A transformed El Camino Real in the works
Original post made
on Feb 6, 2014
In a study session Tuesday, City Council members made some preliminary but very significant moves in planning the El Camino Real of the future.
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posted Thursday, February 6, 2014, 11:03 AM
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Posted by Carless Californian
a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2014 at 5:16 pm
I was just at Santana Row today, and walking around I couldn't help but think of the 'more than three stories on El Camino will make a lightless canyon' discussion.
Santana Row is much narrower than El Camino, even at its widest point with the park in the center. So any canyon effect and loss of light, and general feeling of oppressiveness would be more pronounced than the same size buildings flanking El Camino.
None of the buildings on the Row are less than four stories, retail at ground and three stories of residential above, with very generous heights for both. Some of the blocks are five stories, and the hotel is seven. At no point, even on this rather gloomy day, did I find the Row lacking in light. I certainly didn't feel oppressed by the height of the buildings, or like there was not enough visible sky, and I did not have the impression of being in a canyon, or even an excessively urban space.
It felt intimate, human-scale, and enjoyable. The Row designers did a good job of mimicking the feeling of a small European city-scape, with the charm, beauty, and comfort of that sort of living. Given how pleasant buildings of these size are on such a small street, I see no reason that buildings of 4-8 stories would be out of scale on the El Camino.
If people could move past the idea that low- to mid-rise buildings are too tall, there could be more focus on the actual architecture of the buildings. While I was at the Row I noticed a lot of different things that were done to help create that intimate, attractive streetscape. Intricate trim and detailing stops the eye, and gives it something to rest on. Horizontal trim, color blocking, varying materials or design details at different heights, all break the building into smaller visual pieces. On many of the blocks the front of the buildings varied in depth, color, trim detailing, etc. every few paces, giving the impression of many connected little buildings, rather than just a few large ones.
Some of the larger buildings were built right up to the street, but cut in on the first floor to provide a wide, sheltered promenade. This would be a good solution to the problem of building on narrow lots, rather than allowing builders to provide only a shallow sidewalk. I also liked how the bigger blocks were pierced with arcades, making them more friendly to pedestrians, while allowing more ground-level retail spaces.
The tiny parks and plazas, even cramming in a playground, are also things that we could request from developer. They make natural places to step down heights and bring more light into the center of larger building complexes.
I haven't been overly impressed with the design of any of the El Camino projects, speaking as a person without a car, who mostly gets around by foot and bus. But the main debates have seemed to mistakenly be about building height, rather than about intelligent, attractive design that will help lure those new residents out of their cars and onto the streets, onto transit, and even onto their bikes. All while being great replacements aesthetically for the ugly, soulless, run-down, sprawling buildings that still make up most of El Camino.