streetlife/vibrancy. It may be a stupid question to some of you, but how is that so? Could somebody explain it to me?
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  #2  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 5:08 AM
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NYC has some blocks that are 1,000+ ft & Portland has 200 footers. I think it depends on matters beyond length.
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  #3  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 5:13 AM
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^sorry..you're right I didn't phrase it right...it's just I hear small blocks can help enhance walkability in cities. How is that so? I know there are many other factors but still.
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Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 5:34 AM
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I would think smaller blocks allow for more breaks while longer ones are more convenient for those walking a long distance rather than 'local' walking. As for density, well the smaller the space, the more likely a developer would plan a taller building to increase the profits. I don't recall ever hearing that large blocks are especially unattractive, but I do know the superblock of the old World Trade Center in NY didn't fit in with Lower Manhattan so well.
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  #5  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 5:35 AM
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It helps increase walkability because if I live in the middle of a block that is for example, 1200 feet long and I want to go to a shop that might literally only be 100 feet from me on the next block over, I have to walk 600 ft up my block, walk to the next block, and then walk 600 ft down the next block. In other words, I'm walking 12x farther than the actual distance of the shop. While, obviously it's not that big of a deal to walk 1200 ft, it would be much easier, if that block was cut into three smaller 400 ft blocks.
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  #6  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 6:10 AM
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Manhattan blocks are often 850' x 180' if I recall. That's a big part of NY's form. With few avenues n-s, each avenue gets way more pedestrians than the typical cross-street.
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  #7  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 8:56 AM
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oh come on! just go visit a city with small blocks and walk around and make up your own damn mind. or better yet, just pick a distance of a mile and try walking it in different places like downtown and a suburb and then ask yourself witch walk felt like an eternity and which didn't.
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Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 9:45 AM
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More shortcuts to things.
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  #9  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 11:17 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by POLA View Post
oh come on! just go visit a city with small blocks and walk around and make up your own damn mind. or better yet, just pick a distance of a mile and try walking it in different places like downtown and a suburb and then ask yourself witch walk felt like an eternity and which didn't.
Actually I have to agree, you should go visit cities that have different block sizes to judge for yourself.

For Portland, the smaller blocks were more of an economic development rather than a walkability one. Smaller blocks means more corners, more corners means higher rent for more exposure. Mid block buildings always have lower rents that corner block buildings.

But for walkability, if you have smaller blocks it makes it much easier for one to weave through a city...though, when you get outside of downtown Portland, the block sizes begin to change to reflect the neighborhoods. This is also true in NYC. The short blocks all have the retail and other commercial, making it very easy to cover alot of ground that is always active, while the long streets are full of residential and create a slower effect so that those streets do not feel as bustling and are much more pleasant to live on because of that.

Actually if you really want to put block sizes to the test, visit Portland for the small blocks, then go up north towards Seattle and visit Bellevue for the super blocks to feel the difference between the two when walking in a downtown.
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  #10  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 5:58 PM
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I've been to Portland which has smaller block sizes, for example, and live in Edmonton which has giant blocks (even in the heart of the city)...so I know how to compare them.

I did find it easier and whatnot to just get places being a pedestrian in Portland vs Edmonton and it seemed easy to get from say one end of the Pearl to the other.

But I still wasn't exactly sure if this lead to more walkability, and although it made sense in my mind somehow that it increases walkability, I wasn't sure how, so that's why I posed the question to see exactly why.
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  #11  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 6:04 PM
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More shortcuts to things.
That's the most succinct answer so far.
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  #12  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 6:05 PM
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Block size does make a difference, but it is far less important than many other factors.
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  #13  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 6:07 PM
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Well, bringing Manhattan into the question brings up a very very complicated situation regarding Manhattan, and its grid's, walkability. In my firm opinion, the only reason gridded Manhattan is walkable is because it's so goddamn dense.

Manhattan's streets before 1811 were crooked, narrow, and disjointed; they were often made following Lenape foot paths or natural features. In 1807, real estate speculators convened to decide how to divvy up the rest of the island in a manner that was most efficient to the sale of land.

This map shows where the old streets of Manhattan plug into the new streets of the approved 1811 Commissioner's Plan streets near the top of the image: (the title 'NEW YORK IN 1755' refers to the blocks marked in bold at the tip of the island; the map was created much much later, at least 1860, as it shows the modern streetscape]

lib.utexas.edu

One of the shortsighted decisions made in the creation of the Manhattan grid was regarding the size of blocks. In 1811, New York was not yet industrialized; the main areas of commerce and activity happened near the waterfront where ships docked and shared their goods. Responding to this condition, the Commissioner's planners decided to make blocks at the edge of the island smaller to accomodate a more pedestrian and commercial environment while they made blocks in the middle of the island wider to be conducive to small scale residential development.

Of course, this is not at all how Manhattan developed. Midtown would become home to the city's two grand rail terminals, and the area planned as a quiet suburb would become the city's largest commercial neighbourhood. And as water traffic died through the 19th and 20th centuries, the neighbourhoods at the waterfront became industrial and less populated areas.

In my firm opinion, walking in Manhattan above 14th st isn't enjoyable. The avenues facing narrow blocks are designed to accomodate traffic moving along the predominant North-South axis of the island and are very wide and noisy. As well, crossing the street becomes annoying because it happens too often; the blocks are too small. In the East-West direction, the streets are small and intimate, but they don't take you anywhere and are disconnected from the greater urban fabric.

This is the kind of streetscape that happens below 14th St:

cyburbia.org

And this is the grid condition:

Pedruca on flickr.com

[Notice how the blocks in the lower image are smaller than the blocks in the above...and yet which is the more appealing landscape for foot traffic?]

In short, block size is not necessarily the issue as it is implementation. Grid landscapes remove all the pleasureable surprises and discoveries a pedestrian can find in an older streetscape all for the name of navigational efficiency.
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Last edited by CGII; Nov 22, 2009 at 6:29 PM.
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  #14  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 6:13 PM
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Also, this is worth a read:

http://www.planetizen.com/node/41290
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Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 6:17 PM
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In addition to all of the above, smaller blocks = more human scaled, they will simply feel more inviting to the pedestrian by virtue of their smaller size. Also, smaller blocks will tend to mean more frequent stop signs & traffic lights, forcing cars to slow down rather than speeding along a long, unbroken block (again, making the environment more appealing to the pedestrian).
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  #16  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 6:22 PM
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Originally Posted by MonkeyRonin View Post
In addition to all of the above, smaller blocks = more human scaled, they will simply feel more inviting to the pedestrian by virtue of their smaller size. Also, smaller blocks will tend to mean more frequent stop signs & traffic lights, forcing cars to slow down rather than speeding along a long, unbroken block (again, making the environment more appealing to the pedestrian).
Not necessarily. Smaller blocks means more interaction with non-pedestrian traffic, which is not pedestrian friendly. You can change the size of the blocks in Manhattan all you want but it won't make it any more or less walkable because it does not address the fundamental issues as to why the streetscape is not working for pedestrians. Namely, all of the grids in the United States were designed to facilitate real estate sale and not pedestrian circulation.
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  #17  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 6:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CGII View Post
Also, this is worth a read:

http://www.planetizen.com/node/41290
so is this! it has comparisons of the # of blocks & # of intersections of dozens of cities, from brazilia at one end of the scale, to ahmedabad & venice at the other end:

http://www.amazon.com/Great-Streets-...dp/0262600234/
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  #18  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 6:28 PM
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Originally Posted by amor de cosmos View Post
so is this! it has comparisons of the # of blocks & # of intersections of dozens of cities, from brazilia at one end of the scale, to ahmedabad & venice at the other end:

http://www.amazon.com/Great-Streets-...dp/0262600234/
Awesome! I'm about to walk to the Strand bookstore on 12th st. right now (in a strange correlation to the conversation at hand) and I'll definitely have to look for that.
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  #19  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 6:47 PM
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The bigger story in Downtown Portland is that the streets are narrow. Also they're generally tree-lined.

Downtown Bellevue, by contrast, has much larger typical blocks at about 500' (though they've been splitting many up into multiple blocks), and the main problem is that this focuses traffic on far fewer streets (by a gov't that historically prioritized traffic over people, and continues to do so to a lesser extent), so many streets have huge traffic volumes. (Also a function of transit...I've heard 20% transit mode share based on buses, with light rail from Seattle arriving in 2022 or so based on a 2008 vote.)

Portland's narrow streets work because there's decent transit, and the City has avoided "capacity" increases like narrowing sidewalks or taking away parking. The result is rare ambiance for a newer US city.
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  #20  
Old Posted Nov 22, 2009, 7:17 PM
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Smaller blocks mean more space for streets. More space for cars.
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