Saturday, August 16, 2008

Liveable Streets

From Paris Plage to New York's Summer Streets, and Bogota's Ciclovia to Portland's Sunday Parkways, cities around the world are embracing the concept of liveable streets. Special days are set aside and miles of city streets, become car-free zones. Sidewalk cafes, special events, booths and stalls of amazing variety create a festival atmosphere as cyclists and pedestrians roam freely, and safely through the streets.

Donald Appleyard was a Professor of Urban Design at the University of California, Berkeley. He had a strong interest in environmental perception and community based planning. He studied the social and psychological effects of traffic and neighborhood layout, devised sensitive tools for the analysis of peoples’ environmental perceptions, and took issue with the power conflicts inherent in mainstream urban planning processes. Over the years, his interests became focused on the livability of cities and neighborhoods, particularly upon streets. His book Livable Streets was published in 1981.

In the late 1960s Appleyard conducted a renowned study on livable streets, comparing three residential streets in San Francisco which on the surface did not differ on much else but their levels of traffic. The 2,000 vehicles per day street was considered Light Street, 8,000 traveled on Medium Street and 16,000 vehicles passing down Heavy Street. His research showed that residents of Light Street had three more friends and twice as many acquaintances as the people on Heavy Street.

Further, as traffic volume increases, the space people considered to be their territory shrank. Appleyard suggested that these results were related, indicating that residents on Heavy Street had less friends and acquaintances precisely because there was less home territory (exchange space) in which to interact socially.

Light Street was a closely knit community. Front steps were used for sitting and chatting, sidewalks for children to play and for adults to stand and pass the time of day, especially around the corner store, and the roadway for children and teenagers to play more active games like football. Moreover, the street was seen as a whole and no part was out of bounds.

Heavy Street, on the other hand, had little or no sidewalk activity and was used solely as a corridor between the sanctuary of individual homes and the outside world. Residents kept very much to themselves, and there was virtually no feeling of community. The difference in the perceptions and experience of children and the elderly across the two streets was especially striking.

Project for Public Spaces is undertaking a major initiative called “Streets as Places.” This initiative seeks to engage citizens, policymakers and the transportation industry at-large to reshape the planning and design of transportation networks and streets to promote and support economic vitality, civic engagement, human health, and environmental sustainability, while simultaneously meeting peoples’ mobility needs.

Bicycles are commonly used by people seeking to improve their fitness and cardiovascular health. In this regard, bicycling is especially helpful for those with arthritis of the lower limbs and who are unable to pursue sports such as running that involve more impact to joints such as the knees. Furthermore, since cycling can be used as a form of transportation, there can be less demand for self-discipline to maintain the exercise because of the practical purpose of the activity.

Walkers have less incidence of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other killer diseases. They live longer and get mental health and spiritual benefits. Research shows adults who are physically active in their 50s and early 60s are about 35 percent less likely to die in the next eight years than those who are sedentary. For those who have a high heart risk because of diabetes, high blood pressure or smoking, the reduction is 45 percent.

Gerontologist Thomas Glass thinks we should also be cognizant of the importance of being sociable. "As a society, we should be finding more ways for people, especially older people, to stay involved and active. At any age, we need to begin to think beyond the boundaries of the Stairmaster.

"Physical fitness is important, but social engagement is turning out to be just as critical to longevity. What I tell people is, 'Find something you really like doing that involves other people, whether it's playing cards or walking in the mall.' Social engagement adds a sense of purpose to people's lives. It also seems to add years to those lives."

Perhaps by creating more liveable streets, we will not only improve the health of our planet by reducing emissions from motor vehicles, but we can also improve the health of planetary citizens everywhere.

Until next time, become the change you imagine.

1 comment:

DCRose said...

Hi Ixmet,

I got your message from Blog Catalogue to view your site. It is a wonderful blog.

I believe in baking fresh and using natural ingredients, so you could say we do have something in common. Keep up the good work. I will add your blog to mine. Thanks, DCRose...Rose