Fad Diet: Better Urban Planning

The value of a pair of shoes and a bike are increasing faster than ever before.

Ever since the 1970’s, American cities have struggled with the changing landscape of the transition from the industrial to post-industrial, knowledge-based economies and the ‘flight’ of people, wealth, and the associated tax base.  During that same period, American obesity has increased at a staggering rate.  Coincidence?

Given the renewed attention on healthy food choices, by now, most of us have seen the studies that show American’s collective problems with health and weight.  Our median Body Mass Index (BMI) is #1 (highest) in high income countries – not a good first place stat to boast about.  So, could architecture, development & urban planning be partly to blame…or credit for a fix?

Ever since the early part of the 20th century, Americans witnessed dramatic changes to the built environment as cities began to develop around automobiles.  People pushed further & further outside of town to afford more land & build their new dream homes, and as a result, cities grew by land mass, streets became wider, asphalt & concrete paved over prairies, people drove further, sat longer in traffic, walked less, and unknowingly lost time moving.

Let’s set the record straight, architects and planners are not health care professionals…and this article has by no means exhausted the research necessary to tie a connection with development growth patterns and weight, but…for the sake of simple thought, could there be a relationship between urban development shifts and health over time?

In recent years, more and more people are moving back to urban areas and taking back the cities that were abandoned over time.  Most studies attribute the return to urban areas around walkability and access to transit or proximity to cultural or entertainment destinations.  For a professional service provider, or anyone else that understands their own value of time, reductions in commute time also weigh into personal decisions that are contributing to the renaissance in urban revitalization.  

Pedestrian-oriented cities with choices for transit (motorized & non-motorized) show faster growth, higher demand, and stronger real estate values than places that haven’t changed with the times.  Now more than ever, our local and regional municipalities need to continue, or start, to invest in walkable, bikeable, pedestrian-oriented, sustainable & safe environments for the future.  For the growing wearable fitness tracking society, it’s worth it in more ways than one.

Bike Lanes


Who knows…with more urban focus and growth, maybe we’ll start to see the collective American BMI decrease.

The power of positive thinking.



[pad] Plants Roots

Pfeiffer Architecture + Development [pad] has officially opened it’s doors and planted the seeds for growth as a new Cincinnati metro-area architecture + development firm focused on mixed-use, commercial design solutions.

As founder of [pad], a Northern Kentucky native, and former Regional Manager & Client Leader with Cincinnati-based CR architecture + design, I relocated to Denver, CO in 2005 to open CR’s first regional office & contribute to national expansion for the firm.  I’ve recently returned home to capitalize on my 15 years of architectural experience and build on an integrated project & team delivery philosophy.

The amount of growth in the West is astonishing, and Denver turned into a world-class City right before my eyes during my invaluable time spent in the Mile High City.  I’m proud of what I personally accomplished during this time, and am grateful to have been in the right place at the right time to influence my professional perspectives for the future.

I’m incredibly excited to be back home in the Cincinnati metro area with a fresh view on the opportunities I see in the market.  While pursuing local and national project interests, [pad] will be guided by design decisions that are grounded in the past and forward-looking with an eye towards innovation.

I invite you to snoop around the website through the menu above, explore more, come back (frequently), follow & like us.  I look forward to the journey and hope you join us.

Christopher R. Pfeiffer, LEED AP


Future Leaders – Follow Your Passion

Architects hear questions that run the gamut when it comes to what we do.  Outside of ‘work’, in social settings and friendly gatherings, we’re constantly peppered with varying questions that make us wonder if those outside the industry truly understand what an architect’s role really is. “Who’s your favorite architect?”, and “What have you designed that I would know…?”, and “How much would it cost to add a bathroom?”, to name a few.

We may have answers to all of these, and we certainly enjoy talking about these subjects, but an architect’s professional life is spent solving problems about design & construction – building program, community planning, health, safety & welfare of the public, space layout & flow, code regulations, composition, scale, and yes, even the color of paint.  Architecture is everywhere, and in everything, so we’re constantly learning, and searching for great ideas.  The questions we get from most rarely go into technicalities, and it’s usually centered more around Frank Lloyd Wright…or maybe even Mike Brady…than building height, context, area, or professional practice. More than anything else, these conversations remind me of questions I once had, often presumed, and continue to learn about our complex profession.

The fact is, our industry got hit hard by the Great Recession and a large generation of Boomer architects are nearing retirement.  The gap of talent is rising, and the next generation of architects will need to be prepared for changes to the traditional role. I wish I had a crystal ball and an answer to provide for future generations of architects about what these changes will be, but this will only be realized as time progresses and we adapt to changing client needs and market demands.

CCHI recently had the privilege of speaking to a career exploration class at my alma mater, Covington Catholic High School.  I was invited to speak to the class by Rob Schneeman, and I graciously accepted the opportunity to help answer some of the questions I once had when trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  More than anything else, I believe strongly in giving back, and will always welcome the opportunity to help mentor and educate our future leaders about architecture and the built environment.

While speaking to the class of students, I’m happy to report that they all remained engaged (i.e. awake), and asked very intelligent questions.  We talked about the tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa), a day in the life of an architect, and important topics like education path & salary.  One seemingly basic question from a student stood out to me: ‘What’s your favorite building?’  I probably should have expected this one, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t catch me off guard.  Several things instantly ran through my mind – historic hotels, invaluable months spent exploring Europe, a trip to La Jolla to see the Salk Institute. My answer was the truth – I don’t have one.  I appreciate historic and modern buildings alike, simple details, and the intentional, and unintentional happenings of natural and man-made public space.

As I was writing this article, NPR ran a story titled, Teaching Students to Hear the Music in the Built World, about Dianna Agrest, professor at Cooper Union in New York.  It’s an interesting story, and worth the read and listen.  Click here for a link to the broadcast.

The most important thing I learned from such a basic question is the reason I became interested in the profession in the first place: find your passion.  I can’t tell, sway, or even show people how or why to become an architect, but this question caused me to reflect about why I chose the path.  The answer may have started with a building as inspiration, but the reason I stay motivated today is much different.  More than anything else, I hope the students and future leaders of our world understand that passion should be the guiding principle in choosing your own path.  If you figure out what motivates you and let it lead you, you’ll never be wrong.

So, what’s your favorite building?

5 Reasons to Invest in the Center City

We’ve heard the news already.  People are moving back to the city.  You don’t need stats to see the cranes and read the weekly headlines about the latest new project bringing more residents to the urban core.

Demand centers around unique offerings and walkability, and the good news is that this shift in living preferences doesn’t seem to be a passing trend.  With the rise of the automobile in the 1920’s came the the decline of walkability, but recently (since 2005), we’ve seen miles driven per capita plummet for a variety of reasons (read more here). shared_space_brighton_yellow_book

Now is the time to invest in the center city – here are five reasons why:

It’s Not Just Millenials

Among young adults, some perceptions are reality (that’s for another article).  In the same survey referenced above, 77% of millennials expressed a desire for a walkable lifestyle with access to transportation.  Even so, many older
adults are looking to downsize from their suburban family homes and they’re looking for the same offerings.  Baby Boomers represented 9.8% of the population in 1970, and only 13% in 2010, but by 2030 this generation of active adults will represent over 20% of our population. Ask around – they aren’t interested in (another) 4 bedroom home on an acre of land at the end of a culdesac.

Cars Aren’t That Cool Anymore

America’s highest percentage of income is spent on housing.  Second to housing is transportation and it represents between 15-20% of our cost of living budget.  Anyone gone car shopping recently?  The average price for a new vehicle is $32,000.00.  That’s insane…and likely one of the main reasons that over 25% of Americans ages 16-34 do not have a diver’s license.  When you look at the rise of walking and biking from the same demographic, the statistics tell the whole story.

Access to Transportation

With cars that cost $32,000 and Americans spending over $2,000 a year on gasoline (not including taxes & insurance), you can quickly calculate the economic benefits of not owning a car.  For many people, this may be a necessity for work, school, and errands, but you can understand how walkable neighborhoods benefit residents in more ways than one.  The good news is that major cities are catching on, and focusing efforts on multi-modal regional transportation strategies.  Those that don’t will be left out in the competition for new residents (and taxes).

Economic Benefits

Dense walkable neighborhoods create demand for services, thereby creating jobs.  It’s no secret that retail follows people, and studies have shown that higher walk scores directly correlate to higher retail sales.  Is it any surprise, then, that housing in walkable neighborhoods are in highest demand and held stronger values during the crash of 2008?  In a 2013 survey by the National Association of Realtors, 60% of Americans reported a preference for a neighborhood with a mix of houses, stores and businesses that are easy to walk to.

It’s Green

Walkable neighborhoods greatest value may be it’s ability to free residents from their dependence on cars and shrink their carbon footprints. The green movement isn’t a passing trend either, and studies show that 55% of people around the world now say they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.  When commuters trade their long suburban drives for a walk or subway ride to work, they cut down on pollution and traffic. They can also save a significant amount of money on transportation.

So, what are you waiting for?  Find your place to live, work, and play downtown.


Real Estate = Architecture + Development


Northern Kentucky resident Christopher R. Pfeiffer has joined Comey & Shepherd Realtors as an associate specializing in residential sales.  Chris is a Registered Architect and LEED Accredited Professional with Pfeiffer Architecture + Development [pad] and is affiliated with the Comey & Shepherd City office in downtown Cincinnati.  Chris can be contacted at (859) 429-5254 or cpfeiffer@comey.com.

Before coming to Comey & Shepherd, Chris was a Client Leader and the Regional Manager of CR Architecture + Design’s Denver, Colorado office for 10 years before moving back to the Cincinnati Metropolitan Area to recently start his real estate, architecture & development practice. His achievements include Professional Architectural Lectures in multiple states, memberships in multiple professional organizations, including Alumni of the Downtown Denver Partnership Leadership Program. Chris graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree from the College of Architecture. He is a member of the National Association of Realtors, Ohio Association of Realtors, and the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors.

Comey & Shepherd is a full service real estate agency focused on providing buyers and sellers with the guidance and expertise necessary to complete a successful real estate transaction. Brokering fine homes since 1946, Comey & Shepherd is a local company that takes a personal approach to their business. For more information about Comey & Shepherd, visit comey.com.

View/Download Press Release Here

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Seaside Model Development

This year my family chose to take two vacations: one with each side of our respective families.  Coincidentally, each family chose the same location – Destin, FL.  While my personality demands a little more diversity than spending time and hard earned money for similar experiences, I looked at the glass half full and found ways to appreciate the traffic, chain restaurants, cookie cutter beachside condos, and tourist shops that define much of Destin on the surface…especially since our families are heavily geared towards young children and our trips these days are defined less by luxury or unique experiences and more by quality of time spent with each other.  On both trips, and to appease my personal interests, I took some time to venture out of Destin to visit a place I’ve looked at and studied for a long time.

Fort-W.-DSD-348  f6a644a6-3d89-4f79-b99b-482e9384e084.1.10 Destin, FL

Seaside, FL is a mere 20-25 miles from Destin, in between Destin and Panama City, FL.  The town developed around a vision by the land owner & developer, Robert Davis, in the early 1980’s with the help and execution from architecture & planning firm DPZ out of Miami, FL.  The vision was simple – create a sense of place as an antidote to urban sprawl that had already begun to takeover similar towns and cities in FL (i.e. Destin).  Those unfamiliar with the architectural & city planning aspects that make Seaside special are most likely familiar with the constructed reality and idealistic portrayal of modern society in the 1998 movie, The Truman Show, starring Jim Carey.

IMG_1348   IMG_1351 Seaside, FL

A community built around the pedestrian with small residential lots, small streets, lack of parking, slower traffic speeds, and mixed residential & commercial uses planned to encourage thoughtful interaction of community amenities seemed foreign at the time Seaside was developed (and still does to many people), but what emerged was the foundation of a new ‘old-again’ movement that many look to emulate today around the country.  New Urbanism or Traditional Neighborhood Development was born, and one visit to town makes you a believer in what value good design brings to a place.

timthumb.php-2  IMG_1346 Public Space

Town highlights are shown below, as an excerpt from the Smart Communities Network (http://www.smartcommunities.ncat.org/success/Seaside.shtml).  The single best stat that helps paint the picture of the true value in smart, community-based design is reflected in real estate values.  A single residential lot could be purchased for around $15,000 in the early 80’s.  Those lots are valued over $1MM today, with several homes valued over $10MM.  Without much context or specifics (location and a lot of intangibles aside), but for the sake of stats, that’s a 13%-14% increase in value, compounded annually, versus the average historical US real estate appreciation rates hovering at or below the 5% range.

IMG_1344  IMG_1347 Seaside Details

Features of Seaside

  • The Seaside plan was designed to optimize waterfront access and views for all of the town’s residents, not just those with beach front home sites.
  • The community’s porch-lined streets and walkways all lead to the beach or town center.
  • Seaside’s design places an emphasis on the town’s public spaces, which range from its main square to the pedestrian-only footpaths at the centers of blocks.
  • Considerable architectural variety exists at Seaside, with designs spanning styles such as Victorian, Neoclassical, Cracker, Modern, Postmodern and Deconstuctivist.
  • A network of sand walkways cuts through the middles of blocks, enabling one to walk comfortably to the beach in bare feet.
  • The majority of the buildings on the beach are public.
  • The town’s market area uses shipping containers for construction.  Their industrial character is softened by the addition of gable roofs, wooden columns and fabric canopies.
  • Fences must be of a different style than all the others on the block.  Front porches are set back about 16 feet behind the fences so that those having conversations with passersby would not have to raise their voices.
  • The streets offer pedestrians the feeling of being in a public room.  This is accomplished by keeping the streets narrow and having buildings with uniform fronts.

Principles of Traditional Neighborhood Development

Communities like Seaside that are built on the Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) model feature many of the following:

  • Instead of the traditional development model in which residential and commercial zones are typically separated (thus encouraging the growth of transportation infrastructure), the TND model integrates development.  All structures fan out from a town center, which is often a square or green, and sometimes a busy or memorable street intersection.
  • Shops and offices are located at the edge of the neighborhood, and the shops are sufficiently varied to supply the weekly needs of a household. A convenience store is the most important among them.
  • Elementary schools are located within one mile of all residences so that children can walk to school.
  • Small playgrounds, ideally within one-eighth of a mile from all dwellings, dot the landscape.
  • The streets are laid out in a network, so that there are alternative routes to most destinations.
  • Streets do not end in cul de sacs.
  • Buildings at the neighborhood center are placed close to the street. This creates a strong sense of place.

Benefits of Traditional Neighborhood Development

  • By bringing most of the activities of daily living into walking distance, everyone (especially the elderly and the young) gains independence of movement.
  • By reducing the number and length of automobile trips, traffic congestion is minimized, the expenses of road construction are limited and air pollution is reduced.
  • By providing streets and squares of comfortable scale with defined spatial quality, neighbors can come to know each other and to watch over their collective security.
  • By providing appropriate building concentrations at easy walking distances from transit stops, public transit becomes a viable alternative to the automobile.

One thing is for sure: Seaside has staying power.  I’d recommend a visit to everyone, and hopefully, by more people visiting and seeing the benefits in person, more people will see the power of Traditional Neighborhood Development and get behind adaptation of similar concepts to their own sense of place.