A Stroll Through Clive

So I find myself in Clive waiting at Holmes Auto for my passenger-side axle to be replaced (yes, a twenty-minute oil change turned into a four hour repair). Of course, I should have expected it when I said "...and would you also check out the clunking noise coming from the passenger front tire?"

Not my favorite way to spend a beautiful Summer day - I'd much rather be working on my front porch! For lunch I declined the offer of a ride from the friendly repair manager and decided instead to venture out and take the one-mile stroll up NW 114th to University.

This post addresses the pedestrian experience on my walk.

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NW 114th Street Bridge Over Walnut CreekNW 114th Street Bridge Over Walnut CreekThere are sidewalks along both sides of NW 114th for most of the journey. After leaving Holmes Auto, the first event is a bridge across Walnut Creek. A "Y" in the path leads down to a beautiful greenbelt trail following the river. The bridge experience is not as pleasant - the pedestrian is forced to walk a narrow path with a chain-link fence on one side and Jersey barriers on the other. The sidewalk is barely wide enough for two pedestrians to pass, let alone a bicycle or wheelchair.

There is quite a nice view of the river from the middle of the bridge.

The next section of NW 114th is home to not just one, but two pork-related enterprises: the Iowa Pork Producer's Association (http://www.iowapork.org/) and the National Pork Board (http://www.pork.org/).

While the goal of the National Pork Board and the Iowa Pork Producer's Association is to promote a healthy image of pork to the world, their buildings do not do a good job of promoting a pedestrian-friendly image to, well, a pedestrian.

Street View of the National Pork Board: A street view of the National Pork Board building in Clive.Street View of the National Pork Board: A street view of the National Pork Board building in Clive.

Of course, the obvious entrance to a symmetrical building like this is at the center. Nope. This is actually the back of the building - the image presented to the public is their trash and loading dock. Note that there is an unused picnic table located next to the loading dock.

National Pork Board Building EntranceNational Pork Board Building Entrance

The main entrance is actually tucked back along an access drive. There is no sidewalk connection to the building - it is assumed that everyone who has business discussing Pork will drive. It is also assumed that anyone who works at the National Pork Board will drive to wherever they need to go during the day.

Which brings me to my main point: At noon on arguably the most perfectest day in the history of Iowa weather, I saw exactly ZERO other pedestrians from any of the businesses or residences along a one-mile stretch of road. This is the consequence of auto-oriented development.

Across the street and behind the Clive Aquatic Center is the Walnut Ridge senior apartments.

Walnut Ridge Senior ApartmentsWalnut Ridge Senior Apartments

Walnut Ridge is billed as "active senior adult spacious apartment homes with underground parking". The owners recognize that seniors probably don't want to be stuck in their apartments all day and state that "shopping, Clive's Library and Mercy West Health Clinic are a short walk away." And they are. Except that there are no sidewalks connecting Walnut Ridge to these amenities.

One of the things that struck me on this walk was the sheer amount of underutilized land.

Lonely Lonely LawnmowerLonely Lonely Lawnmower

The suburban development typology is intended to evoke feelings of openness, space, and the pastoral qualities of the "country estate." When individual buildings are developed on large parcels of land, what we end up with is simply large swaths of lawn that are neither economically productive nor useful to anyone except, perhaps, the landscape maintenance contractors. Dedicating this much space to open lawn doesn't say that we value it. Quite the contrary, it says that it has no value. The most "valuable" open space is the urban park, not the suburban lawn. It is valuable and utilized precisely because it is scarce.

Next up is Mercy West. Sidewalk access is provided around a circle drive to their main door.

Mercy West Pedestrian AccessMercy West Pedestrian Access

But ultimately, this design is not about the pedestrian, it's about getting cars into the parking lot or to the canopy to pick up at the front door.

Mercy West Front ViewMercy West Front View

I know it's not about the pedestrian experience because of the bush wall that extends from corner to corner across the main front entrance between the circle drive and the sidewalk.

Admittedly, not many patients will walk to a hospital. But their visitors and staff should be encouraged to escape frequently into the fresh air - to take lunch at a nearby restaurant, to stroll around the neighborhood. Physical exercise is good. Tall bushes do not make for an inviting pedestrian experience. Trees do.

But there are no trees to shade the sidewalk. Rather, the trees are planted in the median - to shade the cars?

Street Trees in the MedianStreet Trees in the Median

Here's the pedestrian access to the office building across the street from Mercy West.

Sidewalk to NowhereSidewalk to Nowhere

Whoever drew this site plan should be publicly humiliated. We should be used to seeing the butts of buildings face the street by now (yes, that's a garage door and air conditioner as the public face of this building). Nobody who looks at this photo has any question in their mind what the building designer thinks of pedestrians.

This is how someone in a car approaches the building.

Access DriveAccess Drive

And finally I reach my destination. McDonald's, of course. The sidewalk here is pressed right up against the busy street making for an uncomfortable walk. The street trees are on the wrong side of the sidewalk - placing them between the sidewalk and the street would provide a nice buffer since street parking is not allowed here.

I'm hungry. Hmmmmmm.... How do I get there? There's no sidewalk this way.

Clive McDonald's - No SidewalkClive McDonald's - No Sidewalk

What about the other way?

Clive McDonald's - No SidewalkClive McDonald's - No Sidewalk

Nope. Good thing I'm not in a wheelchair - I'd have to use this route:

Clive McDonald's - No SidewalkClive McDonald's - No Sidewalk

The point with all this is to say there are things that can be done to promote a better pedestrian experience: street trees, sidewalks that connect directly to buildings, and of course, buildings that actually face the street instead of being thrown willy-nilly in the middle of a parking lot.

Designing and building to encourage walking has been completely forgotten on this stretch of NW 114th - a fabulous missed opportunity.


In my opinion, this is one area that my own neighborhood, Highland Park, and other older areas have over the newer "better" burbs. I find these kinds of developements, and their corresponding residential areas to be depressing and plain uninviting. In my area, the vast majority of homes either have a tuck behind gagare or as in my case a rear freestanding garage that takes the entire parking for residents out of sight. I find it very uninviting to visit a couple of my friends in Clive and WDM that have newer homes, with huge garage doors "greeting" guests and passerbyers. To me, this is not attractive and akin to posting a huge sign stating:
"look at me, look at how much space I need JUST for parking my cars" and is not the message I want to give to my guests. I love the walkable features of the parks area, and am working to minimize some of the changes that have been made to accomodate vehicular traffic in the area that in actuallity diminishes the area for residents and visitors alike.

Charles L | Sep 13th, 2010 at 11:19 am

I would like to think one can determine what is important to a homeowner by looking at their house in context. Simplistically, one could guess that a home with a large two-car garage consuming the front elevation, with an unusable front porch and front door tucked in around the side, belongs to someone who places a great deal of emphasis on individual privacy (and of course loves their cars). In contrast, historic neighborhoods built before the automobile explosion have integrated cars into an environment developed around streetcars, with broad front porches and 100-year-old trees, may attract people who fundamentally want to belong to a place-based community.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure this is the case. I fear that the reality may be much more complicated. For many people it is inertia that carries them towards suburban subdivisions when they look to buy a house - they simply don't recognize that there is another way to live, where the car can be more of a tool and less of a necessity.

The really sad part is that we know how to do it right. Planners and politicians have built a perverse set of regulations and incentives that create these horrible spaces where even on a beautiful 78 degree day with clear skies, the streets are full of cars and sidewalks are bereft of pedestrians.

DMPerspective | Sep 13th, 2010 at 10:29 pm

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