Smaller streets can fix failing height-to-width ratios

As I’ve been arguing this week, getting the ratio of building heights to street widths right is important for creating livable, interesting spaces. Utah is particularly plagued by vague, inhospitable spaces because its wide streets make it very difficult to create a sense of enclosure.

One solution is to add more streets, and to make those new streets narrow.

As a result of the Mormon grid, Utah cities have massive blocks with infrequent streets. But what makes Utah cities feel particularly oppressive is that nearly all of the streets are massive. Other cities have their major thoroughfares of course, but every single street isn’t 100 feet wide.

Though it would be nice to see some effort to narrow more Utah streets — which would save everyone money — we could also simply add smaller streets in the middle of our blocks. (Many people already support this idea.)

More streets would give pedestrians alternatives to the busy main routes, and these streets would need much smaller buildings to have comfortable, urban height-to-width ratios.

Case in point, the La France apartments on Broadway in Salt Lake City:


In the back of the La France apartments, cottage-like homes line a tiny street.

Behind the larger three-story buildings (just visible in the foreground), this street is lined with one story dwellings. They’re small, but significantly, they fit the street; this is at least a 1:1 height-to-width ratio. It may even be closer to 1.5:1 because the buildings actually look taller than the street is wide to me. It’s interesting and intimate and I suspect just about everyone would rather sit or walk here than along the many freeway-esque stroads just around the corner.

In other words, this is a fantastic spot that epitomizes how varying street widths dictate how tall surrounding buildings should be. In the end, what amounts to “human scale” varies from location to location.


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