As you may or may not be aware, an ad-hoc Land Use Advisory Group working under the auspices of the Planning Commission is reviewing the draft of Northfield’s new zoning ordinances. The new ordinances are intended to bring our land use regulations in line with our Comprehensive Plan, something we’ve been unable to accomplish with previous revisions. One of the things the advisory group has discussed is how much Northfield would/should/could restrict the use of “franchise architecture”. (continued)
Since that is a policy decision more than it is a technical/advisory one, it’s still an open question. I think a pretty good argument can be made that most examples of franchise architecture violate two or more of the Comp Plan’s principles, against which decisions should be weighed. Anyway, I nagged City Planner Dan Olson for resources and information beyond what I could Google, and he pointed me to Defending Regional Identity: Strategies for Reshaping Franchise Architecture. The paper’s author, Terry Schwarz of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, has kindly given permission to generously excerpt for this blog post.
Of course if I were Griff, I’d dispense with the paper and just put up an “objective” poll:
Which do you prefer?
- Cookie-cutter, corporate franchise lego boxes continuing to sprawl along Hwy 3
- Distinctive, context-sensitive design and architecture that reflects the history and topography of Northfield
Not that I’m stacking the poll by the way I phrase the question or anything.
Strategies for Reshaping Franchise Architecture
The architectural design of retail franchises contributes to the ongoing homogenization of the American cultural landscape. Regional differences in architectural styles and materials are giving way to standardization and uniformity.
Architectural variety enriches communities and celebrates the distinctions between different people and places. The quality of the built environment influences the ability to attract and retain businesses, residents, and tourists. Increased architectural standardization leads to barren cityscapes and communities devoid of authenticity and charm.
Franchise prototypes are an architectural form of branding. A branded building is difficult to reuse since its physical character tends to be strongly linked to the corporate identity of the original occupant. Franchise outlets are often constructed with flimsy, short-term materials, so recycling these buildings is often less feasible than demolishing them and starting from scratch. In rare cases where a franchise building is adapted for a new user, the results can be confusing at best.
Every place has some distinguishing feature or historical attribute. Once a community has articulated its goals for physical development and appearance, it becomes easier to encourage franchises to adapt their buildings to suit the local context. The most effective guidelines tread a fine line between being specific enough to provide clear guidance for property owners, while not being so prescriptive as to limit creativity and potential design solutions. Design guidelines must be clearly articulated and a community needs to be persistent in order to get a truly distinctive and site-specific building.
Recently, the community of Mequon, Wisconsin was able to influence the replacement for an existing gas station. The new station, not yet constructed, will look like a picturesque cottage with large windows, fabric awnings, a gabled roof, and a cupola. The signage will be subdued and the site will have ample landscaping. According to Mequon Mayor Christine Nuernberg,
“You don’t have to accept yellow arches if you don’t want them. We tell people: If you want to build here, here’s what you have to do. We’re going to insist on good design.”
Regional variations in architectural styles and building materials enrich the fabric of communities, enhance local economies and promote an ethic of sustainability. The most effective way of getting well-designed, context-sensitive buildings is through regulated approval process. The best results are achieved, though, when it is in a corporation’s own best interest to make innovative, community-responsive design choices.
Regulatory tools (which are continually being refined in the U.S. and abroad) are still needed, especially when dealing with recalcitrant corporations. In the absence of a regulations, a clear expression of a community’s preferences and a well-informed negotiation process can also help to preserve regional variety and achieve better franchise architecture.
Complete document here (PDF).
Emphases above are mine; I encourage you to read the whole document so you’re not just getting my biased excerpts.
Now, before you free-marketeers go all apeshit on me and say that the City has no business regulating businesses and stomping on individual liberties to be tasteless or make a buck, etc. I will simply remark that we already DO regulate things regarding zoning, land use, site planning, streets, etc. It’s simply a matter of whether we want good, effective, livable, enforceable regulations, or whether we want some other kind.
In conclusion, I’ll offer up this Flickr slideshow of a bunch of McDonald’s fast-food restaurants in different architectural styles. The photo at the top of this post is from the McDonald’s in Sedona, AZ which probably has the world’s only turquoise arches.