Sunset Triangle Plaza, Griffith Park Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA.

Streets as Places

“The street is the river of life of the city, the place where we come together, the pathway to the center.”   William H. Whyte

Are you are still scratching your head as to where to do a Placemaking activity in your neighborhood?   How about the street?  Every town has streets.

Streets make up more than 80 percent of public space in downtowns, but they often fail to provide places where people can safely walk, bicycle, take transit, gather and socialize.  This makes them perfect for Placemaking.

The Project of Public Spaces (PPS) believes streets can fulfill the critical “town square” function that is missing in most communities today.  Streets should reflect their true importance as public spaces and be designed for people, not just cars.  And some cities are agreeing by slowly getting away from thinking of streets as conduits for cars–and beginning to think of streets as places.

There are many ways to create streets as places.  Sidewalks can be stylish and accommodating with benches, outdoor cafes and public art. Roads can be shared spaces with pedestrian refuges, bike lanes, and on-street parking. Parking spaces can be turned into people spots.  And, parking lots can become public markets.  PPS has identified 10 Qualities of a Great Street.

New York City’s Department of Transportation has created several programs to transform the city’s streets into public places.  For example, Street Seats offer well-designed seasonal, outdoor public open spaces and seating at places where sidewalk seating is not available.  The Plaza Program creates neighborhood plazas throughout the City to transform underused streets into vibrant, social public spaces.

ArtPlace helped to fund a temporary urbanism project in Washington, DC as part of the city’s Arts and Culture Temporiums project.  The whole community came together to sand, paint and assemble bright blue hippo-shaped planters and a purple and red porch swing along the upper 14th Street commercial corridor.  The whimsical street furniture helped to activate the street in this transitioning neighborhood.

Street Paintings not only help to  reduce speeding along residential streets but they also help to remind people they are in a neighborhood full of people—playing children, pets, dog-walkers, bicyclists, and individuals. Street paintings and other unusual visuals and activities —painting on the street, boulevard gardens, sidewalk chalking designs — can create cues that tell drivers to slow down and be more attentive.

A portion of the BoulevART 2012 Project, Highland Park, New York.   Photo courtesy of Michael Tomb.

A portion of the BoulevART 2012 Project, Highland Park, New York. Photo courtesy of Michael Tomb.

Parklets repurpose part of the street into a public space for people. They are intended as aesthetic enhancements to the streetscape, providing a solution to the need for increased public open space. Parklets provide amenities like seating, planting, bike parking, and art.

PARK(ing) Day is an annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places.  Its goal is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat.

San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks Program facilitates the conversion of utilitarian and often underused spaces in the street into publicly accessible open spaces available for all to enjoy. The program includes the Parklet Program designed to create parklets which repurpose part of a street into a public space for people.

David Alumbaugh, director of city design for the San Francisco Planning Department, notes that the most wonderful part of the program is the creativity involved with the Parklets not only in their design but also the stories behind them and how they are funded.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health created Streets for People (S4P) to transform rights of way such as traffic islands and other underused spots into attractive public spaces. Using design elements such as rows of planters and bistro tables and chairs, they are using this as a model to create green spaces around Los Angeles.

Sunset Triangle Plaza, Griffith Park Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA.

Sunset Triangle Plaza, Griffith Park Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA.

Open Streets are projects where streets are temporarily closed to cars so people can walk, jog, ride a bike, dance, socialize and take part in all types of social activities.   Open Streets allow residents to see and connect with each in their community.

The Projects for Public Spaces (PPS) upped the ante and initiated a Streets as Places campaign to inspire and organize citizens, policy makers, and the transportation industry to reshape community transportation networks and streets into places that provide greater economic vitality and more opportunities for civic engagement, as well as promoting the priorities of human health and environmental sustainability.

Is there a street in your neighborhood that would benefit from being activated?  Let’s hear about it.

To hear more about Streets as Places, tune in to our next webinar on October 14, which is part of our series of Placemaking webinars, .