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THE STREET IN THE BODY OF THE CITY


Berkeley Prize for Undergraduate Architectural Design Excellence Nana Biamah-Ofosu


A healthful environment The United Nations estimates that the

world population will increase to 9.2 billion by 20501 and for the first time in

mankind’s history more of us will reside

in cities. Currently, half of the world’s

population resides in urban areas. In London, the capital’s growth is expected

to be equivalent to absorbing the population of Birmingham and Leeds.2

As we head towards a new dawn of urbanization, in which an estimated 80%

of the world will live in urban areas3, issues about how we create sustainable,

efficient and healthful cities become more pertinent and must be addressed. A healthful environment by definition

encompasses these factors: it is a sustainable, lively and safe. A healthful

environment can be greatly promoted by engaging with the urban fabric; what makes our cities? As Jan Gehl correctly

states, “we shape cities, and they shape

us.”4 By understanding and positively

shaping our urban spaces, we can greatly influence the quality of our lives.


An engagement with the urban fabric toward

a

healthful

environment

must begin with the very veins of

our cities; our public spaces, our streets.

The

street

remains

the

unconscious soul of the city. The street provides a forum in our cities.

Historically, our streets have been an important catalyst for human

interaction; for the Romans of Pompeii civic and public life took place in

the great city’s forum; the medieval

market squares of Europe where places

of

trade

and

commerce.

Today, the street still remains an integral part of the city although its importance

is

sorely

overlooked

much to the detriment of society. As well as facilitating movement, the street is a place of exchange. The essence of the street and the city is its human vitality. A well-designed street form

provides

of

a

community;

sustainable it

invites

citizenship, liveliness and humanity.


Figure 1 The street as the centre of civic life The Forum, Pompeii


Figure 2 The street as a centre of commerce, Venice


Figure 3 City spaces and City life, Copenhagen


In London, streets account for 80%

Society’s love affair with the car can

good urban design and its power

rebuilding of our cities after the

of

public

spaces.5The

value

of

to drive change in the quality of our transportation and

systems,

sustainable

economic

development

is

an area that is greatly overlooked. However, measures taken have been quantitative rather than qualitative, and

be traced back to the modernist

Second World War. In the modernist agenda,

our

future

was

to

be

dominated by the prowess of the

motorcar; pedestrian and vehicular traffic were deemed incompatible.

often neglecting the human dimension.

Here the modernist agenda, promoted

In London, the deaths of 14 cyclists

Traffic

in

traffic.

However,

in 2013, with 6 deaths in less than a fortnight, provoked public debate

that assessed how the city’s public

spaces and transportation systems cater to the needs of its population. A report published by the Road Task Force

for

Transport

for

London,

estimated that a quarter of all trips in London are made entirely on foot

and that cyclists constituted a quarter of vehicular traffic at peak times in

London.6 In considering these statistics, it becomes important to examine why

these road users are still marginalized.

by Colin Buchanan’s seminal report Towns,

promoted

the

segregation of motor and pedestrian on, for

and

with

climatic

half

growing

and

a

century

concerns

environmental

issues, society is beginning to reevaluate its relationship with the car. However, for meaningful changes to occur, we must consider how urban design can influence the way we

travel and interact with one another.


Figure 4 Segregation of motor and pedestrain traffic, Colin Buchanan


The redesign of Exhibition Road by

construct; Mediterranean hill towns

provides an example of a healthful

interpretation

Dixon Jones, completed in 2012,

environment that promotes human

and marketplaces offer an informal of

shared

space.

vitality and social interaction. The

The conscious application of shared

road that runs through London’s

be traced by to the 1960s and 1970s

transformation museum space

human Before

of

the

quarter

into

scheme scale its

800-metre

a

shared

urban

design.

reintroduces

the

redevelopment,

the

in

foreground of this prestigious cultural

centre was a sorrowful streak of grey divided into lanes for vehicular traffic and three lanes for car parking.

Pedestrians were forced onto narrow footpaths with few opportunities to

cross the cluttered road. Shared space redefines the role of the street within the city as more than a tool for

transportation but as a vital instrument

for encouraging social interaction. Shared space seeks to improve

pedestrian movement and comfort by reducing the predominance of vehicular traffic. It promotes informal

social protocols where road users are encouraged to share a space

rather than follow rules derived from

assumptions about traffic behaviour, road safety and human behaviour. Shared space is not an entirely new

space as a tool for urban design can to the pioneering experiments of

Joost Váhl and Hans Monderman. In the Netherlands, Váhl experimented with removing standard road signage and barriers, as an attempt to reduce

the negative impact of traffic. This successful experiment, the woonerf, created rich urban spaces which

were later echoed in Monderman’s

experiments in Freisland where he experimented

with

simple

design

and landscaping techniques as an alternative

measures.

to

But

conventional perhaps

traffic

what

is

interesting as noted by Ben HamiltonBaillie is that the demise of the

woonerf was its formalization in 1976

by the Dutch government7. What this offers is a view that the essence

of shared space lies in its often surprising and self regulating nature. Shared space offers a definition of the street as a social being; both its

conscious

and

unconscious

nature must be addressed in order to create a healthful environment.


Figures 5 & 6 Pioneering experiments with shared space, The Netherlands


Figure 7 Exhibition Road, Before


Figure 8 Exhibition Road, After


The scheme implemented at Exhibition

at

visitors a dignified experience of the

A-road that bisects Exhibition Road.

Road offers its annual 11 million city. Arriving at South Kensington tube station, one approaches Exhibition

Road from the south end. Here, on a

sunny January morning, I observed

the

pelican

crossing.

Further

north is Cromwell Road, the major Again,

pedestrians

are

offered

opportunities to cross although this is a hurried and controlled experience.

the village-like atmosphere of the

Crossing Cromwell Road brings one

sat at one of the several cafes, all of

It is here, in the foreground of some of

square at Thurloe Place. Visitors which offered outdoor seating facing

onto the square. The integration of the light wells associated with the underground

station

below

within

the design, provides further seating

within the square. Pedestrians here are in transit, enjoying a leisurely pace and heading further along Exhibition

Road or returning to the tube station. The junction ahead signifies another

condition. Vehicular traffic follows the road at Thurloe Place to exit the

area or turns right to head further into Exhibition Road often travelling a

slightly

decreased

speed,

an

acknowledgement of the fact that they are entering a shared space. Pedestrians

opportunities

are to

offered

cross

frequent

the

road

into the museum quarter of the street. London’s finest classical facades, that the operations of the shared space can be fully observed. The 25 metre wide road is divided into two by a parade

of lighting columns; the east side is for two way vehicular traffic, the west,

is offered as a pedestrian comfort

zone. The large footpaths combined with the greatly decreased vehicular speeds invite other road users to use the street more freely. During holidays, large groups can be observed crossing

with ease thus regulating traffic within this zone. A vestigial kerb at the edge of the two sections in the form of a

800mm wide strip of paving, offers blind and disabled users comfort in

navigating the space. The space within the two sections of the road is a mixed

zone; people walk, stay and stand


in this area. Cyclists freely traverse

lighting

place to sit, stay a while and enjoy

and

this zone. The benches offer a good

the beautiful architecture or perhaps the street performer who entertains

with his varied displays of magic. The territory in front of Imperial

College further north of the street offers a peculiar experience along

the street. Perhaps it is the fact that it signifies a departure from the public

institutions into a more private world or the monstrous scale of the main

college building, but this part of the street

seems

unusually

deserted.

The lack of an intimate human scale in the facade of the building

means the welcoming character of the street is somewhat lost here.

Finally, heading north towards Hyde Park, there is a sense of a more

conventional road use. Both sides of

the street are once again offered to

vehicular traffic although pedestrians

and cyclists are still welcomed. At night, with a decreased pedestrian presence, traffic travels at increased speeds.

However,

a

successful

strategy

illuminates

the

street, providing a sense of security safety

thereby

maintaining

the inviting nature of the street. Studies

conducted

after

the

completion of the street8, corroborate these

shared

observations space

as

and

a

establish

positive

contribution to the urban fabric. The overall experience of Exhibition Road

is one of unison, understanding and community. The ground comprising 1 million granite sets form a unifying

geometric pattern that successfully unifies a number of distinct territories

along the street. Its physical design is a manifestation of the street’s ability to facilitate human interaction and promote

a

healthful

environment.


Figures 9 - 15 The different territories of Exhibition Road


It is this sense of unity and civility that

a coordinated and coherent design

transportation system, especially if one

the city. For cyclists, there could

should be applied to London’s wider is to promote a healthful environment. The current provision for cyclists is

profile that can be applied across be a complete cycling route that

connects the differing part of the city.

confused and half-hearted at best

The cycle superhighways are the

The

their current state they are ineffective

and dire and deadly at its worst. cycle

superhighways,

1.5

metre blue painted strip reserved

for cyclists, creates a “false sense

of security,”9vtt as exemplified by the recent deaths of 3 cyclists. At

Bow

roundabout,

a

large

roundabout system in East London, the failings of the cycle superhighways

come to a head. Cyclists are left to fend for themselves alongside

heavy traffic in what is a charged and

confrontational

atmosphere.

London is a city of complexities; it is a diverse and ever-growing metropolis comprising 32 boroughs, each of which regulates its own streets and roads.

The geographical structure of London,

as a series of smaller locales each with its own characteristics is an interesting

and positive attribute of the city. However, in the provision of an

effective transport system, this proves

to have its drawbacks with a lack of

beginnings of such thoughts but in

in promoting good cycling culture.

Their narrow widths, a mere 1.5-metre strip, compared to Copenhagen’s

recommended minimum of 2.5-metres, do not promote cycling as communal

activity. The narrowed demographic London’s

cyclists:

young,

male

professionals clad in Tour de France ensembles, is a reflection of this crisis. In

comparison,

56%

of

women

Copenhagen’s

represent

cyclists.10

Young children are taken to school in cycle buggies while older children cycle alongside a parent on their own

bicycles. Copenhagen’s 350km of cycle lanes offer adequate protection and

safety

for

cyclists

therefore

inviting more people to cycle; 19% consider cycling their main mode of

transportation compared to the United Kingdom’s 2.2%. The United Kingdom

falls well below the European Union’s average of 7.4%.11 Such figures are


disappointing for an economically thriving,

matured

democracy.

As Enrique Peñalosa, Bogota’s former

mayor credited with transforming the

city’s transportation system remarks, “if all citizens are equal before the law, then of course a bus with 80

passengers should have the right to 80 times more road space than a car

with one.”12This is a reflection on the notion that our cities, transportation

systems and public spaces express what we value as a society; these attributes

extension

are of

a

by

definition

true

the

democracy.

To achieve a healthful environment at an urban scale, one must engage with transportation. In London, the 1100 people, gathered at Hackney

Empire for the recent screening of Andreas Dalsgaard’s, The Human Scale,

exemplifies

the

growing

interest in this topic. A presentation by Gehl that followed laments the slow progress in making London a liveable

city. Ten years after the publication

of Towards a Fine City for People: Public Spaces and Public Life –

London, many of its targets have not been achieved. One must ask why?


Figure 16 Cycle Superhighway 2, Bow


Figure 17 Islington High Street, A London street scene


In Curitiba, a change that began

about London’s cycling culture. This

1970s,

exclusive view of cycling; an activity

with Jamie Lerner as mayor in the has

transformed

the

city

into one of the world’s most liveable

urban spaces. The establishment of a comprehensive bus transit system and several kilometres of protected

cycle routes have transformed the

lives of city’s 3.2 million inhabitants. The this

common

themes

transformation

are

throughout

simplicity,

expediency and practicality; themes that are not captured in recent

proposals to aid London’s cycling crisis by Lord Foster. Foster’s Skycycle

proposes a network of cycle paths elevated above London’s railway lines. Accessed via 200 entrance points, it

could accommodate 12,000 cyclists an hour with 6 million people falling

within a Skycycle route. However, at £220 million, nearly £34 million

per kilometre, the estimated cost of

Skycycle would be almost a quarter of the budget for the mayor’s Cycling

Vision, a plan to improve cycling

conditions over the next 10 years. More concerning than the economic

challenges that the scheme presents, are the alarming issues it raises

scheme promotes an unhealthy and for the young, 40 kilometres-an-hour

cyclist who demands the right of way, believing that children and older

cyclists are as bad as cars. Skycycle is the reduction of cycling to being purely

about a mode of transport. In actual fact what cycling offers, is the freedom

to explore the city’s complex beauty at an intimate, human scale. Curitiba

exemplifies what can be achieved with a minimal budget, a sense of urgency and masses of creativity - an approach

that London could learn from. A significant issue for London is the highly bureaucratic planning system which

stifles creativity and stalls change. Schemes

such

as

the

mayor’s

Mini Holland project provide some hope. The project will fund the transformation of four outer London boroughs in cycle-friendly places and

improve connectivity to the centre of London. Kingston-upon-Thames, an

area I know intimately as a cyclist in my years as a student is one of

eight shortlisted for the scheme. Proposals

such

as

establishing


strategic connections that will provide a network of cycling infrastructure and creating a car free plaza at Kingston station will invite more people to cycle

and walk. However, schemes such as these should not be viewed as a lone

solution; they must be implemented

along with other measures toward a healthful city. Cycling should not be considered a lone activity; it must be

better integrated into other modes of transport. For instance, the ability

to take your bicycle on a train or

tube should be further promoted. This will encourage more people,

especially those travelling into the city from the suburbs, to cycle more often. Furthermore, improving safety measures for cyclists by implementing

traffic control measures such as allowing cyclists to move earlier than cars at traffic lights, could

make it considerably safer to cycle around the city. Moreover, building

on successful cycling initiatives such as the Cycle-to-Work scheme would

encourage more people to cycle.


Figure 18 Rua XV de Novembro, 1972 Curitiba


Figure 19 Proposed Mini Holland scheme Kingston upon Thames


Figure 20 The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs


As illustrated in Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, there are many lessons to learn

from observing our cities. From the observations that I have made in my city,

London, it is clear that there is a case

for the reappraisal of our urban fabric, namely our streets and transportation

systems, both of which are crucial in the design of a healthful environment.

The human dimension must remain an integral aspect in planning the urban fabric. We must reinstate our street as the soul within the body of the city. The

street must be reconquered, reinstated as a place for exchange and human

vitality. Furthermore, the provision of an

adequate transportation system that is

fair for all road users is essential to the redefinition of our cities. In both solutions

towards a healthful environment, equality, community and understanding remain

integral. As a community - designers, politicians and the public, we must set out

a clear vision and purpose for our cities and implement actions that will achieve

these aims. But above all, we must

remember the definition of a healthful environment; it is humanist in purpose

and environmentalist by consequence.


Citations

1

6

The 2012 Revision, Highlights’ (2012)

for London’s street and roads’ (2012),

United Nations, ‘World Population Prospects: <http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Documentation/ pdf/WPP2012_Volume-I_ComprehensiveTables.pdf>

[accessed 27th January 2014] 2

Roads Task Force,’ The Vision and directions for London’s street and roads’ (2012),

<http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/

corporate/rtf-report-executive-summary.pdf >

Roads Task Force,’ The Vision and directions <http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/

corporate/rtf-report-executive-summary.pdf > [accessed 27th January 2014] 7

Hamilton-Baillie, Ben,

‘Shared Space: Reconciling People, Places

and Traffic’

in Built Environment, 34 (2), (2008), p.167

[accessed 27th January 2014]

8

3

screen in London’,

Hill, Dave, ‘Jan Gehl film Human Scale to screen in London’,

<http://www.theguardian.com/politics/

davehillblog/2013/nov/16/jan-gehl-filmhackney-empire-london>

[accessed 28th January 2014] 4 Gehl, Jan, ‘Cities for people’ (London: Island Press, 2010) p. IX 5 Roads Task Force,’ The Vision and directions for London’s street and roads’ (2012), <http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/ corporate/rtf-report-executive-summary.pdf > [accessed 27th January 2014]

Hill, Dave, ‘Jan Gehl film Human Scale to <http://www.theguardian.com/politics/

davehillblog/2013/nov/16/jan-gehl-filmhackney-empire-london>

[accessed 28th January 2014] 9 MVA Consultancy, ‘Exhibition Road Monitoring’, (August 2012), <http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/PDF/Exhibition%20 Road%20monitoring.pdf> [accessed 27th January 2014] 10 Hill, Dave, ‘Interview: Jan Gehl on London, streets, cycling and creating cities for people,’ (January 2014), <http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/davehillblog/2014/jan/25/jan-gehl-london-talk-andinterview> [accessed 27th January 2014]


11

Why is cycling so popular in the Netherlands?’ (August 2013) , <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/ magazine-23587916 >

[accessed 27th January 2014] 12

Pagh, Jesper,

‘The main cause of the problems in cities is

inequality: interview with Enrique Peñalosa’ in Arkitektur DK, (2013), p.55


Image Credits

Figure 1

Figure 16 Author’s own image

Figure 2

Figure 17 Author’s own image

Author’s own Image

Gehl, Jan, Gemzoe, Lars, New City Spaces, (Copenhagen : Danish Architectural Press, 2000), p. 12 Figure 3

Gehl, Jan, ‘Cities for people’ (London: Island Press, 2010), p. 12

Figure 4 Hamilton-Baillie, Ben, ‘Shared Space: Reconciling People, Places and Traffic’ in Built Environment, 34 (2), (2008), p.165 Figure 5 Hamilton-Baillie, Ben, ‘Shared Space: Reconciling People, Places and Traffic’ in Built Environment, 34 (2), (2008), p.167 Figure 6 Hamilton-Baillie, Ben, ‘Shared Space: Reconciling People, Places and Traffic’ in Built Environment, 34 (2), (2008), p.168 Figure 7 Courtesy of Dixon Jones Figure 8

Author’s own Image Figure 9 - 15 Author’s own images

Figure 18 Weizman, Ines, ‘Cities, Agency and Change’ in Perspecta, (2008), p. 43 Figure 19 http://www.kingston.gov.uk/news/article/140/ cycling_upon_thames_kingston_wins_up_ to_£30m_for_‘mini_holland’_plans Figure 20 http://architectureandurbanism.blogspot. co.uk/2012/03/jane-jacobs-death-and-life-ofgreat.html


The street in the body of the city  

An entry for The 2014 Berkeley Prize of Undergraduate Architectural Design Excellence Prize. This essay was selected as a finalist for the a...

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