Monday, October 5, 2015

Streets as Public Spaces

To be really well used parks and other public spaces  must be really close to you.   After 3 blocks usage of green spaces decreases drastically


That's why even though the Upper East Side is adjacent to Central Park, its residents  complain they don't have enough park space, It is not the lack of park space they are complaining about, it is really the lack of nearby park space.  Here's a Look at this issue from the past, future and present.

The Past

Actually in the past there was no problem to solve. Until sometime in the  20th century our streets were our parks. At that time we didn't need a lot of centralized  park facilities, because  you could just go outside your door and play in the street.  

The Streets were our playgrounds 
-C Edward Coop , Surgeon General US

Dangerous high speed automobiles and the automobile industry ended that era. 

Before the American city could be physically reconstructed to accommodate automobiles, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as places where cars belong. Until then, streets were regarded as public spaces, where practices that endangered or obstructed others (including pedestrians) were disreputable. Motorists' claim to street space was therefore fragile, subject to restrictions that threatened to negate the advantages of car ownership. Epithets—especially joy rider—reflected and reinforced the prevailing social construction of the street. Automotive interest groups (motordom) recognized this obstacle and organized in the teens and 1920s to overcome it. One tool in this effort was jaywalker. Motordom discovered this obscure colloquialism in the teens, reinvented it, and introduced it to the millions. It ridiculed once-respectable street uses and cast doubt on pedestrians' legitimacy in most of the street. Though many pedestrians resented and resisted the term and its connotations, motordom's campaign was a substantial success.  link

The auto industry took over our streets for the essentially exclusive use of cars and parking, with human being use of streets  relegated to crossing at crosswalks. 

Image of a card handed to pedestrians in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1921. Reproduced in Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the invention of the Motor Age by Peter Norton, Technology and Culture, Volume 48, Number 2, April 2007

In return for the loss of the use of our convenient "street parks" we have been given a system of few and often far between centralized public spaces    that are not anywhere  as convenient as our street parks and playgrounds in front of where we lived were.

20-30 years from now our streets in front of where we live  will once again become our parks and playgrounds. The impetus for this will be the self driving automobile becoming the dominant form of transportation. 

Every year, 1.2 million people die in car accidents, more than 33,000 of them in the US link

-Self driving vehicles are expected to be much safer. Human error accounts for around 90% of all car accidents.. Insurance rates will drop drastically for self driving vehicles vs driver vehicles making most people switch to using self driving vehicles. Transitions  can occur quite fast....

. Using actual transportation data, our analysis suggests a shared-vehicle mobility solution can meet the personal mobility needs of the entire population with a fleet whose size is approximately 1/3 of the total number of passenger vehicles currently in operation.

If 2/3 of cars disappear , the space now used for car parking will be freed up to become linear parks, and many streets will be essentially closed to thru traffic and become our parks and playgrounds once again.

The cities will probably keep a few parking spaces around for cars that need to pause but most will probably be repurposed as parks or retail locations.  The Atlantic


Here's exceptional examples of today that will become the norm in the future...

32nd Street NYC 6th to 7th Avenue
Vornado Reality removes car parking on north side of 32nd St, replaces  it with a park in the street
 32nd Street Walkway-34th Street Partnership-Extended Sidewalk-Colorful-Penn Station Madison Square Garden-Greeley Square-Herald Square-NYC-002

32nd Street Walkway-34th Street Partnership-Extended Sidewalk-Colorful-Penn Station Madison Square Garden-Greeley Square-Herald Square-NYC-001 

 Boulevard 41

 Bryant Park Corp has been approved to  take all parking from both sides of street and will turn it it into "Parkland"
While Vision42 might not happen soon, Boulevard 41 is more likely. The plan from the Bryant Park Corporation has approvals in hand but needs funding from adjacent property owners. Image: Bryant Park Corporation [PDF]

  Transformation of a street into a childrens playground

 Potgieterstraat is situated in inner Amsterdam, in a context of 19th century buildings dating back to the first big enlargement of Amsterdam. The block typology of that time appears to the disadvantage of today’s public life, since the inner courtyards of these blocks are not open to public use and the streets were never designed for today’s traffic. In general there is a lack of public squares and public green. Streets here are dominated by cars and recently introduced bike lanes are a traffic solution, unfortunately claiming the available space from adjacent side walks.
The district as a whole was up to a refreshing new strategy for children and pedestrians to strengthen and vitalize the public realm. Local inhabitants were asked in a political enquiry to agree upon and formulate new guidelines and were also involved in the selection of an architect

 Whereas participation is seen as a process with all stakeholders positively involved this wasn’t the situation at all in this particular case. The participative processes could be more characterized by conflict than by cooperation. Conflicts with the city council with an ambitious demand that by written survey 70% of all residents in the housing blocks should agree on the plan, conflicts with residents that didn’t want their acclaimed public parking places to be moved around the corner, the appointment of a new political administration changing plans already agreed on between the residents and the former administration. Conflicts with retailers located on the street, the financial coupling of this small project to a bigger project. Lack of cooperation between the different city departments and the delay of the project in general. All these conflicts resulted in a process where the social bonding was actually already established before the realization of the plans because residents showed perseverance. Therefore the basis of the success of this public domain was a side-product of this design.


Pearl St Triangle 

33rd St Madison Square Garden

33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue will become a temporary pedestrian plaza this summer. The project could be made permanent in the future. Photo: Google Maps

The new terraced seating area. Photo: Stephen Miller

Parklet Parsons School

Sports Parklet Los Angeles


Community Garden Parklet

This community garden is located at the Fulton Houses  in Chelsea.  By taking out parking and  placing similar structures on NYC streets, it becomes theoretical possible to have a community garden on every street that wants one.