Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Outdoor Cafes

So I decided to pick up Google Earth Pro, because I missed her so. I used to climb vine-covered trellises to read sonnets to her as she watched from above approvingly with batting eyelashes. I said "doth" a lot. Or was that DOS?

But I did so to have access to much higher-resolution aerial imagery. Little did I know that Google Earth Pro has added traffic counts from just about every street across the country (or at least places that I cared to check) as well as demographic data from the 2010 census. I decided to measure the densest areas of the city.

I never would've guessed it, but the two most dense parts of the city are right next to each other (not unsurprising), but on the two sides of Fitzhugh, east of N. Central Expressway. These two areas measured 60 people per acre and 51 respectively. I didn't find another area sniffing 40 in what I expected to be the densest areas (most of these were in census tracts of about a tenth of a square-mile) including downtown, uptown, and Turtle Creek.

Just found that interesting.

Also, inspired by the tremendous 2002 Gehl Architects report for the City of Adelaide, I decided to map outdoor cafe/dining areas in and around downtown Dallas. Certainly, I very well might have missed a few. In some cases, it was difficult determining what was still open/what was closed, particularly in say, like Victory.

Furthermore, I didn't count places like the Green Room or St. Pete's Dancing Marlin for outdoor dining that wasn't fundamentally part of the street. It was either on a roof or enclosed in an off-street tent. Might as well be inside. No soup for you.

The significance of mapping outdoor seating is that this is one indicator of a healthy place. Like any statistic or graphic, it is an abstraction and never tells the whole story, but it tells part of one. Like a chapter.

As Gehl often says, the significance of outdoor cafe tables/chairs/patrons is that these are an indicator of places people want to be. As I often say, desirability is the key characteristic, it triggers a positive emotional response in us (to track back w/ the theory that cities are fundamentally responsive to emotion).

One measure of a place (if perhaps impossible to accurately measure) is the percentage of people in a given place ABOVE those that have to be there. They choose to be there. Desirability = choice = people = cafes that want to capitalize on the quality of place and the attractive characteristic.

I reduced the image to half-size to ensure proper uploading. You should still be able to embiggenate to about 9 x 12" or so.

The "desirable" places of downtown Dallas. Recall too that cities exist in at least four dimensions and that areas are constantly rising and falling. Some areas might be on the way up and have more dots in a year or two. Others on the way down (less dots in a year).

Feel free to add some places in the comments that I might have missed. I'll try to put a map of uptown/knox-henderson at a similar scale within a day or two.
edit: here is the map of uptown. I rotated North about 45 degrees to fit all of Ross, some of lower Greenville, Henderson, Knox, Oak Lawn, and all of uptown.

Once again, I'm likely missing a few here and there. Too, there are a few dots that are so close together as to double up. I also intentionally left out some where there was outdoor seating, but was part of a pad site (i.e. singular restaurant building w/ parking all around) or any other formats where the outdoor dining space wasn't an integral part of the streetscape experience.

One thing I found that was interesting, despite the many, many restaurants in the Knox-Henderson area as well as the Turtle Creek/Oak Lawn area, the amount of outdoor dining (at least in terms of percentage of all of the restaurants) was quite low.

The shear amount of dots in the uptown area really highlights the "cafe culture" that has emerged in uptown, which everyone should be reminded, not more than 20-25 years ago was considered one of the roughest parts of town. Today, it is a place to enjoy the day with a beer.

The graphic also helps highlight neighborhood centers. Having just read through Peter Bosselmann's most recent book Urban Transformation, he highlights San Francisco's neighborhood centers, the small-scale, walkable clusters of restaurants and other commercial service uses, geared for daily neighborhood needs. San Francisco had 66, serving 50% of the population within a short walking distance. More importantly, the average "draw shed" or the amount of people each neighborhood center served was 6,000 people.

The next step here is to highlight every cluster of +/- 6,000 people to determine the underserved areas. Thankfully, Google Earth now has 2010 demographic data. Just by looking at this map, I can already guarantee Ross Avenue, devoid of "dots" falls into this category.