Daylighting Melbourne: how we can transform our cities, street by street
Let us Not-Plan. Instead, let’s break urban transformation into a series of small, progressive steps, enabling people, technology, place, and environment to be aligned a little more carefully, and unlocking better streets as we go
Cars have laid waste to our cities. The sister article to this piece lays out how, but also what some cities are beginning to do about it. And within that article is a note about a particular design strategy for unpicking the car-dominated street, bit by bit. This piece expands upon that, working as a kind of extended footnote. Note: as a playbook entry, it’s detailed; so perhaps read it in pieces.
The street is the basic unit of city. It is where the city comes together. It is unique to the city, in a way that other roads, or buildings, are not. It is not the freeway (despite some transport planners’ best efforts) nor is it the residential cul-de-sac or country lane. It is where we live, work and play, where the slightly higher density of interactions forces contradiction and complexity, yet in a way which is entirely everyday. It is, to paraphrase Sennett, where we learn to live well with people who are not like us; in other words, the whole point of cities.
For that to happen, we need to rebalance the street as a series of slow and fast layers of change: to enable adaptation and flexibility to the fast moving layers of mobility technologies, in ways that the heavy, distinctly 20th century infrastructure for the car and truck does not, whilst reinforcing the slower, more valuable characteristics of streets, like places for open, social and civic interaction, whether markets, playgrounds, theatre, gardens, or culture and cultures. But put simply, our approach to the former, designing for 20thC mobility, has tended to destroy the latter.
Despite cities making statements to the contrary, the transport planner (really a traffic engineer in most cases) has inadvertently been allowed to define what the street is about — as if we invented streets in order to generate traffic. The street is only incidentally about traffic yet that is largely how it is…