Ever wondered what makes a street ‘a place to be’ rather than a ‘place to pass by?

Streets are the stage where the drama of city life unfolds and therefore it is crucial to design them considering both people and cars. Streets create a natural setting for activities to flourish, socializing, strolling, and commerce. Streets serve a variety of audiences with their daily means of commute. But they must also give them a reason to linger a little longer, enjoy the humdrum of city-life, gaze into shop displays, and maybe strike a conversation with a stranger. Transforming streets into active public spaces can have long-term benefits to the community and neighbourhood. Here are 5 ways to refurbish our vehicle-driven streets and make them people-driven.

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Transforming Times Square, New York ©www.designtrust.org 

1. Street Furniture – A bench to sit on and some Art to look at

Street Furniture in the public realm is often more than a decorative piece. Elements such as seats around a tree, outdoor seating of a café, some public art installation, lamp posts, and post-boxes generate a sense of ‘place’. They begin to function as pause points on the street making it a place to be’. Adding seating, planters, and signage on streets, especially around stores with potential for shopping is an ideal way to have people want to spend a little more time in the vicinity. Right street furniture can also help soften some stark security measures such as bollards and barriers. Urban planners and designers, today, lay utmost importance on street furniture and design them as a part of the whole street.

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Streets of Melbourne with interesting signages and light posts ©www.travelvictoria.com.au
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Times Square, New York ©www.outdoordesign.com.au 

2. Trees – A little more Green can go a long way

Trees have a far greater impact on the usability and vibe of space than one can imagine. They tend to provide cool shade to pedestrians and therefore are common spots for vendors to set up their stalls and act as pause points in a public space. They change the micro-climate of the space. Apart from that, trees also create a definition for the streets and are of much aesthetic value. Is there anyone who wouldn’t love walking down a street lined by flowering trees, maybe even stop by and pick one? Unter den Linden in Berlin, the main thoroughfare of the city is lined with a hundred Linden trees. Thousands of tourists flock to see and experience the street, perhaps sit on a bench underneath it and watch the humdrum of city life or strike a conversation with a little girl picking flowers. La Rambla Street in Barcelona is similarly known for its 150-year old Sycamore trees.

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La Rambla Street, Barcelona ©www.free-barcelona-tours.com   

3. Informal Activities – Who wouldn’t want Ice-cream from the Ice-cream van?

Informal activities include commercial activities of temporary nature such as hawking and vending of a variety of goods, street art galleries, stalls selling books, food vans, and others. The exuberance of lively public streets can be attributed to informal activities. Temporary and informal activities in a street give people of all kinds a reason to linger and spend a little more time on their way. In India, you could put a panipuri stall on a dead street and see how it transforms in a week. Such activities not only enhance life on the street but also boost local businesses. They are a beautiful exhibition of the culture, food, music, and people of the vicinity.

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Hawkers and Vendors encouraging public activities on the street, Ahmedabad, India ©Ayushi Desai

4. Events and Festivals – Celebrations and Streets go hand in hand

Festivals and Events are an inherent part of community life. They allow people to experience and imagine space beyond their everyday routine and thus expand the notion of urban spaces. Festivals celebrate the local cultures, music, and food and boast the local livelihoods.

Conducting public events and celebrating festivals is a cent per cent recipe for a thriving streetscape. Streets with pockets of open public spaces can become the hotspot for such events. Around the world, street festivals draw huge crowds and transform traffic-oriented streets into vibrant public spaces. They add numerous temporary elements to the contemporary streetscape. Be it the Fourth of July Celebrations in Washington DC or Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai or perhaps Carnival in Rio, festivals enliven the otherwise auto-filled streets.  

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Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, Mumbai ©Ayushi Desai
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Carnival in Rio de Janerio ©www.blog.thefob.com 
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Fourth of July Celebrations in California ©www.share.america.gov 

5. Adaptive Reuse– Old recipes served with modern love

We find several redundant buildings and public open spaces in our cities today. These often become grounds that nourish crimes, garbage, and a nuisance to the neighbouring communities and city spaces. The streets along these spaces become unwelcoming and passive over time. Adaptive Reuse; assigning new functions to space while refurbishing it to make it aesthetically pleasing, warm, and welcoming to the public can reform the entire neighbourhood.

Apart from redundant sites, most downtown streets today are bound by high compound walls, skyscrapers, or bollards. These elements discourage public interactions and create hostile environments on the street for pedestrians. Melbourne, Australia is a beautiful example of how the downtown transformed by assigning public various functions on the ground floor such as cafes and shopping stores.

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Park developed under fly-over in Matunga, Mumbai ©www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com 



Ayushi is a young architect and designer hailing from Gujarat who believes in research driven designs. Cities, Art and Architecture sum up her exploratory drive. She has been working on her research on 'Temporary interventions in Urban Spaces' while running her own free-lance practice in Architecture. Meeting different people, reading books and digging lesser known food joints leave her buzzing.