Urban Design Series: The Intricacies of Site Selection

August 27, 2015

The site selection process is the  beginning of any successful project. The district, the neighborhood and obviously, the site drives the design of any building or idea. It shapes future development. And it has the potential to be the impetus for a reoriented perspective of a city or neighborhood.   Without a site that is selected and evaluated with a real vision, a project can fail before a brick is even laid on the site.

Urban design is about placemaking. It’s about much more than the buildings themselves. It’s about the place and culture and opportunity and vision. It’s our chance to shift the center of gravity in a city and provide a far-reaching vision that can grow and change and mold a destination’s future.

Our process involves seeking and exploring, understanding , imagining and crafting. This starts with questions. We ask questions. Hard questions about what’s already there and what it could become. We’ve found the best solutions are often right there in a city, waiting to be uncovered in the existing urban fabric. This also has quite a bit to do with finding the right site. It’s the most important decision you make – it’s the site that can provide opportunities that are powerful when done right. Just look at Target Field in Minneapolis or PNC Park in Pittsburgh or AT&T Park in San Francisco.

As urban designers, site selection is a process that is analytical and factual, but at the end of the day it has to feel right.  We’ve developed the following criteria that allows for an inclusive and objective process:

  • Urban design: We want to understand the adjacent land uses and compatibility; we look at the facility’s visibility and proximity to related entertainment activities; we discuss scale and fit within the urban fabric; and we evaluate fully the existing businesses and what that might mean for the site’s potential.
  • Transportation: When we look at transportation, we evaluate the location of highways and streets; we seek to understand pedestrian connections; we look at nearby public transit and connectivity to those transit options; and we look at parking options on the site and directly adjacent to it.
  • Site factors: When evaluating the site itself, we look to the size of the site, the configuration of the site; we also look at the field orientation options and potential views; topography; understanding of existing utilities; and evaluation of zoning.
  • Cost: Cost is an important factor – as with any project – but I would argue shouldn’t drive all decisions around a site. Sometimes the best site isn’t the least expensive. Regardless, we evaluate land acquisition prices; the cost of the facility on that site; traffic and transit related costs; parking costs; and both on and off site development costs.
  • Timing: Timing often relates to the above factors under cost, but include site preparation; relocation – whether temporary or permanent; offsite preparation; and potential for surrounding new development.

Over the next few months, my co-workers and I will evaluate and discuss each of the above factors in detail. We’re going to talk about it all – timing and economics and transportation and everything in between.  We don’t want to just skim the surface on these topics, because they are integral to decisions our clients make and to a larger understanding in the community of anchor buildings and the urban regeneration and gentrification that can occur from the right site. This is the matrix that allows us to understand and explain a site’s merits and we’re looking forward to sharing that thinking.

Read more about our urban planning and design work here.


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