From Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi, Great Ideas for Improving Our Communities

All too often we tend to think of America as the place where the future begins, where trends start, and where progress originates. But this narrow view blinds us to the great ideas that are happening elsewhere. We can learn a lot from other places in the world, especially about the role that streets can play to support urban economies and enhance the quality of life in cities.

In an increasingly globalized world, we often ignore what is happening abroad at our peril. Even with all of the progress recently made in the United States (new light rail lines and trolleys, bike lanes and trails, traffic calming and context-sensitive roads, etc.), we need to think beyond the kind of transportation system we have today in order to imagine how innovative transportation planning could steer us toward truly great cities for the future. In the PPS October Newsletter, we showed how New York City’s inspired Plaza program, which has established pedestrian plazas throughout the city, has now spread to San Francisco. We also described how Savannah is using the “Power of Ten” idea to identify its best and worst streets, offering everyone a new vision about how they can be improved.

Now, in this new newsletter, we shift our focus to explore how transportation planning is being reinvented around the world. We highlight two recent advances abroad – in Abu Dhabi, where a new street design guide manual promises to create better streets for all users, and in the Netherlands, where new solutions to promote livability are being implemented all the time. In both places, people realize that relying solely on the private automobile in the future is ultimately unsustainable. These two very different places each have crucial lessons to teach us about how we can design our cities around walking, transit and biking.