A brief history of 534-44 Westcott St.
Westcott St. – a bustling neighborhood center, supporting successful businesses and a diverse community of residents – is the commercial heart of the Eastside. Up until the 1960s, the entire main street corridor was supportive of pedestrian activity and a diverse place of commerce. The image below shows the original turn of the century structures that occupied the property now home to Dorian’s Pizza. The numerous row buildings housed shops on the ground floor with apartments above. These buildings were demolished in the 60’s, and replaced by a gas station, (typical of the car-dominated development of the time), thereby reducing the variety of local businesses and homes.
The property prior to becoming a gas station
Decades later, the property is still paved with asphalt, with three quarters of the total area reserved for cars and garbage, and two separate curb cuts to allow cars to pull in and out from the street. The relatively small building is set back to the rear of the lot. Though this is an optimal arrangement for a gas station – pull in, get your gas, and continue out the other end – it’s the worst kind of lot configuration for pedestrian safety and access.
The property in its current state
Looking north along Westcott Street
What if this space, located in the center of an active commercial district, was developed in a more productive and pedestrian focused way? We think a different kind of building, with a different relationship to the street, can add significant vitality to this neighborhood.
The design of Remix is both a radical re-thinking of this urban lot and a traditional building type for a small business district. Three-story, brick-faced, mixed-use buildings are prototypes for a good “Main Street”. These buildings fill their lots from end to end to provide maximum access to services to the community.
In Eastwood, the Books and Melodies building, 2600 James St, is a great local example of how effective this building type is within a neighborhood commercial strip:
The Books and Melodies building on James Street
As is the old Harvey’s Pharmacy building on E. Genesee St:
The building once containing Harvey’s Pharmacy
There are many advantages to these prototypical main street buildings. They provide continuous storefronts along the street/sidewalk, thereby connecting pedestrians to business activity. Combining this proximity with a mix of residential and low-traffic commercial spaces on the upper floors, means that different people are using this building at different times and for different reasons. This in turn puts “eyes on the street” 24 hours/day, improving the safety of the neighborhood. The mix of uses creates a self-supporting system where: residents support businesses, businesses attract other businesses, making the neighborhood more livable for residents, creating more opportunities for businesses, and so on.
Possibly the most important advantage to this type of building is, the more we are able to live within walking distance of services we utilize and require, the more equitable our communities become. People without cars, such as elders and children, are not marginalized and left without access to services, and in fact, have as much access as everyone else.
In addition to using this traditional building type as a foundation, the Remix building includes these other features:
- Public Art – Two elements of public art are planned for the exterior of the building, a mural and a three-dimensional relief sculpture. See our full post on these elements here.
- Reducing Carbon Emissions – The building will be insulated beyond code parameters and use a high-efficiency, electric heating/cooling system to reduce dependency on fossil fuels in the building operation
- Bicycle Amenities – To support residents and visitors who wish to park their bike on-site, Remix will provide outdoor bike racks and an indoor bike storage room on the ground floor.
- Outdoor spaces – Building occupants are provided access to the outdoors via balconies on the front and back of the building. In addition there will be an outdoor dining area at the south end of the building, discussed further here. These spaces connect the building users with the outdoor environment and enhance street life along Westcott st.
Response to criticism
Initial criticism of the originally proposed design was that the building would be out of scale with the neighborhood and the residential component would house too many people. In response to these concerns, we updated our design by reducing the height from four to three stories, thereby reducing the number of apartments from 33 to 19. More about lessons learned from our first design here.
The one persistent criticism, which cannot be designed away, is that this development does not include a parking lot and thus will be destructive to the neighborhood. We think the opposite is true, and see the current site, which is mostly a parking lot, as the worst type of space to have at the heart of a business district. Since car-centric development began destroying our urban communities, with projects such as I-81 being built in the heart of the city, evidence has shown that prioritizing cars is harmful to our neighborhoods and communities. Car-oriented development is encoded into our zoning laws. Those significant parking requirements produce the type of big-box store and strip mall developments that populate Erie Blvd. We don’t believe this type of development is useful anywhere, but it’s certainly not appropriate for a neighborhood center like Westcott Street.
© Leon Krier
As the American Planning Association puts it: “Parking requirements increase traffic congestion, pollute the air, encourage sprawl, raise housing costs, degrade urban design, prevent walkability, damage the economy, and penalize everyone who cannot afford a car.”
Currently, many of the successful businesses that make the neighborhood great, exist with no dedicated parking- Alto Cinco, Recess, Las Delicias, Yeti, Cure Deli, Westcott Barber, Mom’s Diner, and Westcott Florist. The success of these businesses show how much commercial activity can thrive with limited parking when located in an urban area built for pedestrians. Residential need for parking is decreasing as ridesharing and bicycle commuting become more popular. Renters with cars can access the surrounding street parking, which currently is substantially underused.
Here are a few articles that provide a fuller picture of the downsides of required parking in development:
- American Planning Association- People Over Parking
- The Atlantic- How Parking Destroys Cities
- Strong Towns- But Where Will I Park?
We believe neighborhoods that don’t evolve stagnate. Building with traditional tools and a progressive vision for the neighborhood can benefit a community in many ways. We aim for Westcott Remix to be a catalyst for positive, locally-driven growth. We can build architecture that is responsible toward the environment and healthy for its inhabitants. We can repair a missing tooth in the streetscape with a mixed-use development that adds commercial density along the sidewalk. And, we can support existing neighboring businesses by locating new residents within steps of their shop doors.
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