Right Sizing Uptown

The hot topic in Uptown is the Community Plan Update (CPU), with special emphasis on building heights. Is there a right size building height for Uptown? Yes there is – and No there isn’t. 

The streets of Uptown are about as diverse as its populace. There are narrow streets, there are medium width streets, and then there are the behemoths like University, Washington, and Park Blvd.

So when talking about building heights, how could one size fit all? It can’t. There is no “one size fits all” for Uptown. A 65 foot tall building isn’t going to look or feel the same on a narrow street as it is on a 100 foot wide street. That is impossible.

However, there is a right size building height for Uptown. 

What does Uptown Want?
Listen to Uptown residents and most are saying they want a human scaled, walkable, neighborhood that is somewhere between the high-rises of downtown, and the  low-rise no-place of suburbia. Can that desired outcome be translated into building heights?

Too Tall

Too Small

There is a lot of evidence, knowledge and studies on how building heights effect the feel and perception of a neighborhood and the street. The secret (not very well kept) is the ratio of the building height to the width of the street (called HWP). 

For Uptown, a building height to street width ratio between 1:2 to 1:1 is perfect for the desired place-making outcome of a comfortable, pedestrian oriented, human scaled, yet urban environment. A maximum building height in Uptown of 1:1 HWP, and minimum building heights of 1:2 can easily be added to the Community Plan Update.

Confused? Don’t be. It is simple. Here are some examples:

University Ave between 5th and 1st Streets:
Street width = 62 feet
Max. Bldg. Height = 62 feet
Min. Bldg. Height = 31 feet

East of highway 163, University Avenue becomes much wider.
Street width = 100 feet
Max. Bldg. Height – 100 feet
Min. Bldg. Height = 50 feet

A maximum height of 1:1, and minimum height of 1:2 gives Uptown a variety of building heights that fit each neighborhood. It is nuanced, yet simple. Pairing these ratios with architectural design guidelines such as building setbacks after 3 stories, windows and doors to the street, and interesting materials, Uptown would have the foundation for good urban design and great place-making. Click here is a more detailed proposal from Great Streets. Also, see the Great Streets St Louis website for an explanation of HWP with graphics and pictures.

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