seasonal displays NYC

Seasonal Displays

Seasonal displays

Tis the season ”¦ for seasonal displays. So this month, our focus is on exactly that. Whether you are going all-out for the December holidays or have a future display in mind, these tips may help smooth your path to success, from a more technical engineering and landscape architectural viewpoint.

Shedding some light

One of the practical aspects of seasonal displays to consider is power to light-up your displays. Even in Rockefeller Center, thought is given to the appearance of displays during the day as well as once darkness falls.

seasonal displays NYC

For pole-mounted features, we recommend integral outlets provided by the pole manufacturer, mounted near the top of the pole. Many manufacturers do this as an option. This will eliminate the need for unsightly extension cord runs from ground-mounted power sources which are not only unsightly but prone to vandalism. Power outlets should have an in-use weather cover that allows for power cords to be connected without moisture intrusion to the outlet.

Planters aren’t just for plants

Another easy opportunity to add some seasonal interest is the use of planters. Planters are heavily used in the colder cities to provide some color and texture in the winter months. Two great examples are Chicago and Minneapolis. The latter begins the winter “planting” in early November consisting of copious amounts of evergreen foliage, white birch logs, red twig dogwoods (both living and cut stems) and a variety of broadleaf evergreen cuttings (many with berries). In more temperate climates, winter annuals can be effective for adding color and texture to highlight the seasons. Examples include pansies, ornamental cabbage, and poinsettias, to name a few.

seasonal displays Minneapolis MN


A great way to announce something special in your downtown or a section of your downtown is with seasonal banners. We recommend always consulting with the street light pole manufacturer when adding banners, flags, or seasonal displays.

It’s important to remember the phenomena of wind loading when adding items such as banners to light poles. The force of wind will have a surprising effect on the structural integrity of the pole. Not only do the poles need to be sturdy enough to withstand the effects of wind loading but also the bolts and concrete foundations need to be sized properly. Usually the pole manufacturer will design the banner arms in conjunction with the poles so that they are up to code. For the foundations and bolts, it is best to consult a registered structural engineer.


Not only do outdoor water features need to be de-watered and weather proofed but some thought should be given to the aesthetics of these displays. What might a borough do to infill a fountain display to provide some seasonal interest to a fountain pool?

seasonal displays Mt Dora FL

Some communities have creatively utilized fountains for winter displays. In the instance of fountains with elevated walls containing a basin, there are many precedents for building a structure over the basin in the cold weather to create an elevated platform for holiday decorations, most notably the town Christmas tree. Of course the water is drained, so the empty basin serves as a great location to conceal power connections and any other mechanical needs for the decorations.


Not everyone can deal with frozen conditions as well as a Disney feature film. However, these tips may help you keep things safe for those who want to build a snowman or enjoy any other downtown activities when conditions are less than ideal.

It may sound simple, but you can take some clues from the PADOT road crews on winter walk management. First, pre-treatment can be a very effective means of combating predictable snowfalls and consider brine (salt and liquid solution) for larger areas. Be sensible with the distribution of any de-icing agent. Try to spread the material in the center of the walks that are crowned (drain to each side) or along the higher side of sloped walks. Let gravity and traffic draw the excess material across the spaces. This may reduce the material you need to use and avoid higher concentrations of unused material accumulating at doors, steps, and building walls.

Since sidewalks are most commonly concrete, a concrete-friendly de-icer is recommended when icing is problematic. Common rock salt is popular but is corrosive to concrete and leads to salt spray that may harm plants. It is also not effective in temperatures below 24 degrees Fahrenheit. Better choices are available such as potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, or calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). Each has its pros and cons but generally perform better than traditional rock salt.

Concrete is most susceptible to de-icers in the first two years after construction, while it is still curing. So it is best to use de-icers as sparingly as possible to avoid spalling (a flaky type of shallow deterioration) the surfaces. If de-icers must be used, then it is best to clear the slush off the surfaces as soon as possible.

Just add fire

“Fire and Ice” festivals have gained in popularity which has brought the notion of s’more-making into the downtown lexicon. Some communities have embraced the winter months and taken to keeping the fire burning throughout these colder days, using firewood and metal fire pits. Other alternatives are gas fire pits which can be managed without the mess of firewood and residual ash.

Larger public spaces can be energized in the winter months with the addition or incorporation of fire-based elements. There is a level of liability control that must be understood by the property owner, but not an insurmountable issue. Also, access to utilities, in the example of gas fire pits, must be considered. Extending the appropriate utilities, including electric, during project design and construction will set the stage for these elements in the future.

crosswalks icon


This month, the focus of our downtown outreach is crosswalks. Here we will share information from a more technical engineering and landscape architectural viewpoint. Simply click on any topic or question below to jump to the content. Read some or read it all. And if you have questions, please ask.

You will notice that we use Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation (PennDOT) as a reference point. Most of our downtown projects are in Pennsylvania but please be assured, as we are working in many states outside of Pennsylvania (including Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, Ohio, New York, Tennessee, and Virginia, to name a few!), we make it our business to be up-to-date and educated on the rules and regulations in all the cities, towns, municipalities, and boroughs where we work.

The Basics
Crosswalk Enhancements
What About Stamped Asphalt, Resin, and Pavers?
A Little about Bump-outs, Bulb-outs, and Curb Extensions
Concerning Raised Pedestrian Walkways or Speed Tables


The Basics

In Pennsylvania, PennDOT designates three basic crosswalks, type A, B, and C. These conform to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) published by the Federal Highway Administration.

  • Type A ”“ This crosswalk is designated by two parallel lines. Lines are 6” to 24” wide and are set a minimum of 6’ apart. This is the simplest and most commonly seen crosswalk.
  • Type B ”“ Consists of the Type A parallel lines with the addition of 12” to 24” wide 45 ° diagonal lines.
  • Type C ”“ Consists of the Type A parallel lines with the addition of 12” to 24” wide perpendicular lines. We sometimes call this the piano key design.

standard crosswalk

In addition PennDOT allows three standard decorative designs

  • Type D ”“ Stamped asphalt ”˜courtyard’ pattern
  • Type E ”“ Stamped asphalt ”˜herringbone’ pattern
  • Type F ”“ Stamped asphalt ”˜offset brick’ pattern

decorative crosswalks

Each decorative pattern must be accompanied by the basic 6” minimum white border. If you are planning to use other patterns and/or colors, you will need PennDOT approval.

PennDOT typically discourages anything that is not their standard detail. Townships, boroughs, and cities are generally more receptive to creativity in crosswalks.

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Crosswalk Enhancements


Basic crosswalk striping is painted with reflective paint for economy. But this can lead to the need for frequent maintenance.

Better quality striping methods include hot liquid applied thermoplastic with reflective glass beads. Sheet applied markings are also available with glass beads imbedded. These are fused to the road surfaces using a heat source. This method is more durable but also involves a greater implementation cost.


At midblock crosswalks, advanced warning signs and pavement markings may be desirable, advisable, or required by governing agencies.

More advanced crosswalks may use overhead lights and pavement-embedded lights which are more costly to install and maintain. Flashing lights may be advisable where the driver may need additional advanced warning of pedestrian crosswalks. These are also frequently seen at school zone crossings.

PennDOT has been distributing Yield to Pedestrian signs to be placed on the centerline of roadways. The theory goes that they are more likely to be seen (and obeyed) by drivers than curbside signs. The signs may be placed at intersection crosswalks or midblock crosswalks.

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What About Stamped Asphalt, Resin, and Pavers?

Stamped Asphalt

Stamped asphalt involves a process requiring the heating of existing asphalt surfaces to a plastic state. Then decorative templates are pressed into the hot asphalt using compaction equipment. Finally color is applied using a host of different methods.

The least expensive coloring method involves applying the color as a liquid. Thicker and more durable coatings are produced in sheets that are melted and pressed into the asphalt. This method is accepted by PennDOT.

Resin Surface

Another application is a poured in place resin surface. This material is sold under the brand name AddaPrint, among others. This material is cold-applied at a ¾” thickness on existing pavement and then stamped with decorative patterns. Typically this requires milling of the paving to create a flush surface. One of the benefits is that aggregates can be embedded in the liquid to increase traction.


Pavers are generally smaller, segmented, cast or fired units used for paving. They are an option for decorative and durable crosswalks. Unit pavers can be a very durable installation provided a strong concrete edge and base detail is used to contain the pavers.

Unit pavers rely on interlocking pavers to disperse the force of rolling wheels. Consequently, selection of patterns is critical to maximize the interlocking feature. The herringbone pattern is one of the best for maximizing interlock.

Unit pavers are typically not acceptable on PennDOT roadways however they are used on non-PennDOT city and townships roads.

Some common varieties of pavers include:

Concrete unit pavers ”“ an economical choice among pavers

Typically a thicker paver is used for crosswalks as compared to those used in residential applications (+/- 3 inches). These pavers can be set in asphalt or sand beds on top of reinforced concrete slabs.

Clay brick pavers ”“ maximum durability

Clay brick pavers typically hold their color better and are more expensive than concrete pavers although the installation method is identical. Some cities have brick streets that have been in service for more than a century. Remember reading about Portsmouth, NH? (link to Portsmouth blog) safekeeping

Asphalt pavers ”“ something new

Asphalt pavers are not common nationwide, probably due to a limitation in the colors and patterns available. However, they are widely used in New York City and Europe.


Stone cobbles are perhaps the most durable of all paving products and also the most costly. Cobbles are commonly split from granite or basalt. Cobbles wear like iron and are readily recyclable. Cobbles are typically set in a sand setting bed on a gravel or concrete slab base. New Castle, DE benefits from the use of cobbles. (link to patina/New Caste blog) – patina

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A Little about Bump-outs, Bulb-outs, and Curb Extensions

Bump-outs, bulb-outs, and curb extensions are three well used terms, all referring to the same thing. They are popular as a safety measures on urban streets.

The primary purpose is to allow cars and pedestrians to see each other better where parallel parking occurs. Other benefits may include:

  • Providing additional room to create curb ramps for accessibility
  • Narrowing the roadway and encouraging drivers to slow down
  • Decreasing the time pedestrians are crossing in the roadway

Drawback of bump-outs include:

  • Complicating street drainage by interrupting continuous curb lines. May require installation of more drainage structures
  • Increasing traffic congestion by preventing right turn movements through parking lanes/shoulders
  • Complicating efficient removal of snow along curb lines

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Concerning Raised Pedestrian Walkways or Speed Tables

Speed tables can be an effective method of traffic calming on local streets. Benefits include:

  • Raised tables allow improved accessibility for pedestrians since they eliminate curb ramps
  • They are preferred by emergency services over speed humps because they are more gradual and less jarring to on a large emergency vehicle.

However, drawbacks include:

  • Roadway drainage complications which may require additional drainage structures.
  • Slowing of snowplowing operations. Snow plows tend to damage pavement surface that changes abruptly.
  • Creation of a hindrance on collector streets for emergency services where speeds are higher.

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repetition Charlotte


repetition /rep-i-tish-uh n/   noun

the act of repeating; something made by or resulting from repeating

Copy and paste are two functions that we use almost every day in the office, sometimes with success, sometimes at our own peril. So too is the use of repetition in the built environment, a delicate balance of success and failure.

While attending the International City/County Management Association’s (ICMA) 100th Annual Conference in Charlotte last week, I was able to experience a variety of truly beautiful public spaces. Uptown Charlotte literally has a photo-worthy space on almost every corner, and many great lessons to be learned on placemaking and attention to detail. We could have picked one of a dozen great pieces of public art, a half dozen functional and vibrant plazas, and countless fountains (really, I lost count of all the great water features).

repetition Charlotte

What really caught my eye was this gracefully curved walkway next to the football stadium (home of the Carolina Panthers). For a moment, imagine this walk with no planters and no banners and it’s a pretty mundane space, but with them, the space is striking, artistic, and supremely inviting. The pattern and form created by simply copying and pasting the planter, the plants in the planter, and the banners and the repetition created defines the space and creates the vista that catches many football spectators’ eyes every fall.

There are most certainly corridors in your community that could benefit from the impact of repetitive installations similar to this one. As you walk or drive through your town, look for opportunities to add color and pattern by repeating a dynamic design element. If you are cautious and repeat the right elements, the effect can be overwhelmingly positive.

cachet Avalon NJ 1


cachet \ka-ˈshā\noun

a characteristic feature or quality conferring prestige

As summer comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on the quaint shops, intimate streetscapes, and the lazy days of summer that are what many people think of when they envision the shore towns in southern New Jersey. Not unlike many of Pennsylvania’s boroughs, this type of downtown development has been quite successful. These are places many of us return to time and again, year after year.

But what do you do when you don’t quite fit the mold? Avalon, NJ faced this problem. As a shore town, the scale of Avalon’s streetscape and architecture is decidedly not intimate. The sea breezes have ample room to blow along the boulevard and swirl within the wide set-backs.

cachet Avalon NJ 2

So the community embraced their differences. Bicyclists and joggers share the road with cars (and the occasional golf cart) with room to spare. Wide sidewalks allow for gathering spaces at almost every corner, with a full complement of site furnishings and plantings. The vibrant blue that adorns the site elements creates cachet and makes a bold statement.

How can you maximize your community’s differences and accentuate them with scale and color? What’s your community cachet?


square  /skwe(É’)r/   noun

an open place or area formed at the meeting of two or more streets

The square, town square, market square, village green ”“ we all have them in one sense or another. We think of an open public space commonly found in the heart of a traditional town used for community gatherings.

Marietta Market Square Snow


They might not be literal squares, but we have spaces, open or built that serve as our town center.   They might not even be in the geographic center of town, but they all have the potential to bring people together, no matter the reason, with a sense of community.

Some towns have planned village greens that have been preserved as parks, while other towns may have intersections of streets meeting the center of commerce, market squares today where actual market houses once stood.   And then there are the town squares that act as memorials to our fallen soldiers or our forefathers.   All of these spaces with a purpose, a reason for existing.

Growing up in Manheim, I’ve always had a certain fondness for our town square.   It was the location for many of our community events as well as the focal point for many of the anchor businesses in town: the general store, the barber, the pizza shop, the clothing store, a selection or banks, and even the funeral home.   Now, many years later and even after a fire destroyed a collection of buildings, Market Square stands as a proud example of a quintessential town square.

Now, living in Marietta, I look out my front window every day to my new town square, a lovely parklet in the middle of the town’s traffic circle.   It’s the center of town, a stop during the Memorial Day parade and the holiday candlelight tour.   It’s a focal point when giving directions to visitors and a place to chat with neighbors during the morning dog walk.

Marietta Market Square

Think of your town square.   Is it another proud example of a small town square?   Is it serving to its fullest potential?   Does it need a little sprucing up or perhaps a complete makeover?   Or, if you don’t have a square, could you create one?   Perhaps on the corner of a vacant lot, in an underutilized parking lot, or in an alley ”“ the possibilities are endless.

phoenixville ingenious


ingenious /in-jeen-yuh s/ adjective

characterized by cleverness or originality of invention or construction

Buy a whole bunch of self-contained glider/picnic tables and set them up in your parking lot.

phoenixville ingenious

Reading it on a page, there is not much inherently ingenious about the previous statement, however, walking up Bridge Street in Phoenixville on a rainy Saturday in August and suddenly the sheer brilliance of the idea is revealed. Situated mid-block between Iron Hill Brewery and the Great American Pub & Hotel are seven hand crafted roller gliders from Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

This collection of impromptu seating creates a very non-traditional gathering space in the core community. There is no grass to mow, no high maintenance landscape to maintain, no expensive lighting or paving, there is simply comfortable and shaded seating for 28.   It’s ingenious because it provides a great space to wait for your table at the pub; while other restaurants in town (and there are many to choose from) cannot compete on comfort and appeal.

The space that is occupied by these gliders would be wasted pavement if not for these structures. While roller gliders are not necessary in every community, creative use of wasted space is always meritorious. What local or imported element can add originality to your community?

vienna va capacious


capacious /kuh-pey-shuh s/ adjective

capable of holding much

Think about your downtown as a container, or better yet, as a huge main street retail space.

When you visit other communities and walk into their retail establishments, what are the qualities and attributes that make you linger and shop, tell your friends about the experience, and often return for repeat business? Chances are there are a number of factors, including the basic sensory elements, displays, aromas, music playing, colors, textures, variety, and maybe a free sample, but the one which may be most impactful is simply being a capacious space.

Of course, you (nor I) have ever actually articulated it this way, but we have certainly felt the ill effects of the absence of capacity. When a store seems so interesting, but lacks the open space to truly enjoy the experience, you notice and are impacted by the lack of room.

If we adjust our lenses to focus on the entire downtown experience in a similar fashion, what we can learn is that a little volume and expanse can actually intensify the experience for those who spend time in our community. With so much focus on adding interest to the streetscape, it can be very effective to simplify and open up the street environment to create a clean medicines online and simple forecourt for the shops, architecture, and humanity that exists in the downtown.

vienna va capacious

While visiting the metro DC area last weekend, I visited the Mosaic District, a new mixed use development near Vienna, VA. The entire experience was a pleasant one, replete with boutique retail, great dining, a butcher, and organic food market, and a great people watching. It offered everything that you look for in a downtown environment. Looking at the photos after the fact, it occurred to me that the comfort and enjoyment came in part because of the simplicity of the environment. The streetscape shown in the image is wide open and while it could hold many more elements, it nicely laid the foundation for what lay beyond.

There are likely spaces in our own communities that can be simplified and opened up to allow for a little more room to move, both inside and out.   What are those spaces and what is your approach to building a different kind of capacity?

pizzazz Mt Joy


piz ·zazz   /pɒˈzaz/   noun

an attractive combination of vitality and glamour; a quality or style that is exciting and interesting

We went in search of pie. We heard about a bakery where the crust is hand-made and you can buy a variety of pies, by the slice. Reason enough to set out on a Saturday morning.

What we found was not only delicious but also a treat for the eyes. And I’m not just talking about the pie!

Mount Joy, PA, maintains a delightful downtown. The architectural scale and detail is very much indicative of this part of the state (south central PA). But the elements before, above, and around the architecture give the streets their pizzazz.

pizzazz Mt Joy

The very first thing to catch my eye as we turned on to Main Street was a planter box. Overflowing with sweet potato vine, petunias, fountain grasses, and begonias, and adorned with an abstract metallic detail, these planters, found in multiple locations along the ample streetscape, really make a statement, draw the eye, and communicate to pedestrians and those in their cars that something special is going on.

Additional landscape appears in a planting strip that is incorporated right into the sidewalk and in front of several businesses in various colors and containers. Public art in the form of an intricate sailing vessel adds yet another element of interest. Blade signs and a combination of paving materials complete the inviting scene.

True, we went there for one purpose ”“ pie! But we came away with much more than that.

Are there single attractions that draw people to your town? And are you adding enough pizzazz to entice them to stay and draw them forth to discover what else you have to offer?

the villages FL


sub ·tle  \suht-l\ adjective

not immediately obvious or comprehensible; difficult to detect or analyze, often through being delicate or highly refined

If you have enjoyed any time at The Villages in Florida, subtlety may not be the first word that comes to mind. It should be though.

the villages FL

Like Celebration (see fabricate), it is a planned community or a fabricated place and with that distinction comes some of the same critical comments about artificiality and thematic design. It is true that there are three town squares with unique design themes that are executed like a movie set, complete with props to emphasize the motif. But if this is all you notice after being in this community, you have not looked deep enough.

It’s the subtle touches that make the 100,000+ residents of the Villages want to be there. The overt themes (Spanish colonial, turn-of-the-century waterfront resort, and early century Florida cattle ranch) and design standards are creative. Personal touches make the Villages unique and eye-catching. But it’s the subtle details that make you feel at home and can be applied to any of our own communities. These details are found in the use of color on the buildings, the focus on pedestrian scaled signage, the quality and texture of building materials, the thoughtful use of branding. These details are not reserved exclusively for a planned community, they are free to be employed in our communities here as well.

The transportation center in the photograph is a great building that mixes materials and forms to create an iconic space in the community, and is certainly themed architecture. Notice the street signs. ”¦ There are three of them in the photo. Yet they almost disappear by utilizing a consistent color for all the poles, brackets, and backs of the signs. The designers chose a subdued green color to blend into the surroundings and reduce visual clutter, so that the view of the building is the star of the show and the signs take a back seat. A subtle but superb detail!

What is the star of your views on Main Street? What subtle changes can be made with similar impact?

fabricate Celebration FL


fab ·ri ·cate  \fab-ri-keyt\ verb

to make by art or skill and labor; construct; to make by assembling parts or sections

New urbanism is a term coined in the early 1990’s by a group of very progressive architects who were planning new and creative neighborhoods. As a landscape architecture student later that decade, these communities were at the forefront of our curriculum and often pointed to as the model for planned growth and development.

The concepts that drive new urbanism can be diluted with overuse and oversimplification. Calling any new development with a mix of uses and housing styles new urbanism is not exactly accurate. This dilution has led some critics to call new urbanism fake or fabricated.

fabricate Celebration FL

Celebration, Florida is one of the highest profile new urbanist projects of the recent past, in part because of its Disney affiliation. It is in fact completely fabricated and that is what makes it so stunning. It was planned down to the smallest detail and yet it feels organic and comfortable. It is walkable all over, quaint on some streets, vibrant on others, and delightful throughout. It was conceptualized, sketched, planned, and fabricated with a common vision of creating a community. By chance, it is also a great teaching space, because every view, walk, and experience in Celebration has a lesson to offer.

We are in the business of creating great communities and to do that we must fabricate portions of that experience, which is to say we must craft our improvements with a modicum of art and skill. The colors, the fonts, the placement of shrubs, the lighting, and the decorative ornamentation exemplified in this view of a planned community in Florida can inspire us in Pennsylvania to fabricate our own great spaces.