Sunday, May 22, 2011

Common Sense on Street Design

The Scottish Government has recently put out a policy statement on street design which represents a major step forward for the cause of narrow streets. Although the authors can't resist including a few suggested street layouts, the key change here is the rejection of the very idea of standardized street widths, which may seem like a minor point but which in fact is a repudiation of the 170-year history of government-mandated street dimensions in Great Britain:

"Width between buildings is a key dimension and needs to be considered in relation to function and aesthetics. There are no fixed rules on street widths but account should be taken of the variety of activities taking place in the street and of the scale of the buildings on either side. . . . Rigid standards on street widths should be avoided and new streets should be laid out with consideration given to the relationship between scale and the nature of the space created."
On designing for pedestrians:

"Walking is the most sustainable form of transport. Streets should be designed, not only to allow for walking, but to actively encourage it to take place. The propensity to walk is influenced not only by distance, but also by the quality of the walking experience. All streets should offer a pleasant walking experience."
On the economic utility of aesthetics in design:
"Places need to look good and work well in the long term. Design costs are only a small percentage of the overall costs, but it is the quality of the design that makes the difference in creating places that will stand the test of time. Well-designed places last longer and are easier to maintain, thus the costs of the design element are repaid over time. . . . The long term success of places can be as dependent on visual appeal as durability. The quality of the design and its appropriateness to an area can have a significant effect on the extent to which a place is liked and well-used."

One wonders how these ideas will play out on the ground, but this seems to me like a promising sign given the source of the document.


  1. They'll still make the streets too wide. Traffic engineers want every roadway to be like the Champse Elysees.

  2. This is an interesting development, because somewhere in the very early days of "urban planning" is the example of Edinbugh, which was previously a sort of medieval hugger-mugger, and then was reconstructed in a 19th century Hypertrophic ideal large streets and large buildings. The result was actually quite nice, by our standards today, but it is not too hard to see how this translated directly into 20th Century Hypertrophism some decades later.