Hidden Gems in Sprawl City
June 13, 2012 7:56 AM   Subscribe

You live or have visited a stereotypical, non-walkable, sprawling American city (or region). What are the urban streets (or neighborhoods) that are particularly beautiful, have mixed uses, sidewalks, and buildings close to the street (any combination of the above)? What's a good way to figure out where these places are? (Without going here or searching city-data?)

Something that wouldn't be out of place in Chicago, Boston or DC. A hidden (or not hidden) gem. If it has row-houses, even better!

I'm talking about large cities in the Sunbelt that have mostly grown in the post WWII era, or suburbs of older cities. I love spending time on Google Street View.
posted by sandmanwv to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway of Minneapolis.
posted by lstanley at 8:07 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I grew up in the suburbs of Houston, which is the sort of sprawling wasteland you describe. Areas of Montrose and Rice Village have a bit more of a traditionally urban feel, but still a lot of suburban features (low density, wide streets, parking in front).

I think the key terms you'd look for are new urban or redeveloped neighborhoods and gay neighborhoods (seriously). Most will be in the core or just off the CBD of big sunbelt cities.
posted by lunalaguna at 8:07 AM on June 13, 2012

What about using WalkScore.com? This will certainly tell you how to find neighborhoods or urban streets that have mixed uses, and generally if they're walkable it's because they're older/more picturesque/have sidewalks.
posted by thrasher at 8:08 AM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

When my husband and I are on road trips and are visiting new towns and cities, we use vintage clothing and record shops as the way to find the fun and funky part of town. If we can triangulate an indie coffee shop, a used guitar store and a retro furniture/tchotchke shop or locally made clothing or arts and crafts shop, we'll know we've found our people anywhere we go.

So, I'd imagine if you're looking for an urban part of a neighbourhood with a good streetscape, you'd have to figure out which ones would be your marker. Cupcake shops? Clothing collectives? A Saturday or Sunday marketplace? Find a commonality to the areas you're looking for, then look up typical phone book style listings, and see if there's one street that's likely to have that aesthetic based on what's there. And likely the homes in the area will reflect its age too.
posted by peagood at 8:10 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: VaHi (Virginia Highlands and next door Morningside) in Atlanta...
posted by pearlybob at 8:36 AM on June 13, 2012

Wherever they hold the Farmer's Market.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:41 AM on June 13, 2012

Some specific examples of urban streets in the middle of sprawl-y regions for you:
Madison, WI:
State St.
Williamson St.
The Middleton Hills development (a new urbanist development and people argue for hours if it is a successful urban place or not, but interesting to cruise through with google street view nonetheless).

Minneapolis, MN
Hennepin Ave. and Lyndale Ave. (and the areas between).
Nicollet Ave.
Milwaukee Ave. Historic District

Glen Ellyn, IL's downtown is another example.

As for finding the hidden gems, I'd google independent bike shops and hope for the best.
posted by nanhey at 8:46 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ybor City, Tampa, FL.

Take a walk down Seventh
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:51 AM on June 13, 2012

Response by poster: Great guys! Minneapolis looks to be gorgeous! (haven't been there, but didn't think it as a sprawly place anyway)
posted by sandmanwv at 9:29 AM on June 13, 2012

NoDa and possibly the South End in Charlotte. (Fourth Ward might count, but to me it feels hemmed in by the interstate, and has a bit of a Victorian theme park vibe.)
posted by holgate at 10:19 AM on June 13, 2012

Greenville, South Carolina's downtown underwent a massive renewal processing. It started in the 1990s, but a lot of the changes have happened in the past decade. I recently visitied and was shocked at how urban, walkable, and pedestrian friendly it was, especially considering how awful the rest of the city is.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 10:37 AM on June 13, 2012

You probably want to check out the Great American Main Street Awards and the National Main Street Communities accreditations given out by the National Trust for Historic Preservation; there are other roughly similar "main street" awards given by other organizations as well. Basically, historic preservation (and adaptive reuse) marries very nicely with New Urbanism concepts and this helps promote both.
posted by dhartung at 12:12 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Shops at Legacy in Plano, Texas.
posted by amaire at 1:45 PM on June 13, 2012

aerial patters: if you're already using google street-view, i think the patterns of walkable spaces are more visible in aerial view in google-earth. once you scale up to the 1000 ft level, your eye will see the density and un-spawl that defines walkable spaces.

then use street view to determine whether it's a slum (50/50 chance) and what sort of townhomes and businesses cluster there.

i travel a lots, planetwide, and i think most people can get good at spotting these patterns and planning accordingly rather quickly using the right aerial pattern approach.
posted by garfy3 at 2:08 PM on June 13, 2012

"Old Town" Scottsdale, AZ.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:57 PM on June 13, 2012

Indianapolis has Broad Ripple Avenue and Massachusettes Avenue.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:33 AM on June 14, 2012

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