05 Mar Streets as Places
This month, Project for Public Spaces (PPS.org) posted “Reimagining Our Streets as Places: From Transit Routes to Community Roots,” making the case that streets are our “most fundamental shared public spaces.” When streets are used wisely, they provide the means for people to connect in ways that very few other public spaces can. Sadly, overemphasis on car culture has led to few isolated great places connected by car-infested streets, placeless sprawl, poor physical health due to lack of walkable routes, social isolation, and dis-invested low-income communities.
When we build our landscape around places to go, we lose places to be. – Rick Cole
With its Streets as Places initiative, PPS advocates for communities reclaiming their streets, participating in civic life, and having a direct impact on how their public spaces look, function, and feel. Not alone in this effort, the Smart Growth, Complete Streets, and Active Transportation movements have been successful in moving transportation policy towards multi-modal street designs that safely accommodate a broad range of users. Making streets safe for all modes of transport – not just cars – including public transit, bicycles, pedestrians, is the key to transforming streets into destinations in their own right. Streets become great places when they encourage people to linger, to socialize, and to experience more deeply the unique culture and character of a particular location.
PPS offers these suggestions for making Streets as Places happen into your community:
- Make your own street a place. Think about ways you can improve the block where you live or work. Small measures, like planting a tree or flowers, putting out a Little Free Library in your front yard, or organizing a block party are great ways to start. Remember, if your house or building faces out onto the street, it’s part of the street and of people’s experience as they pass by it.
- Organize an Open Streets. Dozens of cities across the country now regularly close their streets to cars for special events, allowing people to take advantage of the whole right-of-way. It’s a great way to help people see streets in a new light, and to open a conversation about how our streets should be used.
- Consider “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” strategies to improve and activate your streets. There are many relatively low-cost, quick ways to transform your streets, from layering in public art or benches, building street seats or parklets, rightsizing projects that prioritize pedestrians, holding special events or concerts on the street, to lighting displays.
- Support small businesses that activate streets. Local shops, like hardware stores, bakeries, and coffee shops are vital places in our communities. When they’re located along a Main Street, they help encourage people to walk, enhance the local economy, and encourage neighborly interaction. Shop local, and encourage these businesses to think about how they can help enhance the street to benefit their bottom line and the neighborhood through creative window or outdoor merchandise displays, a bench or seating on the sidewalk, attractive landscaping, hosting local events, or getting involved in the local Main Street or merchant’s association.
- Advocate for safe streets. To make people feel comfortable walking and spending time on a street, it needs first and foremost to be a safe place. Too many Americans, particularly seniors and children, are killed and injured on our streets every year. Reducing vehicle speeds and providing safe infrastructure for those walking and biking – sidewalks, protected bike lanes, crosswalks, and medians – are critical to making a street a place for people, not just cars.
- Ask your local transportation departments and elected officials to support measures that recognize streets as places for people. Streets should be safe for people to walk and to bike. They should have places to gather together and perhaps highlight local talent. They can be closed to vehicles during special celebrations or for market days. Check out PPS’s “What Makes a Great Place?” to help diagnose how your community’s streets rate.
- Think Beyond the Station. Bring life to local transit stops! People waiting for the bus or metro deserve better than standing next to a pole without any seat or shelter. With some basic amenities and creative design, transit stops can be places where people actually want to spend time.
- Get involved in local projects and groups. There are efforts in every community across the country already working to create better streets for people, including biking and walking organizations, smart growth groups, and Main Street associations. Join one and ask how you can help.
- Celebrate success! Nominate a “Great Street” to the PPS’s Great Public Spaces web resource. Is there a street in your community, or that you’ve encountered in your travels, that deserves recognition? Let them know! Help them in generating an ongoing conversation about the important role of Streets as Places in communities across the world.