A new resource is available for understanding and implementing complete street policies.
As a quick introduction, Kaid Benefield explains in a recent article from The Atlantic Cities, A Brief History of How ‘Complete Streets’ Became Hip, that Complete Streets are, “based on the simple but powerful notion that streets should safely accommodate not just automobiles but also pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit users.”
This article is mostly a review of Barbara McCann’s new book Completing Our Streets: The Transition To Safe And Inclusive Transportation Networks. The concepts she promotes closely match what we are aiming to address with our book on strategies for adapting streets for a shared right-of-way. Our approach is much more graphic and diagrammatic, however the idea that these projects can be implemented at a smaller scale or piloted and tested is similar.
McCann is explicit on the advantages of the process of incremental change and how we can create Complete Streets, “not through big signature projects but through small, gradual improvements.” From a design perspective the ability to test/pilot and iterate an intervention contributes to a more responsive solution that can build momentum, rally champions and gain wider community support.
Seattle City Council established a Complete Streets Policy with Ordinance 122386 in 2007. The policy’s, “guiding principle is to design, operate and maintain Seattle’s streets to promote safe and convenient access and travel for all users —pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and people of all abilities, as well as freight and motor vehicle drivers. This mandate is carried out by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). Our hope is that our document continues to expand and promote these ideas both locally and nationally.
The past couple weeks have flown by. Last weekend we took a trip to Bornholm, a picturesque island in the Baltic Sea. While it was cold, we lucked out with the weather and being there in the peak of fall. Thanks to Natalie/ SCAN Design for making this happen!
Here are some highlights:
Overlooking Gudhjem, our jumping off point in Bornholm.
Biking through the forests of Bornholm
Temporary Play in Gudhjem!
Outdoor cafe seating platforms / parklets in Stockholm
A fun bike corral in Stockholm
Skatepark built under a freeway in Stockholm
We have had the good fortune to get to meet with some of the celebrated and established public space intervention professionals of today while here in Copenhagen.
Two weekends ago we got to tour the “Urban Play” project in Køge (45 minutes south of Copenhagen) with Bettina Lamm (pictured above left), installation co-curator and professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Copenhagen. The idea of the project is to create “life before the city” on a post industrial site that is slated to be redeveloped.
Bettina was accompanied by John Bela (pictured above center), co-founder of Rebar and Park(ing) Day, who was invited to create several installations as part of Urban Play, and happens to be “in-residence” at Gehl Architects this month. He spoke specifically to “iterative place making” and how these types of interventions function in the development of quality public spaces.
With Team Better Block: Jordan, Andrew, Jason, Mike
This past weekend we met with Jason Roberts and Andrew Howard of Team Better Block. We had a fantastic conversation about how small scale temporary interventions are changing cities from the bottom-up, grassroots style. The manner in which Team Better Block facilitates these interventions, by mobilizing the community for an visioning event that they create themselves, is truly inspiring. This is the next version of tactical urbanism, specifically for communities, with the aim of changing cities and testing design ideas in a real life “model.”
Jason and Andrew’s summary of their strategy is more eloquent, “The Better Block is a tool for communities to complete ‘living charrettes’ or demonstration zones that implement ‘complete streets’, enable economic development in dormant areas, and enliven public spaces. For a more detailed version of their story check out Jason’s Ted Talk:
A fun app that let´s you mix up and personalize a street. Click here to create your own street.
When looking at ways to improve cities, planners and developers have traditionally focused on the longer-term permanent solutions to revitalize urban spaces. There is often a sentiment that an urban space that is not performing will be better once [insert new project name] is completed. The qualities and experience of the place in the present tense—in the here and the now—is cast aside with a distant goal that the space will be better at some point in the future. However compelling this vision may be, it frequently leaves the space in consideration empty or deserted until the future project gets underway.
In recent years, we have seen the emergence of many tactical or incremental urban projects that have challenged the convention of waiting for new construction to be implemented. Parklets and pop-up street corner plazas located in underutilized urban spaces have shown us that we can quickly adapt parking spaces, streets corners and other city land for new types of uses. While tactical urbanism projects can range in scale, and in terms of their temporary or permanent nature, they share a commonality in that they engage with the existing conditions of a site during various points in time, rather than at some distant point in the future.
Over the weekend, I joined a group of students visiting from the University of Washington on a trip to Århus. As part of an annual ten-day festival, the city had temporarily transformed many spaces in the city with interventions ranging from shipping container structures to playful wood furniture. On one street, a retaining wall had been retrofitted with stepped seating into an accessible public space. This modest intervention not only provides a much needed utility on the street—a place to pause and socialize—but also could be described as crafting the experience of hygge. (While the Danish word hygge lacks a direct translation, it was described to me as a cozy or intimate atmosphere. I.e. the sense of contentment experienced while enjoying a beer on a long summer afternoon or curled up in front of a fireplace).
Tactical interventions not only have the ability to quickly activate an underutilized space, but also have the potential to inform longer-term planning processes. By quickly testing out an intervention at full scale, a temporary project can provide valuable data on how a space is being used, leading to a more responsive permanent design. In addition, the rapid implementation of a pilot project can avoid lengthy permitting processes, jumpstarting the use of the space and providing an invitation to experience hygge.
On September 27th-29th, UC Berkeley will be hosting Adaptive Metropolis, a symposium which will explore user-generated urbanism for a resilient, livable and just city. The conference will focus on the relationship between tactical urbanism and long-range strategic planning. Gehl architect’s Jeff Risom will be speaking at the symposium. Click here to find out more.
A bike corral is essentially the repurposing of a parking space to accommodate a large number of bicycles (10-12). In our research of public space in the right-of-way we feel this one strategy to accomplish a variety of goals:
- Encourage Active Transportation
- Foster Human & Ecological Health
- Strengthen Neighborhood Interaction and Identity
- Activate Public Space
Portland Bike Corral featuring green stormwater infrastructure. Image: Google 2011
Not that I am competitive, but Portland’s Bike Corral Program has almost 10x as many – currently 99! And they are even incorporating green stormwater infrastructure into them.
Seattle’s Bike Corral program is growing and needs your support! In the next few weeks we hope to share some inspiring bicycle parking examples directly from Copenhagen Denmark, where we are both currently interning.
The Seattle Bike Blog is a fantastic local resource for all things related to bicycles and inspired this post.
While the focus of this blog is on Seattle’s Streets and our discoveries while traveling and interning in Denmark, I came across a nice example of a street transformation in Medellín, Colombia as part of the “Northeastern Urban Integration Project”. The city, which in 1992 was ranked as having one of the highest crime rates, has focused on mobility infrastructure as a means of improving social equity and reducing poverty and violence. A new cable car was constructed to connect three marginalized communities in the hillsides (serving 170,000 residents) to the city center. The cable car will reduce the commute for 40,000 residents residing in informal settlements from an hour to 10 minutes. The urban renewal project also included locating new public spaces and institutions (health, education and sports) in the poorest communities focusing on connectivity.The project was just awarded the Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design. More about the project can be found here.