Thursday, May 22

A T4 analysis of the Lower Rattlesnake

In the last post, I divided the Rattlesnake valley into transects from T1 through T5. Now, continuing the speculations, I'd like to look more closely at my own neighborhood, the Lower Rattlesnake, which seems to fit into the T4 "General Urban Zone." Transect theory is not only a descriptive taxonomy, but there are also various prescriptive measures, sometimes known as form-based codes, that go along with each transect. I'm looking at the SmartCode 9.2, from the architecture firm DPZ, and comparing some of their recommendations for T4 with the existing Lower Rattlesnake neighborhood.

Base Density: SmartCode recommends a base density of 4 residential units per acre, or up to 12 units per acre though a Transfer of Development Rights agreement. A map of Missoula densities from the Office of Planning and Grants shows that the Lower Rattlesnake currently has 6.8 DUAC. Although based on the 2000 census, this probably hasn't changed much. So, we can breath a sigh of relief. Those crazy urbanists don't actually demand that we stack on top of ourselves like sardines. Everything's fine.

Road Structure: The Lower Rattlesnake has a classic gridiron road pattern, which controls traffic flow well in T4. The block perimeters are only about 1300 ft., well within the 2400 ft. maximum prescribed by SmartCode. The streets are wide enough to allow on-street parking on both sides, but restricted enough to keep the speeds down to an appropriate level. This neighborhood is fortunate to still have rear alleys for utility access, which is actually a strong requirement in the SmartCode. Sidewalk coverage is pretty good, but spotty in some areas. Setbacks seem appropriate, but I'm not about to get out the tape measure.

Function and Use: The SmartCode allows limited uses other than mixed residential in T4: small inns or B&Bs, limited offices on first floors, as well as retail and restaurants. There should also be small civic spaces, designated as "greens" or "squares" of between a half acre and 8 acres. The general principle is that daily living, from schools to essential shopping, should be able to happen within a 5 minute walking radius. The housing should also represent a diversity of types and income-levels.

How does the Lower Rattlensnake compare? While most residential units are single-family houses, there are a few accessory dwellings in outbuildings. There is also one apartment complex along the Rattlesnake creek on the periphery of the neighborhood. Missing are row houses and live-work arrangements, such as stores with housing on the second-floor. It would be nice to see more variety of residential options in the neighborhood.

For lodging, there is one B&B on Poplar street, which is a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. More of these could be encouraged. As far as civic space goes, there are two greens at the corners of Van Buren and the Interstate that serve the neighborhood well. They are in a central location that is too noisy to be suitable for residential use. Greenough park, while not technically in the neighborhood, abuts the west side along the Rattlesnake creek. There is one school in the Prescott building, howeer it no longer functions as a public school, but rather as a private one. While this does not detract from the neighborhood at all, it also does not provide the intended good of a walkable destination for local children.

The greatest deficit is in retail and office space, of which the Lower Rattlesnake has none and allows none. What if the busier Van Buren street were opened up to limited commercial and mixed-use development, at least for the few blocks closest to downtown? The traffic on this street limits its residential desirability and increased the commercial potential. It also runs along a perfectly centralized corridor, making no part of the neighborhood more than 3 blocks away. If commercial parking were put in the back of the lot, it could take the form of a classic street car suburb. It may also enhance the appeal of the Mountain Line buses running along Van Buren. Maybe there is no market for this, but it couldn't hurt to at least zone for it and see what happens.

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