Biking can be a great form of transportation. In McMinnville, our city is small enough that biking across town does not take that long, and if it was easy to bike across town, someone could use a bike to get a lot of their trips and errands done without depending on a car. There are also all of the health benefits of active transportation to consider!
Avid cyclists may not mind riding their bike in the street, riding close to and right alongside cars, and occasionally having to move into traffic to negotiate their way around a parked car, at a stop sign, or through an intersection with a stop light. However, that type of bike riding could be scary for some people, and it definitely is not an environment that small children or most families would feel comfortable riding in.
This has been supported by research and studies, which have found that “Americans have varying levels of tolerance for traffic stress, which is a combination of perceived danger and other stressors (e.g., noise, exhaust fumes) associated with riding a bike close to motor traffic. While a small fraction of the population will tolerate sharing a road with heavy or fast traffic, a large majority is 'traffic-intolerant,' willing to tolerate only a small degree of traffic stress. According to one popular scheme for classifying riders, the traffic-intolerant majority is called 'interested but concerned,' in contrast to the 'enthused and confident' and the 'strong and fearless,' smaller groups that will tolerate greater levels of stress.”
Are there other options for bike facilities that more people would be comfortable using? Perhaps an expanded off-street bike trail system or protected bike lanes that provide connections, not only between residential areas, but also to other destinations such as our schools, the historic downtown, and other shops and stores. Are there missing links or specific areas in McMinnville that make traveling through town by bike difficult? Should those types of things be included as a Great Neighborhood Principle?
You have likely heard the term Walk Score. If not, Walk Score is a concept made popular by a website that evaluates and scores the walkability of any given address, or even the walkability of an overall city. The website uses a number of different inputs to measure the walkability of a place – number of walking routes, distances between amenities, population, street size, block lengths, and intersection density. Many of these things relate to city planning and the development standards that we have in place for the build-out of our neighborhoods.
Let’s look at McMinnville’s Walk Score: https://www.redfin.com/city/11457/OR/McMinnville/housing-market#transportation
Overall, McMinnville’s Walk Score is 41, which puts us in the “Car-Dependent City” category. However, Walk Scores vary widely throughout the city. In our residential areas closer to downtown, the Walk Score is higher. In other residential areas further away from the central core, the Walk Score is lower.
A random address at 1099 NE Ford Street (which isn’t an actual address but is located near the intersection of NE Ford Street and NE 11th Street) has a Walk Score of 84, which is in the “Very Walkable” category. On the other hand, a random address at 2420 NW West Hills Drive (again, not an actual address but on West Hills Drive west of Hill Road and north of 2nd Street) has a Walk Score of 15.
What are some of the differences in these neighborhoods that might affect walkability? Obviously there are more amenities downtown, but there is also more connectivity in the areas of our city with a grid street network, something we will discuss in a later blog post.
Enter your own address on the Walk Score website to see how walkable it is in the place that you live. As you think about walkability in your neighborhood, are there any potential Great Neighborhood Principles that would make McMinnville’s neighborhoods more pedestrian friendly?
What makes a great neighborhood in McMinnville? What are the elements that exist in all of the neighborhoods and places that you think are great?
As you think about those questions, remember that great neighborhoods don’t always happen by accident. They often are the result of careful planning and thoughtful design that creates places that are sustainable, walkable, vibrant, social, and livable, all of which increases the quality of life for residents of all ages and incomes in the neighborhood.
The Great Neighborhood Principles project will identify the key principles, or characteristics, that make for a great neighborhood in McMinnville.
To identify those principles, we need your input! Starting next week, we will be providing mini-surveys twice a week to gather community input on important neighborhood characteristics. The input from these surveys will be used to develop the City of McMinnville’s Great Neighborhood Principles. We will also be sharing additional blog posts with information on best practices in planning and neighborhood design to help describe each particular principle under consideration. Hopefully the blog posts will also prompt thoughts and conversations on the principles as well!
If you are interested in completing a more in-depth online survey, we will have one of those available soon too!
Think about your least favorite things that happen when you leave the house every morning. It could be the traffic that backs up along your street, maybe the car exhaust as you bike to work, the noise of the morning commute, maybe it’s how little you move during the day. Now imagine what a place might look like if pedestrian and automobile priority were flipped. What if we paid more attention to getting ourselves places, rather than our cars?
Let’s paint a picture, Bob Ross style, of this new concept. After you draw in the puffy clouds, picture yourself standing in the middle of a street. The painted lines and asphalt of the road have been replaced by a new material, maybe brick, cobblestone, rock, or just your standard cement.
Looking straight down this new street, people are walking around from store, to restaurant, to winery, with no cars in sight.
The noise your ears pickup is limited to conversations of passerby’s, music flowing down the corridor, and the wind gently shifting the trees.
You live a couple blocks from this street, but it doesn’t take long to get home because everything is much closer without the need to plan intersections, stoplights, crosswalks, or road width. When people move themselves, the destinations are closer together, yet somehow the environment is much quieter, much cleaner.
If I could pick just one principle, I think the best multi-use category lies with pedestrian priority.
Taking ourselves out of the over-dramatization of this painted picture, many cities are actually taking steps to prioritize people. The City of Salem has a great example in their pedestrian bridge, and Denver’s “LoDo” (or Lower Downtown) touts fantastic walkability scores. My favorite example by far, is Burlington’s Church Street. Church Street is a pedestrian only street that claims a vibrant stretch of festivals, music, restaurants, and even quiet places. Even our very own McMinnville isn’t far behind the trend with the recent opening of Alpine Avenue, and the famous Third Street.
Think about how your interactions with neighbors might change if a col-de-sac were to play the role of an extended front yard. What if there was a direct pedestrian path from your home to downtown without all the traffic?
When we prioritize pedestrians, we’re doing so much more. We’re raising the priorities of our health, diverse communities, kids, the environment, and removing barriers to bring people together.
Fall is here! For many, the change in seasons is marked by falling leaves, the return of football season, and the (hate it or love it) phenom – pumpkin spice lattes. But don’t get too cozy just yet, the chill in the air and crunch of leaves under your feet should also signal that rodents are scrambling to find shelter and hunker down for the cold season. But before we start talking rats, here are some fun facts about autumn:
We see our neighbors hustling to trim tree branches, clean out their summer gardens, clear junk from the garage so they can park inside for the winter, and a number of other activities that can create future rodent residences. Here are some tips from Seattle’s King County for reducing your risk of rodent infestation:
So take advantage of the next few sunny weeks by mowing your lawn, running a couple of loads of yard debris to the recycling center and re-stacking your wood pile. If you are concerned about any neighboring properties that may be facilitating some rodent-friendly activity, please reach out to the City of McMinnville’s Code Compliance staff immediately.
One of my favorite things about McMinnville is its historic downtown shopping district, 3rd Street. I enjoy walking up and down 3rd Street every chance I get. I’m a sucker for historic structures and architecture, so I catch myself wandering around looking at the many old buildings wondering what life was like at the time they were built. But then I’m distracted from the brick and stone facades by the smells from the many restaurants and cafes up and down 3rd Street. The sounds of conversation over meals or a beverage at the outdoor seating along the edge of the sidewalk are welcome to my ears, and together with the sights of the window displays in the shops, the street comes alive to my senses. But perhaps my favorite feature of 3rd Street are the street trees.
The maples, lindens, and hornbeams lining 3rd Street change throughout the seasons when the brick and stone facades or restaurant menus may not - the fall color of the leaves, the patterns of the branches outlined with dazzling lights in the winter, the leaves emerging in the spring so they can provide shade in the summer. All these characteristics that change from season to season add another layer of vitality to the 3rd Street corridor, one that I think is crucial to the success of any outdoor space, and even a commercial district. I recognize that my background in landscape architecture may bias me to place extra emphasis on trees and their role in commercial districts like 3rd Street, but there is actually some science that supports the idea that street trees and other landscape features can help commercial districts thrive.
A successful commercial district could, in part, be defined as one that attracts people to it, encourages them to spend their time there, and encourages them to spend their money there. A 2005 study by University of Washington researcher Kathleen L. Wolf showed that street trees and streetscapes can help with all three of these criteria. The study found that urban forests are associated with more favorable perceptions of the business district and its amenities. There was also found to be a higher rating of merchants, products, and in-store experiences in business districts with trees than without trees. What does all this mean? According to Wolf, “Favorable expectations of the shopping experience are initiated long before a consumer enters a shop’s doors.” Shopping areas with trees were found to attract people from greater distances and for longer periods of time than ones with no trees, and the study also found that customers were comfortable paying between 9% and 12% more for goods in a well-landscaped place. Street trees and streetscape can play an important role in attracting and retaining customers and getting them to open their wallets a little wider.
Street trees and their associated streetscape can not only have positive environmental impacts that most people are aware of, but they also have hidden benefits for commercial districts that will help them prosper. Considering this, it’s no wonder that the 3rd Street street trees are as revered as they are. Those maples, lindens, and hornbeams serve as reminders and examples that thoughtful and integrated streetscaping is beneficial to commercial districts, which in turn can help create a “Great Neighborhood”.
Nestled behind beautifully landscaped neighborhood communities is a 1.31 mile paved path made especially for bikers, runners, and walkers. The Westside Linear Park, one of 18 parks in McMinnville, offers multiple entrances off neighborhood roads where you can escape the cars and stoplights. Paths like this are difficult to find in many towns as they require a significant amount of planning, resources, and desire from the community. In McMinnville, we are lucky to have many choices of where to run, play, bike, and walk.
The reason paths like these matter, is because they bring community members together. If you live in one of the many neighborhoods connected to this convenient trail, you probably see your neighbors just a little bit more, walk your dog just a little bit longer, and spend just a little extra time outside. Even if you don’t use the trail, it's a welcoming feeling to look out your window and see people you know, and admire the well maintained grounds surrounding your property.
Being an avid runner myself, I enjoy these public spaces as an adult, but let’s talk about how great it is for kids. Though many of our neighborhood streets are complete with sidewalks on either side of the road, paths like this offer yet another way for kids to safely walk to their friend’s house, learn to ride a bike, and a place for them to play other than their own backyard.
In their 2017 Annual Report, “America’s Health Rankings”, the United Health Foundation states: “Children who grow up in neighborhoods with few neighborhood amenities are more likely to be obese than those with more neighborhood amenities, regardless of socioeconomic characteristics”.
It’s clear that having spaces such as the Westside Linear Park in communities encourages the health, socialization, and involvement of residents. I’m happy to be living in a place that values lifestyle and amenities for its citizens!
The round-about being constructed for the NW Hill Road Project is the first traffic circle in McMinnville. From a planning perspective, I am a fan of these traffic regulators because they are a natural way to slow down traffic while also allowing traffic to flow. From an environmental perspective, they are environmentally friendly as they do not use electricity (compared to traffic signals). According to the United States Department of Transportation, traffic circles are safer and more efficient compared to signals and four way stop signs.
I have two school age children, and I have been to my fair share of kid’s birthday parties. When it comes time for the cake, I often cringe. A plate gets handed to me with a sliver of cake with a thick layer of icing on the outside, and if I’m (un)lucky, there’s a giant frosting flower. I consider the structure of the cake for a moment – a dry cake with that looks barely edible, with a disproportionate amount of too-sweet, oddly-colored icing. After eating only the cake, I notice the other plates in the garbage that are missing cake yet the giant glob of frosting remains. Sadly, I know those are not my kids’ plates and I’m in for a sugar-fueled rest of the day.
Then I start to think…why is the icing left so often? The frosting is often an afterthought to the cake - applied because it’s expected to be there or because the color is pretty, making the cake and the icing so frequently disparate. Then I ask, what if the icing was considered at the same time as the cake? Would a layer of frosting inside the cake make it less dry and more balanced? Would a natural color complimentary to the cake make me want to go back for seconds? If the flavor of the icing related to the cake, would it make for a better experience and more enjoyable party? These are the things I think about, and why I’m no fun at birthday parties.
All too often I have seen the landscaping on any given project treated as the obligatory icing on the cake - something that could make the cake look better and taste better, but is often done haphazardly and without consideration to the cake experience as a whole.
I’ve been studying landscape architecture or practicing landscape architecture for longer than I haven’t, and am now bringing this experience to the McMinnville Planning Department. As the Planning Department launches its effort to identify Great Neighborhood Principles that will guide and shape the way McMinnville’s neighborhoods look, feel, and grow for years to come, it struck me how interwoven the concepts I’ve learned and put into practice as a landscape architect are in many of the guidelines being considered as Great Neighborhood Principles. Landscape design, when integrated thoughtfully and carefully, can contribute to a neighborhood’s aesthetics, safety, and sociability. It can contribute to a population’s health and well-being. It will even contribute to the economic success of a commercial district. Are these important Great Neighborhood Principles? I think they are, and in future posts I hope to explore how thoughtful landscape design, when integrated into the process rather than just being icing on the cake, is an essential ingredient for Great Neighborhoods.
Gorgeous tree-lined streets. Neighbors sitting together on porches sharing lemonade and swapping stories. Kids playing with chalk on the sidewalk. Background noise of a game of pick-up basketball in the driveway two houses down. Someone walking their dog, waving "Hi" as they stroll by. These are the images of great neighborhoods promoted by Hollywood and American culture. They are also probably the memories of many people growing up - but not everybody.
Great neighborhoods are special places that we either live in or have visited somewhere else. Our challenge as planners is to ensure that every neighborhood built in McMinnville is a great neighborhood, whether it is a neighborhood of single family residences or a large apartment complex. If we define what makes a great neighborhood, we should be able to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to live in one, regardless of income, age and mobility.
Images of great neighborhoods always involve the built environment, whether it is a tree-lined street with sidewalks, a neighborhood park nearby with playgrounds and room to run, a community garden, walking trails, bike trails, homes with enduring architectural value, porches that face the street, skinny streets, wide streets, a little grocery market around the corner, the nooks and crannies of pocket parks, public art, etc. All of these elements can set the stage for great neighborhoods. All of these elements are large investments, both public and private, that have enduring value for many generations. This is what planning is all about, ensuring that the built environment provides the quality of life that we are seeking both for ourselves today and our children of tomorrow, and to ensure that the investment that we are making is the best investment that we can make and not just the easiest, least controversial and most convenient. The neighborhoods that we are building today will probably still be around in 100 years. We can do no less than our best.
In planning and building we work from a set of codes that describes the minimum standard that needs to be developed and built. These codes are the foundation for what eventually emerges as the built environment. The codes address massing, scale, architecture, streets, sidewalks, circulation (vehicles, bikes and pedestrians), parks, open space, landscaping, life/safety, accessibility, sustainability, etc., etc. And every community has its own set of planning codes that reflect that community's values for what they believe is the minimum standard for their community.
So . . . . we are asking for your help. We are planning nerds and can talk about great neighborhoods all day long, but we are only a handful of people and this is a community dialogue. We want to hear from you. We want you to think about what makes a great neighborhood for you, and how you would translate that into the built environment and the city's planning.
We will be evaluating our residential zoning codes in the next year and we want to hear from you what makes a great neighborhood in McMinnville so that we write our codes to promote that in all new neighborhood developments.
We will post ten blogs that discuss the following items (one each week), and then we will add two more blogs based upon your comments to this blog telling us what else in the built environment you think makes a Great Neighborhood and why we should consider it. :This is your chance McMinnville to make meaningful impact on neighborhoods in your community.
To start the dialogue, our draft of ten great neighborhood principles (in no particular order) are:
TEN GREAT NEIGHBORHOOD PRINCIPLES
"Great Neighborhood Principles" will help us explore what makes a neighborhood in