Iconic streets like Fifth Avenue in New York, Champs-Élysées in Paris, Oxford Street in London, Connaught Place in New Delhi, or the Park Street in Kolkata, have a characteristic charismatic pull, don’t they? Streets are the public realm glue that holds the polis together. Successful streets are those where activities can flourish, and people choose to go to the streets as a destination instead of merely going through them to reach a destination.
Let us look at ten essential guidelines for designing streets:
1. People-first design
The goal needs to shift from ‘move traffic through streets’ to ‘attract people to linger in.’ The art of placemaking makes the street spaces into settings where people want to be. At least ten different activities or uses need to root itself in the street to attract a diverse group of people. Tailor streets for different modes of transport and segregate lanes by speeds.
Barrier-free design should be adopted by the designers apart from keeping the streets reachable through all modes of transport. Proximity to nearby transit centers additionally enhances the significance of the street. A generous mix of street types from tiny lanes to broad avenues, combined with small blocks, results in many possible routes and extraordinarily high connectivity. Frequent intersections provide more access and egress points, bringing about life in different directions.
Speeding cars, desolate streets, vandalism, ill-lit alleyways with angry graffiti, shady activities repel users. Mixed-use neighborhoods encourage activity and pedestrian traffic at various times of the day and week. As Jane Jacobs has specified, they would naturally be ‘eyes on the street’ assuring safety and well-being.
Walkable streets have a spatial enclosure. The preference of the ratio of building height to street width is 1 to 1. The sidewalk’s width, the choice of the pavement blocks, tree foliage, percentage of the street allotted for parking, the richness and variety of the facade designs, lighting, street furniture, and other features determine the comfort and walkability factor.
5. Participatory appeal
Instead of merely being spectators, the pedestrians are encouraged to be social in a multi-sensory street setting. Streets that have public art and installations, play equipment, water features, markets, and street performers are interactive and exciting.
Street following the path of least resistance along the contours of the land, slightly bending here and there piques the pedestrian’s curiosity. Streets that open up to scenic views can bring the landscape close to the town or city.
7. A network of streets
A street needs to have a distinctive charm and aura to become a memorable street. Nevertheless, it does not exist in isolation. It is well integrated into a system of other streets and public spaces in the city. An urban designer must simultaneously think of the design of the individual street and how that street will operate in its larger setting.
8. Flexibility & Tactical Urbanism
A street should have a versatile underlying framework that can keep up with rapidly evolving cities. Before investing and implementing resources for street design, specific changes can be made at low costs to give people a chance to see what they can bring about. This sort of experimentation tests the design and allows improvement in the final product.
On average, streets take up 25 -30 % of the civic space. Efforts to convert streets to ecological corridors are being taken around the world. Urban street trees play a significant role in being the green pockets in the cityscape, filtering the sunlight, calming the traffic, and softening the visual appeal of the streets. Smart green city designs can reduce the area temperature, absorb stormwater, combat air pollution, and save cities money through energy savings.
10. Utilities & drainage
Streets have pipes and wires carrying water, energy, and communication beneath and above the surface. Designers must strive to make these services subtly hidden from the public eye while providing means of access for repairs and maintenance. Permeable paving, surfaces, and textures should be incorporated to support natural drainage and infiltration.
Public owned streets are now considered instruments to improve economies, environment, mental and physical health. The vitality of a city lies in the liveliness of the streets. A street is akin to a great outdoor room where the indoor activities spill onto it. When every address on the street is unique, it creates a segmented spatial experience that seemingly functions well independently and stitched together.
Policymakers and urban designers are coming together for street beautification projects to boost the urban economy. It has proved to be a positive return on investment with increasing foot traffic, booming retail business, and consequent increase in property values in and around the attractive streets.
Pleasant streets should be a fundamental ingredient in all community design, not an elitist privilege. History and experience have given us enough precedents on how to make great streets and squares. It is the role of a street designer to build upon it and achieve social inclusiveness.