Gateways: A Community within a Community by Howard M. Blackson, III

A Gateway defines the entry from one place to another and the transition in the position of an individual community within the larger city. As Gateways define the front doors of their communities, they also form mutually beneficial symbiotic relationships within the city. These areas are intended to symbolize a shift from one context to another, a portal or door that creates a representative community of the larger community.

Well-planned Gateways are seams that overlap community edges within the city to generate an environment which forms its own unique urban “district.” Along with well-defined access to shared neighborhoods, a Gateway should be planned as a valuable asset and catalyst, with economic spin-offs and entrepreneurship opportunities. They can meet the housing and commercial needs to provide daily life necessities to the community. These areas offer many opportunities to plan for the shared vision that promotes the overlapping use of resources such as access to transit, retail, community facilities, iconic architecture, and civic art that is representative of its local community’s culture.

To achieve a representative iconic gateway design thattransitions traffic flows a few essential design toolsmust beassembled correctly. Gateways are historically assembled as either ‘set pieces’ that divert people around them or ‘gates’ that funnel people through them.The urban designframework in which to structure a community’s Gateway involved two primary elements, the horizontal street pattern and the vertical structure patterns.

Horizontal Street Patterns

As a transition zone, Gateways usually shift high speed / low volume vehiclesinto a slower speed/ higher volume network of neighborhood streets. This is accomplished by either ‘diverting’ traffic around a focal point, such as a Roundabout, or to ‘squeezing’ traffic flows into a focal point, such as a Boulevard or Gate. The following are traffic-calming enhancements is a primary concern for local streets welcoming the region into their community:


Modern roundabouts are the safest, cheapest, and most aesthetic form of traffic control at intersections. A more traffic-oriented device, these are most effective at the edge of a city or community. Users approach the circle, slow down and/or yield to oncoming traffic. This deflection encourages slow traffic speeds, but allows for free flowing movement. The central island can vary in shape from a circle to a “square-a-bout,” ellipses, and peanut shapes, and create a gateway transition between distinct areas. These are an opportunity to reduce the number of vehicle lanes due to increased capacity and lower speeds, which reduces delay, travel times and vehicle queuing lengths.


Boulevards separate very large streets into parallel urban realms, buffering the edge from the high-speed throughway by means of multi-way operates and frontage roads. A more pedestrian-oriented device, these are most effective when embedded within the city or community. Medians, landscape, and lighting create a narrowed ‘gateway’ effect. The frontage roads benefit from traffic calming at mid-block and at intersections.  Careful attention is necessary to design for Boulevard transitions at the intersections as these can be confusing. The medians provide spaces for signage, public sculpture, which limits space for civic or accessible buildings to being along the frontage roads.


A gate is a point or space of entry and is often an urban element which marks the entrance or threshold of one district to another and is located on the ‘edge’ of the districts. It can also serve as a portal connecting one outdoor space with another. Gates have a vertical element that have a range of material, shape, detail and opacity, depending on the degree of change to be achieved. A contemporary gate treatment now includes diverting traffic into a cut and cover tunnel to reclaim the public realm that was formerly an auto-dominated thoroughfare.

Vertical Structural Patterns

Vertical elements provide the site with a representative iconic gateway design. These may be stand-along, such as within the center of a roundabout, or incorporated into the blocks fronting onto a Boulevard or forming a gate. These elements are formed as architecture, sculpture, and signage and may be assembled individually or in combination.


While complimentary, architecture is not sculpture. It is the tectonic articulation, a type of structure, of structural stability, function, and beauty and the visual configuration of a building derived from materials and methods of its construction. The structures may be organically, mechanically repetitive (colonnades), or classically composed (towers). The structures may serve as Visual Monuments, Focal Points, Observation Decks, Memorials, and/or Aspiration Expressions of a time, place, or people. In addition, a hierarchy of buildings may be used to define transition zones.


Sculpture is defined as three-Dimensional visual art, with materials being processed, such as carved (materials removed) or modeled (materials added), or free-form of materials and process. Gateway sculptures tend to be symbolic statements, iconic monuments, memorials, and visual.


Signage is the graphic technique of imparting verbal and symbolic information, especially when applied to a building or structure. Four types are: highway signs that are independent of a building, standardized, and seen from a distance at high speed; traffic signs and signals standardized by speed/perceptions; signage that is applied perpendicular to a building façade to be seen by those passing by; signage that is applied directly to a building.

Cultural Patterns

Once these basic three-dimensional and two-dimensional elements are assembled, the community and designers should determine which character elements are valued by local citizens.Is the area a memorial honoring a long or rich history, such as Paris’ Arch of Triumph with its architectural/sculpture/gatestructure within a roundabout? Or, was the site an aspirational expression of a promising future, such as LAX’s Sculptural lighting/signage entry? This intention is to fit within the city and community’s vision and policy plans, such as our City of Villages. This question is the most difficult for people to resolve during any public engagement period.

The character question is based on the understanding that what we build expresses our values of today, which is reflect in the intention of the space being either a predominately traffic calming solution, or civic structure, or a hierarchical expression, such as Vancouver’s towers framing Granville Bridge. The Gateway should balance these physical and visceral issues. The next step is make allowance for financing this important place and the money and public resources spent to achieve the goals appropriate to local expectations, values and priorities.

Paris, Arch of Triump (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

Little Italy Signage (Image: Mario Covic)