Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An Unhappy Med City: No Pedestrians

A few weeks ago I wrote about HappyMedCity and Memphis' hopes to build a thriving medical district.

The UT Basic/Clinical Research Sciences Building, at the corner of Madison and Manassas is part of the new construction going into the rebuilt Medical District.

Medical District Building

Visually, I like it. I also like that it filled an empty lot, and that it has a almost urban setback (although I never get the berms -- the berms! -- those 4 feet borders of boring, useless grass)

But as I've looked closer at the building, I've noticed that it has no entrances/exits on Manassas or Madison. All customer entrances appear to face the private drives or parking lots on the side or back. There are no public, street-facing entrances.

It's within walking distance of other medical buildings and directly across from a nice park*, but the building penalizes walking, rewards driving. And it's a half-block of uselessness for pedestrian passersby.

This visualization for the soon-to-be-adjacent Hope Lodge shows a similar problem.

Summer Walk 2008

No openings to Union. You do see some people sitting outside on the right, so maybe the builders are thinking about this. In the meantime, we do see the phantom walkers of classic architectural illustration, poor suckers walking down the street looking for an entrance, or a reason to keep walking.

So while I salute the filling of these brownfields with nice buildings, I believe if Memphis is serious about re/building an fun, energetic, vital, safe medical district, we have to build actively for pedestrians too. Otherwise, we might build a attractive, empty, unsafe, dead medical district -- the same as we have now but prettier.

Build to the HappyMedCity standard.

* The University of Tennessee has been negotiating with Memphis to take over Forrest Park's management. One of the reasons stated is for the University to handle security for the park. Of course, one way to do this is by stationing security officers in the park. A less obvious, but more sustainable, economical way is to have the buildings and businesses along the park's edge seed its active use and steady cross-traffic, discouraging criminals and encouraging law abiders by its vitality.

Beyond mundane crime prevention, if a worker were to actually witness a crime in the park from this building, it would take them 10 minutes to get out and around to the aid of a victim. If the buildings along the park aren't designed for pedestrians, they could end up being beautiful skyboxes from which to watch the ballet of the criminal, the homeless and the law.

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Anonymous Dave Reid said...

That first building is awful. Why is it setback at all, then to have no access from the street, and finally from looking at it I think it looks like a parking garage.

11:57 AM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Hey Dave, thanks for the comment.

I don't understand the setbacks at all. Possibly zoning, but I don't think so. I think it's a fear of the street, and the belief that the little buffer gives protection.

I don't mind the building visually, which is a big step up from the parking lot it replaced, even if it does look like a parking garage. I don't like it as a pedestrian black box though.

8:12 PM  

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