I have picked “Street Competition” as the name for my series of newsletters about community and urban design challenges. The struggle over the allocation of public spaces helps me make sense of the numerous complex issues impacting the places we live and work.
City building is a messy business. Most started as a collection of self-sufficient, mixed-use neighbourhoods. People lived close to their workplaces and could walk to the shops. Public plazas and streets were designed for people. Public transit systems developed to manage people movement from one neighbourhood to the other.
I always think of London, England when I consider cities as a collection of neighbourhoods. From 2018 to 2020, we spent about two months in Greater London. Our guidebooks:
Navigating from one village to the next by public transit or on foot in the largest city in Western Europe became a lesson in the evolution of a metropolis.
In 1950, only one person in 48 owned a car. Now, there is about one car per person in the United States. Australians and Canadians own almost as many automobiles per capita.
Increased car ownership created the drive-to city and accelerated its segmentation into suburbs, industrial areas, shopping centres, and business districts. Street space reserved for sidewalks, public amenities, news agents, and other users disappeared. The space was taken from people and given over to cars. Governments took money away from mass-transit and spent billions on expressways designed to feed the drive-to locations. Cities set minimum parking requirements for new developments.
Cars have not improved urban mobility, Most cities now have intolerable congestion issues and there isn’t room for more automobile infrastructure. Global warming issues aside, cars pollute city air. Polluted air kills people. There are studies that demonstrate that urban air pollution may make COVID-19 more deadly. Shop and restaurant owners often complain that the loss of parking and vehicle access to pedestrians and other forms of active transportation hurts business. There is a mountain of data that demonstrates the opposite. Cars and parking kill street life.
Covid-19 has been the most disruptive health event that communities have had to manage since 1918. Indeed, it has caused many prognosticators to foresee the demise of the city. I disagree. Cities continued to grow and flourish in 1920 after the Spanish Flu outbreak. The future shape of cities may be unknown but their survival and growth is a certainty. Some interesting facts:
In addition to issues caused by population growth and pandemic PTSD, planners have to consider climate change resilience and environmental considerations. There are:
Cities will respond to meet community and urban design challenges. While nobody can predict the future shape of any city with any accuracy, there is a sense that there are lessons to be learnt from the past:
Lisbon’s seven hills and waterfront make it visually spectacular. The second oldest capital in Europe, the city has energy. Busy streets and squares, full restaurants, and vibrant night life – the city pulsates. And, the population seems young. All signs of a city on the rise? Earthquake A 1755 earthquake destroyed 85% of the city […]
People living on the street have come to symbolize the global housing crisis but they are only the tip of the iceberg. While the examples of Finland and Houston demonstrate a focussed plan pursued diligently can resolve the housing situation for the chronically homeless, addressing the affordable housing problem is much more complex. Defining Affordability […]
I love to dance. This is not something new for me. I can’t remember when I didn’t like to move to the music. My first memories of watching others dance come from my childhood in Cape Breton where I would watch the adults square dance. Then, there were the step dancers who would often accompany […]
Kings Cross, once a thriving industrial and transport centre in London, was effectively closed off to the public by the end of the 20th century. Then in 1996, the decision was made to move the British terminus for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link from Waterloo to St-Pancras. The landowner saw a re-development opportunity for […]
I have postulated that cities and towns evolve. That towns and villages first grow in areas where the basics to support life were plentiful. Typically, that means good agricultural land and good access to water. Other valuable considerations include safety, and resilience. The bonus – access to trade routes. Walt Disney and the Fully Formed […]
A Visit from Saint Nicholas A Poem by Jonathan Potter – December 2022 ‘Twas the first mask-free Christmas, when all through the stores The vaccinated children were spewing their spores;The shoppers were eagerly starting to riotAs the introverts longed for some quarantine quiet. The public healthcare workers were tracing the pathOf the flu and RSV, […]