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Downtown Schenectady Master Plan — Appendix A: Design Guidelines for Downtown Schenectady

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[This information is from pp. 1-54 of Appendix A of the Downtown Schenectady Master Plan prepared by Hunter Interests, Inc. in 1999, and is reproduced with their permission. It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 711 DOWf.]


The Design Guidelines for Downtown

Schenectady provide an overall framework for future development as well as recommendations for architecture, site design and improvement of civic spaces. These guidelines were developed with the understanding that a combination of private and public development and improvement will take place over time. These improvements will need to reinforce the history and future vision for the City. The guidelines are intended to ensure that future improvements are consistent with each other, reinforce the human (pedestrian) scale of the City, and provide a lasting civic design contribution for the city.

The guidelines are organized in three sections:

These guidelines are not intended to be a rigid set of prescriptive standards that establish definitive terms for new buildings and site improvement, but instead are seen as a set of flexible guidelines that allow for creative expression in architecture and landscape design provided it is consistent with the overall quality and character of Schenectady.

Section 1: Framework for Civic Revitalization

Framework for Civic Revitalization

One of the most difficult tasks facing the residents, business leaders and City officials in the redevelopment of downtown Schenectady will be maintaining a consistent long-term vision for the downtown. Each and every improvement undertaken in the downtown, regardless of whether it is by a private developer or a public organization, must make some contribution to the realization of the overall vision or framework. The elements that define the framework for the downtown are (1) open space, pedestrian and vehicular linkages; (2) structural landmarks; and (3) major civic spaces.

[Photo of City Hall from Vale Park]


[Drawing of downtown]

Today there are a number of well developed pedestrian and vehicular corridors in the downtown that connect the various neighborhoods and districts that make up the City. Some of these corridors also provide linkages at a regional scale (I-890, Amtrak and bus service). An important element of the framework plan is the need to enhance several existing linkages (including Erie Boulevard, State Street, Union Street, Broadway and Nott Terrace/Veeder) as well as to create new linkages. These linkages are intended to provide seamless connections within the downtown. While the automobile will use many of these corridors, it is important to remember that cities are places where people walk, and linkages need to offer pedestrians a comfortable and convenient way to move around a city.

Erie Boulevard — The Grand Avenue

The Erie Boulevard Corridor has been one of the most important linkages throughout Schenectady's history. It will continue to be an important element in the future. The framework calls for Erie Boulevard to serve as one of the main approaches to the downtown, especially for regional traffic coming from 1-890. As a gateway to the City, Erie Boulevard needs to provide first-time visitors — as well as the entire community — with a strong statement about the civic importance of this approach. (Detailed recommendations for these improvements are outlined in Section 3.)

State Street — The Commercial Hub

State Street is much different in character than Erie Boulevard, but is still a very important linkage for the City today and in the future. Unlike Erie Boulevard, the urban design of the State Street is focused more on the architecture framing the street. The consistent building edge that extends from Nott Terrace to Washington Street is an important design element and reinforces the sense of commercial vitality along the corridor. The commercial activity at the ground level of State Street needs to be reinforced in each future improvement or redevelopment project along State Street with high-traffic retail and commercial uses.

Three important civic destinations on State Street will further reinforce the importance of this corridor. At the eastern gateway to the downtown is Veterans' Park, the western gateway is Liberty Park and the intersection of State and Erie will be called out with a new civic space (plaza/park) on the site of the new intermodal transportation facility.

Broadway — The Everyday Entrance

Unlike State Street and Erie Boulevard, Broadway is a street that has few urban design assets other than the direct connection it provides to I-890 from the downtown. Because of this connection with I-890, Broadway will continue to be a popular access corridor in the future. As the working entrance, it should offer the most attractive image possible; however, because of its narrow width and understated architectural treatment and consistency, it was never intended to be as grand a street as Erie Boulevard or State Street. A continuous row of street trees on both sides of the street and the limitation or prohibition of mid-block curb cuts (service and parking access from the rear of buildings) are all that will be needed.

Vale Park and Franklin Street

The City of Schenectady has a spectacular open space resource in Vale Park. The termination of the park near Franklin Street and the Schenectady Museum along Nott Terrace provide outstanding opportunities for extending this park into the heart of the downtown. This connection could be made with some relatively simple streetscape improvements along Franklin Street from Jay Street east to Nott Terrace, or could include a long-term strategy of creating a grand extension of formal open space on land currently occupied by buildings and surface parking on the north side of Franklin Street.

Erie Boulevard to Broadway Connection

The elevated Amtrak and Conrail railroad lines that cut through the center of downtown Schenectady present both a visual and physical barrier in the City. Impact of this barrier is most significant in the area between Erie Boulevard and Broadway south of State Street. The framework plan recommends that a future connection be established between these two streets in the area near Market Square. While a vehicular connection would be preferred, a simple pedestrian connection would be a welcomed improvement in linking the Erie Boulevard corridor with the districts east of Broadway.

Major Landmark Elements

Within the city there are several buildings and structures that are either architecturally significant or visually prominent. These landmarks provide both visual reference for people and contribute to the overall civic identity of the downtown. In general, these landmarks are seen as irreplaceable elements that define (or will define) the identity of the downtown. The landmark elements include City Hall, the County Courthouse, railroad bridge across Erie Boulevard north of Union Street, the General Electric Sign at the end of Erie Boulevard, Schenectady Community College, the Union College Rotunda, and the planned Intermodal Transit Building, at the corner of Erie Boulevard and State Street.

From the standpoint of the framework plan, the recommendation is that future development and improvements should respect and enhance the visual prominence of these landmarks. Future improvements that would either obstruct or visually obscure the prominence of these icons should be discouraged.

Major Civic Spaces

The urban landscape can be a harsh environment for pedestrians. A successful downtown must seek out opportunities to mitigate the visual and environmental impact of buildings and paved surfaces. Streetscape treatments such as benches and street trees are valued pedestrian amenities; however, there is also a need to establish areas where pedestrians feel as if they are escaping the urban setting. Civic spaces such as Veterans' Park are an essential component to a successful urban place. It is also important that these spaces be distributed throughout the City in a way that will allow for convenient access from anywhere in the City. While spaces such as Veterans' Park, Liberty Park and Jay Street do offer some relief for people in downtown Schenectady, some improvements to these spaces are needed; but more important, additional civic gathering spaces will need to be created.

The framework plan envisions Veterans' Park being extended south to include Albany Street (which would be discontinued) and upgraded with lighting, landscape and seating improvements. Connecting this space to the existing buildings along the south side of State Street will greatly enhance the attractiveness and utilization of this park.

Jay Street is a wonderful space that functions very well today. Only minor improvements need to be considered for landscape and seating near the State Street end of this space. It is recommended that the treatment of Jay Street be continued north to the intersection with Liberty Street, creating a new pedestrian plaza in front of City Hall.

Liberty Park is relatively ineffective as a civic space today in part because there is a road that separates the park on the south side from commercial uses. The framework plan envisions the future improvement of the park with the development of new uses and buildings on its south side. This space has the potential to become a prominent gathering space and linkage between the Community College and commercial uses on lower State Street.

Finally, the new Intermodal Transit Facility planned for the corner of State Street and Erie Boulevard will need to incorporate a new pedestrian plaza that will front directly onto either State Street or Erie Boulevard. This is seen as an attractive gathering site for office and commercial uses located near this prominent intersection.

Section 2: Architectural and Site Design Guidelines

Building on Schenectady's Fabric

In order to plan wisely for future development in downtown Schenectady, we must first take stock of what exists today. What are the qualities of architecture and urban design that make Schenectady unique and memorable? What are the qualities of the building fabric that create the identity of the downtown and contribute to its sense of place?

There are two distinct patterns of development in downtown Schenectady: historic building fabric and suburban building fabric. The historic fabric is characterized by a continuous street wall that creates a sense of enclosure, and enough consistency in the scale and proportion of the individual architecture to create a sense of unity. Interestingly, historical fabric is often not made up exclusively of historic buildings. Well-designed contemporary buildings can often contribute to the character of the street if they are designed in a manner that is sensitive to the surrounding context. State Street, Jay Street, and the Stockade offer some of the best examples of this historic fabric, and they are also some of the most memorable and distinct places in the City.

Large surface parking lots and a lack of enclosure dominate the suburban fabric. Buildings in this context often have large setbacks and fall to create a consistent edge. Oftentimes, the buildings in the suburban fabric are automobileoriented and, as a result, lack the unifying details and proportions that contribute to a successful pedestrian environment. Ironically, even historic restorations that are pedestrian-oriented with appropriate scale and detail can seem isolated in this fragmented building, fabric. Erie Boulevard, the neighborhood around the Armory, areas along Broadway, and the Westinghouse and Holiday Inn block are examples of this suburban landscape. No doubt the businesses and residences that these fabric.

[Photo caption: These buildings along Jay Street: an example of Schenectady's historic urban fabric.]

[Photo caption: Excessive building setbacks andfrontparking lots dominate the surburban environments contain are vital to the health and wellbeing of the City, but the sameness and bland character of these environments fail to contribute to Schenectady's sense of place.]

So the purpose of these building design guidelines is twofold: first, to ensure that the essential elements of the historic fabric are preserved; and second, to provide an approach to better building in the suburban fabric so that it might eventually be transformed into a more desirable urban environment.

[Photo caption: Even attractive historical buildings, such as the restored Old Firehouse on Erie Boulevard, can seem isolated in the suburban context.]

[Photo caption: The overhead view of downtown Schenectady shows a mix of historic urban fabric and suburban fabric. State Street is an example of a well-defined street in the historic urban fabric, whereas Erie Boulevard lacks a consistent building edge, which is characteristic of the fragmented suburban fabric.]

Preserving Historic Buildings and Facades

The face of State Street has been changing throughout its 300+ year history, and over the years it has developed a scale and charm that are distinct to the City of Schenectady. Throughout the life of State Street, its buildings have been demolished and replaced, or restored and reused. As a result, the street reflects a great variety in the character of buildings, including a large stock of historic buildings, some of which are impressive landmark structures. The fact that State Street's historic fabric has endured — despite the pressures for more parking, and suburban building types that have destroyed much of the downtown fabric — is part of what makes it such a rare and valuable street.

The older buildings reflect the history and heritage of the City and are one of the defining characteristics of the street. Important historic buildings must be preserved and actively reused wherever possible, and when building reuse is infeasible, important historic facades should be saved and restored. It is time to reverse the trend of covering neglected historic facades with cheap building materials. Historic facade preservation and restoration is a vital component in improving the quality, variety and image of Schenectady.

[Photo caption: A view down Lower State Street from Erie Bouldevard in 1930, is not so different from a similar view today. Photograph courtesy of the City Historic Center.]

This is not to say that State Street should be a relic of the past and that all change should be resisted. New buildings may be required to support the changing economy of the City, and to support revitalization efforts of the downtown. But when new buildings are required, they should be sensitively designed to preserve the character of the street.

[Photo caption: A view of the same block today. Wherever possible, historic building facades should be uncovered and restored to their original condition.]

Building Width and Vertical Modulation

Part of what gives Jay Street and State Street their sense of unity is the relative consistency of the building module. The majority of the buildings in Schenectady's historic commercial fabric have a footprint that is long and narrow, with a street front ranging from 20 to 40 feet in width. This consistency produces a powerful organizing effect that overcomes the slight differences in materials, height and massing of the individual buildings.

The historic fabric also contains some buildings that exceed the 20- to 40-foot width and which tend to have a greater impact on the street. Consider some of the larger buildings on State Street: both the Hough Building and the OTB Building have an 80-foot width; the Courthouse and County Office Building are 100 feet wide; and the YMCA, the widest building facing State Street, is 130 feet wide. One of the primary concerns that underlies placing new buildings on State Street is that today's buildings tend to require even larger footprints than the historic buildings. The new office buildings currently planned for State Street include the DOT at 140 feet, the Intermodal Station Office Building at 200 feet, and the MVP Office Building at 300 feet. These wider buildings will have a larger impact on the street and, therefore, require a higher standard of building design.

[Photo caption: An elevation and plan of the south side of State Street, between Broadway and Clinton Street. The relative consistency of building widths, and vertical detail elements creates a powerful organizing effect.]

What is interesting is that the best of the long historic facades were designed to be compatible with the scale and character of the surrounding building fabric. The Hough Building, for instance, breaks down the massing of its facade into a series of vertical bays that are appropriately scaled and proportioned to relate to the surrounding fabric. The old YMCA, although long, articulates its facade with a porch and flanking bays to relate to the module of the street. Unfortunately, many of the more contemporary buildings — the County Office Building, the bank on Clinton, Center City entry — have a monolithic appearance without the appropriate vertical modulation. These buildings fail to echo the building module of the street and, therefore, disrupt the overall continuity.

This is not to say that all new buildings must imitate historic buildings in order to be compatible. The County Library, for instance, is a good example of how a modern building, through the use of vertical modulation and proportion, relates to the Historic Post Office next door without literally imitating its style. Buildings designed today do not necessary need to look historic, but they must reflect sensitivity to their context so that they enhance, rather than detract from, the overall character of the street.

[Photo caption: Views of the classically-styled Post Office (above) and the more modernly-styled Library next door (below). Contemporary and historic buildings can relate through sensitive design.]

Building Height and Horizontal Modulation

Building heights in the historic fabric often vary, so taller buildings depend on horizontal modulation to unify their facades with the surrounding buildings. For example, buildings on State Street range from one story to as many as eight stories, but the street manages to retain an overall unified appearance. This is partly because the majority of the buildings have a height of three or four stories, so the the occasional one-story or seven-story building does not disrupt the overall unity of the street wall. Taller buildings tend to introduce details such as window proportions, cornices, and belt courses that break down the horizontal scale of their facades. Horizontal modulation makes tall buildings more compatible with the pedestrian scale, and gives them a stronger relationship to the shorter buildings on the street.

[Photo caption: With inconsistent street walls, the street does not seem in scale.]

[Photo caption: Where higher elements are stepped back, the street seems in scale.]

[Photo caption: Stepped back building]

[Photo caption: An example of a tri-partite building.]

[Photo caption: Articulation of building mass]

Therefore, new buildings over four stories tall should be designed with a tri-partite composition, which includes a clearly defined base, mid-section and top. The building base should be in proportion to the height of the building, and can range from one to two stories depending on the overall height of the building. Additionally, new buildings over five stories should set back upper stories so that the overall building height does not produce an overwhelming effect on street.


Brick and stone masonry should be the primary building materials for new building facades constructed within the historic commercial fabric and on buildings outside the historic fabric that face major streets. The proportion of brick or stone masonry in the facade of taller buildings may be reduced above the fifth story provided the brick or stone continues to be a primary visual element.

For buildings within the historic commercial fabric and facing major commercial streets, the type, scale, and color of masonry selected should be compatible with the existing masonry elements of the street wall; and metal siding and stucco should be avoided. Buildings outside these areas can include a wider range of exterior materials, including brick and stone masonry, and high-quality stucco, wood, and metal panels. These materials can be used in combination, but generally no more than two of these elements should be used on a single building.


In the historic fabric, upper-story windows should be designed in a proportion and scale that that is compatible with the windows of the surrounding buildings, as well as the overall scale of the building. In general, windows should be recessed into the building facades. Strip or ribbon windows, glass curtain walls, and highly tinted or reflective glass should be avoided since they tend to disrupt the continuity of the street.

Window design in buildings outside the historic fabric can be more flexible, although many of the principles still apply. Windows should still be proportioned and scaled to relate to the overall scale of the building, but glass curtain walls are permitted in the middle divisions of buildings where combined with masonry piers, and above the fifth floor where combined with major vertical elements.

[Photo caption: Strip windows, such as these, can often produce monotonous facades that distrupt the rythm of openings found in the historic fabric.]

[Photo caption: Although the window sizes and proportions along State Street differ, the ratio of wall-to-opening and the overall rhythm of windows tend to produce a unifying effect.]

Entrances and Storefronts

Buildings and commercial uses should orient their primary entrances to the street. Street-oriented entrances and storefronts are enlivening; they increase visual interest and generate pedestrian activity.

The frequency of entrances is critical to the success of the pedestrian-oriented retail street. One measure of the vitality a street wall can generate is measured in the frequency of its entrances; the closer entrances are spaced, the more pedestrian interaction will tend to be generated. State Street and Jay Street, for example, create a very permeable street edge with an average building module of twenty to forty feet. It keeps the street active and gives the pedestrian more choice and variety along the walk.

Entrances to commercial buildings should be clearly recognizable and reflect the scale of the building. The ground floor should be oriented to the street or major public spaces. Important interior spaces, such as lobbies, should be clearly connected to outdoor spaces and visible from the street so that they can welcome people and provide synergy with the street.

Continuous retail storefronts also improve the pedestrian environment. Clear, untinted glass should be used to maximize the visual interaction between store interiors and exterior public areas. Awnings and signage should be incorporated into storefronts to provide shade and variation. Blank walls should be avoided, since long stretches without storefronts or entrances can destroy the continuity of the street.

[Photo caption: Continuous retail storefronts along the ground level help to activate the sidewalk.]

Service areas

Service areas should be located behind buildings and be serviced from minor roads and alleys, away from major streets. This orientation minimizes conflict with vehicular and pedestrian flows and maintains the pedestrian character of the street wall. Truck loading facilities should be an integral part of development but should be screened from public view. All exterior garbage and mechanical equipment should be screened in a manner that is compatible with the overall building design and streetscape treatment.

Parking Structures

[Photo of parking garage]

Since parking structures are often rather long and monotonous, they tend to deaden the sidewalk and disrupt the pedestrian activity of the street. So, wherever possible, parking structures should be located in the back of lots, away from major pedestrian streets and open spaces. When garages do face public streets, they should be designed to integrate into the adjacent building fabric. Garages that occur on streets with ground-floor retail should incorporate active ground-floor uses into their ground-floor levels.

Parking garages that front on streets should be designed to integrate into the street wall. They should have facades that relate to the scale, proportion and character of surrounding buildings. The facades should have a balance of solid walls and openings that are arranged to complement the surrounding structures. Large blank walls and continuous sloped strip windows are not appropriate. An ordered rhythm of window-like "punched" openings is encouraged. Ramps should be located within the parking structure so that their form is not visible from the exterior. Where appropriate, louvers or screens should be used to enhance the facade surfaces and articulate the structure, hide parked vehicles, and shield surrounding properties from lights. Pedestrian entries and vertical circulation should be clearly articulated and visible from the street, and ground-floor parking should be screened from view.

[Photo caption: The vast area of Schenectady currently occupied by surface parking is shaded in grey.]

Surface Parking

A large area of Schenectady is dedicated to surface parking lots. Most of these lots feature little or no screening or landscaping. Where possible, surface parking lots should be constructed behind buildings, and the buildings should become part of the street wall. Where parking lots cannot be screened by buildings, walls or hedges should be used to screen the lots.

Surface parking lots which occupy spaces of civic importance require special attention. Rather than hide these behind screens, an attempt should be made to create a parking lot which also functions as a civic plaza. This can be achieved through landscaping and creative design of the lotting arrangement.

[Photo caption: Physical barriers such as these guard-rails do little to screen the parking lot visually and only serve to aggravate the poor aesthetic of this street edge.]

[Photo caption: It is not always necessary to build solid wall above headheight. In fact these often appear sinister. Screening which uses solid walls up to a certain height and then partially seethrough screening at eye-level can effectively screen cars while still allowing views through.]

Section 3: Design Guidelines for the Public Realm

Street walls and build-to lines

Elements of the Streetscape


A street wall is comprised of the vertical surfaces of a buildings that face principal streets and public pedestrian spaces. Street walls that are relatively uniform in height provide a sense of a coherenr district. Abrupt changes along the street wall-more than 25 percent difference in height-tend to make a district less coherent.

Consistent street walls should frame street corridors in order to create the strong unifying proportions of a well-composed room. Maintaining the corners at street intersections is especially important since the lack of enclosure can disrupt the continuity of the street. Corner buildings are more visible than midblock buildings, and their presence, scale and character are critical to the quality of the street. They serve as the bookends to the block and should therefore maintain a minimum three-story height.

Buildings must be sited to create usable, positive open spaces, not leftover or remnant spaces. In order to frame the street, buildings should be close to the street. Build-to lines establish a consistent street wall, minimizing horizontal variations and allowable setbacks. On intensely developed streets, such as State Street, existing buildings establish the appropriate build-to line for infill development.

On residential streets with significant redevelopment, street walls should define the street corridor. Build-to lines should be set back no more than ten feet from the-street property line, which allows for landscaped planting beds. On key building corners, the build-to line should coincide with the property line to emphasize corner tower elements, provide articulation along the building facade, and to contrast with the recessed landscaped beds. Entry stoops also may penetrate the setback zone.

[Photo caption: Coherent district: buildings establish street wall close to the street]

[Photo caption: Incoherent district: no clearly defined street wall.]

[Photo caption: The buildings along Erie Boulevard generally hold the build-to line, but are too widely separated to create a consistent street wall. The result is an awkward pedestrian experience with spaces that feel vast, deserted and uncomfortable.]


Elements of the Streetscape


Streetscape plantings such as trees, shrubs, flowers, ground covers, and grass provide shade, privacy, texture and color when appropriately selected, sited and spaced. Plant materials should be appropriate to the climate, scale and urban conditions of the City. A limited palette of plant specie is preferred.

The use of evergreen ground covers in planting beds is strongly encouraged. The quality of existing trees should be evaluated within the context of the proposed development plan, and every effort should be made to preserve them.

An area's character should be determined and a consistent standard established for the styles of the planters in this area.

Trees should be a part of all streetscapes and should line sidewalks and streets in a unified and consistent along both sides of the street, especially on major routes to the downtown. A planted median is recommended for Erie Boulevard.

Street trees should be spaced closely enough to clearly define the street corridor when the trees are young.

The spacing of the trees should also take into consideration the adequacy of the soil volume per tree and the likelihood of minimum tree canopy maintenance, however. Street tree spacing should average thirty feet. Street trees should be set back from the curb in order to protect them from moving vehicles, opening car doors, and the effects of salt. The recommended setback from the curb is not less than three feet.

[Photo caption: A common language and simple, repeated pattern of planters sets up a rhythm that contributes to a clean and ordered aesthetic.]

[Photo caption: Schenectady currently features a wide range of planter styles. Greater consistency would result in a sense of a more unified place.]

Street Furniture

Elements of the Streetscape

Street furnishings do for the street what furniture does for the house. Their function is to accommodate people in as comfortable a manner as possible. Careful thought should be given to the making of a comfortable social environment when placing these furnishings. Benches should be mounted to a secure, stable and level surface and should be sited in both sun and shade to provide a choice for the user. A consistent standard should be established for table furnishings, litter receptacles and bicycle racks so that these furnishings are in character with the surrounding architecture.

[Photo caption: These benches on State Street seem isolated and are awkwardly arranged for either relaxation or socialization. Benches tend to feel more secure when they are backed by something such as a wall, a planting bed, or a fountain.]

[Photo caption: Spaces such as this where people have their backs protected and options of sun, shade or dappled light create desirable seating areas.]

Fixtures, furnishings and utilities

Elements of the Streetscape


Street fixtures, furnishings and utilities such as fire hydrants, parking meters, mailboxes and newspaper stands should be organized into a single zone along the sidewalks edge to maintain a clear zone for pedestrian traffic.

Electrical Utility Boxes: Where possible, utility boxes should be located away from street corners (either against the building's edge or underground) since they tend to create a visual barrier and can interfere with street crossings.

Bicycle Racks: Outdoor bicycle racks should be conveniently sited in proximity to building entries, with good visibility and paved surface, configured with respect to adjacent components of the landscape, and in numbers proportional to demand.

Litter Receptacles: A standard should be established for litter/recycling receptacles. One possibility is a durable black metal receptacle clustered in groups of three and distinguished by color-coded labels for recycling (glass, cans, and trash).

Telephones: Public phones should be visibly located in proximity to outdoor gathering spots and seating areas. Multiple phones should be clustered or aligned.

Newspaper Dispensers: Newspaper dispensers should be grouped together and located in proximity to areas with significant pedestrian traffic.

[Photo caption: A cluster of fixtures and utilities at the street corner. Arrangements like this should be avoided since they create visual clutter, and can interfere with pedestrian crossings.]


Elements of the Streetscape


Site lighting should provide nighttime orientation and enhance security. Lighting should be used to identify district and park gateways, pedestrian walks, and key park features. Open space lighting should fall along the perimeter of the space in order to emphasize its form.

Lighting fixtures throughout a sire development should be consistent in style; variations should be within a family of fixtures. Specialty lighting should be provided for athletic courts and unique activity areas such as plazas, gazebos, and performance venues.

Where lights follow streets or sidewalks, they should be placed in straight rows on one or both sides. When on both sides, they should align directly across the route. Light spacing should be coordinated with the street tree planting, and spaced approximately eighty feet on center. A uniform setback should be maintained along pavement edges for all fixtures.

Primary roadways should be illuminated with a visible source luminare to reinforce principal urban omanization during evening hours. The luminares should be mounted on poles no more than twentyfive feet in height. Secondary roads, parking areas, and service areas should be illuminated by cut-off luminares mounted on a pole height of twenty-five feet. Walkways should be illuminated by both traditional and cut-off luminares. Primary walkways should be illuminated by visible source luminares installed on fixtures no more than twelve to fifteen feet in height, while secondary walkways should be lit by cut-off luminares on simple fixtures, also twelve to fifteen feet high.

[Photo caption: Three light fixtures on State Street, three different styles. Variations should be in the same family of fixtures to produce a unified streetscape.]

[Photo caption: Schenectady's "historic" fixture.]

[Photo caption: A view down Lower State Street in 1948 (below) and a view looking up the street today (right). The street lights of 1948 were impressive and had a significant impact on the character of State Street. By contrast, the cobra-head street lights that line the street today contribute little to the character of the street. New standards should be developed for light fixtures throughout the downtown to unify and enhance the streetscape.]


Elements of the Streetscape


Where feasible, a consistent signage band should be established above the window line. Signs at right angles to the building are readily visible to pedestrians and are encouraged on pedestrian streets. A signage character should be established in all areas and signs should keep character consistency.

Signs can contribute to the character of a street and add a feeling of commercial vibrancy. They alert to the presence of retail and attract pedestrians to give life to the street.

[Photo caption: The signs here on Jay Street contribute to the street's attraction to pedestrians. They are hung, perpendicular to the building facade where they can be easily seen by people walking past.]

Sidewalks and Roadways

Elements of the Streetscape

On downtown streets, roadway widths should be kept to a minimum to promote a balance between pedestrian and auto use. Roadway width should be coordinated with traffic demand and, where possible, excessive roadway widths — including those with traffic lanes over twelve feet wide, those with extra traffic lanes, and those with multiple unmarked lanes — should be given over to parking lanes or sidewalks to enhance the pedestrian environment.

Parallel parking is encouraged. It helps separate the moving vehicles from the pedestrians and serves to calm traffic while expanding the supply of short-term parking. On-street parking should be considered on all streets with adequate space to reduce traffic speeds and protect pedestrians on sidewalks. Enhancements such as "neckdowns" should be considered at intersections or mid-block in order to reduce the width of the travel distance from one side of the street to the other, thus reducing crossing time for elderly, disabled and children.

Sidewalks and pedestrian zones along primary and secondary streets and in medians should provide a refuge for pedestrians. Sidewalks should be designed to accommodate crowd movements by minimizing the placement of obstructions, such as light poles, signs, trees, news dispensers, or buildings, within a clear zone for pedestrian flow. Recommended minimum widths are five to six feet on residential streets, with a clear zone of not less than four feet. On commercial streets, the sidewalk width will relate to the building placement, and should have a minimum clear zone of eight feet.

Materials on sidewalks and pedestrian zones should meet ADA requirements for accessibility, and should be durable and easy to maintain. Recommended materials are textured concrete, with pavers, brick, or cobble in special locations such as plazas and building entries. Crosswalk design and locations should be coordinated with pedestrian patterns and sidewalk design.

[Photo caption: The excessive width of Franklin Street could be given over to the sidewalk to promote a more inviting pedestrian environment.]

Guidelines for Special Streets

The following guidelines are designed to reinforce and and enhance the character of the downtown's most important streets. The streets have been grouped according to a common vision based on their existing conditions and characteristics, and are not a reflection of importance to the traffic infrastructure. Streets not specifically addressed are also essential components of the downtown, and general reccomendations for their treatment is addressed in the previous section, Elements of the Streetscape.

A hierarchy of street types has been developed to reinforce the character and importance of existing streets and to outline future streetscape improvements. The term "spine" is used to describe streets which hold the fabric of the City together. "Edges" defines a transition between areas of different character; "greenways" are notably (profusely) vegetated streets which link green spaces together; and "malls" are streets dedicated to a pedestrian-oriented commercial experience.


Primary Spine: Erie Boulevard

[Photo caption: A view down Commonwealth Avenue in Boston shows how a tree-lined median could transform Erie Boulevard.]

Erie Boulevard has an important gateway function as one of the main entrances and exits to the downtown. The proposed streetscape improvements are designed to transform Erie Boulevard into a grand tree-lined boulevard, and a center for future office and R&D building sites.

Building Placement
A build-to line should be established from the position of existing building and should be strictly adhered to when planning new buildings. Positive spaces such as plazas, courtyards or small parks should be created between or behind buildings, but the continuity of the street-edge should not be compromised.

Street Width
The immense width of Erie Boulevard makes it possible to create a median and broad sidewalks while keeping the existing conditions of two drive lanes and one parking lane in each direction. The parking lanes should make use of bump-outs and neck-downs to reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians, help define the parking lane and slow traffic at crossings.

Street trees should be spaced thirty feet apart and symmetrically about the center of pedestrian crossings at bump-outs. Between bump-outs, along the pavement edge, trees should be spaced approximately every fifty feet, and on the median, every thirty feet. The median should be planted with maintained grass and, possibly, flower beds. The trees on the median should be as large and densely foliated as possible. Those on the sidewalk can be smaller and more ornamental.


Primary Spine: State Street


State Street should continue to be the primary commercial and retail street. Efforts should be made to improve the pedestrian experience along its entire length, but particularly at the primary activity nodes: the junction with Jay Street, Proctor's Theatre and the Multiplex Movie Theatre, and the new Intermodal Station. Lower State Street should respond to its close proximity to the Stockade district and should feature more small scale retail (i.e., corner-shops).

Building Placement
The build-to line on State Street is already clearly established and should always be adhered to except in the rare case of a landmark building, which may be set back to create a positive public space in front.

Street Width
To make meaningful spaces of the sidewalks, they should be widened and the street narrowed. This will result in one drive lane and one parking lane in each direction. The parking lanes should make use of bump-outs and neck-downs which reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians, help define the parking lane and slow traffic at crossings.

Street trees should be planted in pairs, with each tree in the pair planted fifteen feet apart; each pair of trees should be planted thirty feet from the next pair. Where stand-alone planters are used, they should be evenly spaced and maintain the rhythm established by the tree planting. The trees should be ornamental and yet dense enough to provide a visual barrier between the road and the sidewalks which may then be perceived as separate pedestrian streets. Brick paving should be used along that part of the sidewalk which is not part of these "streets." This is also the area in which the utilities should be placed, as they should be screened by the trees, and the brick tmvine ensures that thev may be easilv moved


Secondary Spines: Broadway Street, Union Avenue


Both important routes to the downtown, these streets should have a consistent aesthetic character along their length while responding to different uses. Ground-floor uses include retail, small and large offices, parking structures and residential.

Building Placement
The build-to line should be established according to existing conditions. Where this results in a build-to line set back more than twenty feet, a tree lawn may be installed, and possibly a bike-path separate from the road.

Street Width
To make meaningful spaces of the sidewalks, they should be widened and the street narrowed. This will result in one drive lane and one parking lane in each direction. The parking lanes should make use of bump-outs and neck-downs which reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians, help define the parking lane and slow traffic at crossings.

Existing street trees should be preserved wherever possible and gaps in the tree spacing should be infilled with new trees for greater contlnuity. The spacing between trees should imitate existing conditions, or should be every forty feet where this is not applicable.


Primary Edge: Nott Terrace/Veeder Avenue


These streets divide the downtown from the Vale Park and Hamilton Hill and house such important facilities as the Schenectady Museum. Currently a major automobile route around the downtown, these streets tend to be dominated by parking lots and strip architecture. The proposed streetscape improvements are designed to emphasize the role these streets play as an edge to the downtown, while making it more attractive for pedestrians. Accordingly, the two sides of the street receive different treatments based on their context, with the downtown side having a more urban character and the park side attaining a more parklike character.

Building Placement
The build-to line should be established according to existing conditions, as close to the street as possible. The build-to line ensures that a consistent edge is established and should be strictly adhered to. Parking lots should be screened by walls on the downtown side and hedges on the park side. Both screens should keep to the build-to line.

Street trees on the downtown side should be spaced every fifty feet. On the park side, they should be spaced every thirty feet and doubled up (2-deep) on tree-lawns where existing setbacks or open spaces allow.

Street Width
The street will maintain its existing lanes but will be narrowed at crosswalks and intersections by means of bump-outs and neck downs. These reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians, help define the parking lane and slow traffic at pedestrian crossings.

[Photo caption: Nott Terrace, running along the bottom of this photo, defines the southwest limits of the downtown.]


Greenways: Clinton Street, Franklin Street, Church Street

These streets are used to link green spaces, and it is important that they be clearly defined as continuations of that green space along the streets length.

Building Placement
The build-to line should be established according to existing conditions, as close to the street as possible. The build-to line ensures that a consistent edge is established, and should be strictly adhered to except in the case of a landmark building which may be set back to create a positive public space in front.

Street trees should be spaced every thirty feet and be densely foliated to emphasize the street's green character. Trees should be placed on bump-outs to further enhance this appearance. The trees should be planted in planters containing other vegetation to emphasize the green character for the pedestrian experience. Further planters are also encouraged to add greenery. Hedges or other green screens should be used to screen parking lots.

Street Width
To make meaningful spaces of the sidewalks, they should be widened, and the street narrowed as much as the traffic flow will allow. The parking lanes should make use of bump-outs and neckdowns which reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians, help define the parking lane and slow traffic at crossings.

[Photo caption: View of Franklin Street before (left) and after (right) the proposed street tree planting]


Pedestrian Malls: Jay Street, Mill Lane, Stratton Plaza

These streets have little or no vehicular traffic and are reserved for pedestrian activities. Paving should be used to differentiate these streets from vehicular ones and to add visual interest. Close attention should also be paid to other landscaping details to ensure an environment in which people will enjoy spending time.

Building Placement
The build-to line should be established according to existing conditions. The build-to line ensures that a consistent edge is established and should be strictly adhered to.

Trees and planters should be of ornamental quality as they become important place-making elements and contribute to the aesthetic of the street. They need not be as large as trees on larger streets whose function is to contribute more to the overall appearance of the street than to be appreciated up close.

Street Width
Pedestrian streets should aim to achieve a width to height ratio of 1:1. This ratio feels most comfortable and usually allows about the right amount of sunlight onto the street.

[Photo caption: View down Jay Street.]


Veterans' Park

Guidelines for Civic Spaces

Originally known as Crescent Park, Veterans' Park was installed and dedicated in 1875 to honor the veterans of the Civil War. It has since served as the setting for many of Schenectady's important buildings, including the Old State Armory (1868, rebuilt 1890s) and the City's first Central Fire Station (1900). The park now serves as the forecourt to the County Courthouse, and marks an important gateway to the downtown.

Many of the qualities that made Veterans' Park great are still evident today. Remnants of its once continuous building wall create a feeling of enclosure, making the park seem like an outdoor room and contributing to its role as a gateway, a grand foyer to the downtown. The flaking church steeples at the base of the hill further complement this sense of transition, marking the transition from the commercial activity of State Street, to the more institutional character of the buildings on the hill.

Several factors have contributed to the park's decline in recent decades, ranging from the excessively wide roadways, to overgrown and incoherent plantings schemes, to the destruction of the street wall and its replacement with unscreened surface parking. The following recommendations for design are intended to restore the quality and the prominence of this important urban space, and to ensure that it remains a vital and active pedestrian place.

Establish a Continuous Street Wall. The continuity of the building edge is critical to maintaining the scale and enclosure of the park. New buildings constructed on the park should correspond to the Architectural and Site Design Guidelines. Primary considerations include maintaining a consistent building height that is appropriately scaled, modulated and detailed building facades, avoidance of excessive setbacks, orientation of the entry to the street, and incorporation of active ground-floor uses.

[Photo caption: A view of Veterans' Park in 1910. Many of these characteristics can be recaptured today by surrounding the park with active uses, simplifying the planting palette andproviding adequate seating. Photograph courtesy of the City History Center.]

Screening Surface Parking. Also described in the Architectural and Site Design Guidelines, any parking lots that front on the park should be appropriately screened to minimize their impact on the park.

Simplify the Landscape Treatment. One of the most inspiring images of Veterans' Park is a view from 1910. Today's landscape can be restored to its former clarity by eliminating extraneous planting such as shrubs and evergreens, and relying on a simpler palette of grass, paving, and trees.

Narrow State Street. The current width of State Street creates a perceptual barrier for pedestrian crossin- and contributes to the isolation and inactivity of the park. Traffic lanes should be narrowed and parallel parking eliminated along the park's edge to reduce the pavement width. If possible, the western segment of State Street leading to Albany Street should be eliminated through traffic rerouting to create a better link between the courthouse and the park.

Provide Adequate Seating. Benches, low walls, and grassy areas should be designed to accommodate a variety of activity levels.

Provide Adequate Lighting. Fixtures should be compatible with those on State Street.

[Photo caption: View of Veterans' Park.]

Liberty Park

Guidelines for Civic Spaces

[Photo caption: Presently little more than a traffic island, Liberty Park could be transformed into one of the downtown's great public spaces.]

Located on the triangular plat that is bordered by State Street, Water Street, and Washington Avenue, Liberty Park is a vastly underutilized park surrounded by a sea of parking, a highway off-ramp, the Schenectady Community College, the old YMCA, and a slew of strip-oriented architecture. The fragmented and vacuous surroundings are so overwhelming that the park has little identity and is not a pleasant environment for pedestrians. Improving the quality of this public space would radically improve the image of Lower State Street, and create an important northern gateway to the city.

In many respects, Liberty Park shares many of the characteristics of Veterans' Park. Like Veterans' Park, Liberty Park plays an important role in defining the entry into the downtown, and the spatial coherence of State Street could be dramatically improved if it were solidly anchored on both ends by strongly delineated urban parks. Like Veterans' Park, Liberty Park suffers from a fragmented context; in this case, it is its lack of a built edge facing Water Street. Lacking any active ground-floor uses and any sense of enclosure, there is little to make this park an attractive place for pedestrians. Like Veterans' Park, the fact that it is surrounded on all sides by roads — especially the overwhelming width of Washington Avenue's on-ramp — further isolates this park and contributes to its isolation. Also like Veterans' Park, Liberty Park is fronted by a significant institution: the Schenectady Community College. Formerly the Van Curler Hotel, opened in 1924, the building was adapted into classrooms in 1968, and significantly expanded in 1990. But unlike the courthouse, the Community College seems isolated and detached from the park and the fabric of State Street.

The following guidelines are designed to establish Liberty Park as a coherent and pleasant environment, and a significant public space for the downtown.

Establish a Continuous Street Wall. Like Veterans' Park, a continuous street wall is a key component for Liberty Park. It is critical to the creation of the sense of enclosure that makes urban spaces feel coherent and comfortable. Although Liberty Park has two significant building edges along with the Community College and the YMCA, it lacks a building wall along its southern edge. A new building with a comparable scale and height to it context, and active ground-floor uses, would have an incredible impact on the unity of the space. This single addition would unite Liberty Park with Lower State Street, and spatially unify the Community College with the fabric of the downtown.

Improve Pedestrian Crossings at Washington Avenue. A unified approach to streetscape design can transform the character of Washington Avenue from a highway on-ramp, to a grand civic gateway. Narrowing traffic lanes, introducing street trees, and possibly adding a landscaped median can diminish the barrier of traffic that divides the Community College from the downtown.

Eliminate Water Street. Water Street should be eliminated and given over to pedestrian traffic. This will eliminate unnecessary pedestrian-vehicular conflicts, accommodate a slightly wider park, and better unify the park with the street edge.

Reconfigure the park. Currently, the landscaping is designed to shield the edge facing the Community College from the traffic of Washington Avenue. Like Veterans' Park, Liberty Park could benefit from a simplified planting palette that consists of a varied tree canopy, grass and walkways. Features such as a continuous street wall, simple and coherent landscaping, adequate lighting and seating, and active surrounding ground-floor uses are all necessary components in transforming this park into a distinct and vital place.

[Photo caption: Improved landscape lighting can also improve the character of Liberty Park and help to distinguish it as a major gateway to the downtown.]

Intermodal Station Plaza

Guidelines for Civic Spaces

[Photo caption: Future site of the intermodal station plaza.]

[Photo caption: A view of the corner of Erie Boulevard and State Street in 1950 shows the importance of maintaining a streetwall at the intersection. Photo courtesy of the City Historic Center.]

The new intermodal station, which will replace the Amtrak Station on the corner of State Street and Erie Boulevard, promises to contribute to Schenectady's revitalization, and its adjacent Station Plaza will add a significant new public space to the heart of the downtown. Though the final program and design of the station will affect the final form of the plaza, the following guidelines suggest some of the critical issues of the site.

Maintain the street wall corner at the intersection of State Street and Erie Boulevard. The vacancy of the corner of State Street and Erie Boulevard next to the railroad station presently creates a gap that makes Erie Boulevard seem wider and, as a result, disrupts the pedestrian activity between Upper and Lower State Street. Maintaining building corners at intersections contributes to the continuity of the street wall, and this is especially important when the adjacent bridge bulkhead and the width of Erie Boulevard are considered. Historically, this void has been filled by a continuous row of buildings with ground-level shops. Likewise, the new office building that is planned to accompany the station may be best sited along State Street, where it can fill the void and restore the continuity of the street wall.

Create a consistent building edge around the plaza. The edges of the plaza should be defined by consistently scaled building edges, including the elements of the station, the future office building along State Street and the existing street wall across Erie Boulevard. The materials, details, and massing of the new construction should be designed in a manner that is compatible with the existing fabric, to maintain the overall unity of the space.

Establish active ground-floor uses around the plaza. One of the primary purposes of the plaza is to mark the Inter-modal Station, so it is critical that the station's primary entrance open to the space. The other building edges surrounding Station Plaza should contain active ground-floor uses near the station entrance such as shops, services, and restaurants that generate pedestrian activity.

Plaza design and programming issues. The plaza is intended to serve as the transit gateway to the downtown and to act as a focus for all the surrounding activities such as retail, residential, offices, and restaurants. The size of the space and its central location are intended to allow for a wide variety of uses including passive recreation, exhibitions, concerts, festivals, kiosk retail, and sidewalk cafes. The space should have a combination of planted green, hard-surfaced areas, and tree plantings.

City Hall Plaza

Guidelines for Civic Spaces

When City Hall was completed in 1935, the building was given a grander perspective with a widened Jay Street in front. Unfortunately, even then, the grandeur of this space was greatly compromised when the street was full of parked cars. Clearly, parking is an essential ingredient to the success of the downtown: it makes Jay Street businesses accessible to its customers, and reinforces the front entrance to City Hall. But the current parking layout in front of City Hall diminishes the grandeur of this important historic landmark, and disrupts what could be a pleasant continuation of the Jay Street Mall.

City Hall Plaza should provide a proper setting for City Hall, extend the activities of the Jay Street Mall, and add a significant new public space to the downtown. Very few changes are required to transform this parking lot into a successful urban plaza. In many respects, the stage is set: the proportions of the space are comfortable, there is enough of the historic fabric left to create a sense of enclosure, and active ground-floor uses are also already in place along the plaza's western edge. The following guidelines outline the major requirements of the plaza improvement.

Narrow Jay Street. Jay Street should be reduced from its current width of approximately sixty feet with two lanes of angled parking and a two-way travel lane, to a width of approximately thirty-six feet with a single aisle of angled parking served by a one-way travel lane. The net gain of twenty-four feet would be used to create the floor of the plaza by expanding the width of City Hall's front sidewalk.

Plaza design and programming issues. The Jay Street Mall improvements can serve as a model for many of the improvements required to create the City Hall Plaza, including such elements as paving design, street trees, and distinctive light fixtures. Because the space should be designed for flexibility, the majority of its central space should remain open, with seating, shade trees and benches along the perimeter. The landscape and grass areas from the base of City Hall to the back edge of the sidewalk should remain, but the remaining plaza surface should be primarily finished in hard surfaces to allow for temporary and pushcart retail, public gatherings, outdoor entertainment, and a variety of related uses. Feature elements such as fountains, planting beds or monuments can further complement and enhance the character of the space.

[Photo caption: The front of City Hall today (top) and in 1935 (bottom). Without the two aisles of parking, the widened Jay Street is an attractive public space. Photo courtesy of the City Historic Center]

Civic Gateways and Portals

Civic gateways and portals are an essential element in making downtown Schenectady identifiable. They announce entry into the downtown and set the tone for the character of the City within. Currently, the downtown lacks significant thresholds along many of its major corridors. There is little to distinguish the approach along Broadway, for instance, so a visitor could be as close as a block from State Street before they even realize that they are approaching the heart of the historic downtown. The same could have been said for the entry to the Stockade from Erie Boulevard before the addition of the granite gateway that marks that intersection today. The following guidelines suggest a range of improvements that will define the gateways of the downtown and establish a clear sense of entry.

Improving Civic Gateways

The grandest thresholds are created at the urban scale. Elements such as well-clefined urban spaces, distinct streetscapes, monumental bridges, building ensembles and architectural landmarks can mark a change or transition in the overall urban landscape. Reinforcing Schenectady's existing civic gateways, uncovering the not-so-obvious gateways, and building new gateway streets and public spaces are the primary means of improving the sense of entry to the downtown.

Public space is a major component of Schenectady's civic gateways. Veterans' Park is currently the most impressive civic gateway in the downtown. This well-defined park creates the sensation of an outdoor room and, as a result, it can be perceived as a foyer to State Street and the rest of the downtown. Liberty Park, through proper treatment and enclosure, could fulfill a similar role at the opposite end of State Street. With a better-defined building edge, this space would be transformed from what is currently little more than a traffic island, into a significant urban space, and a major civic gateway to the west.

[Photo caption: Veterans' Park is currently one of the most impressive civic gateways to the downtown.]

[Photo caption: View down Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts. In a similar way, Erie Boulevard could be transformed into Schenectady's western gateway with the addition of a tree-lined median and a consistent building edge.]

[Photo caption: The monumental "General Electric" sign is a major landmark for the downtown and an important symbol of Schenectady's historic ties to the electric industry.]

[Photo caption: View from State Street and Erie Boulevard looking southwest. Currenly auto-dominated, this great street can be scaled to pedestrians while serving as a monumental gateway to the downtown.]

Railroad bridges are another element that could act as civic gateways. The trestle-bridge spanning Erie Boulevard near Union Street is an excellent candidate. Properly cleaned-up, painted and illuminated, this monumental structure could be transformed into the northern gateway to the downtown, as well as a historic marker celebrating the City's impressive railroad history. Similarly, the elevated bridge spanning State Street near Broadway could be transformed into a gateway between Upper and Lower State Street. Discrete up-lighting and streetscape improvements under the bridge could significantly improve the character of the bridge, making it a real amenity to the downtown.

Through significant streetscape improvements, Erie Boulevard could function as the downtown's civic gateway to the east. Much like Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, the entire stretch of Erie Boulevard, from the highway to State Street, could create a sense of procession to the downtown. Visible from the overhead bridges of the highway, this would dramatically improve the visitor's perception of the downtown, while views from the other direction would highlight the street's visual alignment with the monumental GE sign. Together, the street and the sign symbolize Schenectady's historic connection with the electric industry.

[Photo caption: Dramatic uplighting can transform bridges into feature elements, as this example from Cleveland Ohio shows.]

[Photo of railroad bridge]

Civic Portals

At a lesser scale, gates and monuments can define the entry points to the City. Much in the character of the Stockade's granite gateway on Erie Boulevard, or to the gateways of college campuses, these portals often consist of flanking architectural or sculptural elements that define the limits of the district. Often these elements create a stronger sense of entry than mere signage, and are often associated with values of permanence. Streets such as Broadway and Veeder Avenue, which function as significant corridors to the downtown but that lack the distinct monumental qualities of a civic gateway, can rely instead on portals to create a sense of entry to the downtown.

In order for portals to be effective — that is, to make the downtown more legible and identifiable — they must be consistent and appropriately scaled. The design approach and palette of materials must be consistent enough to relate to the other portals of the district so that they reinforce the unity of the downtown. Not that this requires standardized design. Individual portals can have their own intricacies and unique characteristics, as long as they maintain an overall unifying theme. Likewise, portals must be of a significant scale to have a presence in their context. A portal marking entry to a wide road and surrounded by parking lots would need to be more massive than a portal on a tight street in a quaint historic district.

[Photo caption: Civic portal to the Stockade. The scale, design, and materials of these markers set the tone for entry into this historic district.]

[Photo caption: Monumental lightfixtures set up this urban portal in Phoenix, Arizona.]

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