Like few other places, streets are a public stage where life unfolds. From town parades and trick-or-treating, to markets and public gatherings, they’re where we celebrate and come together with our neighbors. They’re where we bump into friends, and one of the few places where we routinely encounter people who are different from ourselves. They’re where people have gathered to protest injustice for centuries. That’s why Project for Public Spaces has advocated for the idea that streets are more than just a means of mobility. Streets themselves are critical public spaces that can lend richness to the social, civic, and economic fabric of our communities.
Donald Appleyard may have said it best: “Streets have been the places where children first learned about the world, where neighbors met, the social centers of towns and cities, the rallying points for revolts, the scenes of repression.” Streets showcase the lives of our communities, and being exposed to the good and bad of the world on our streets can make us more compassionate, empathetic, and connected citizens.
Of course, an important function of streets is also to facilitate travel from one place to another. But many of the streets in our communities – especially those in our downtowns, Main Streets, and residential areas – can be so much more than just a conduit for traffic. Streets as Places is about helping people begin to see streets in their entirety: not just their function in transporting people and goods, but the vital role they play in animating the social and economic life of communities. It’s about communities owning and reclaiming their streets, participating in civic life, and having a direct impact on how their public spaces look, function, and feel.
Streets typically represent the largest area of public space a community has – for example, Chicago’s streets and sidewalks represent 24 percent of the city’s land area and over 70 percent of City-owned public open space. We also spend tremendous amounts of money to build and maintain our street and highway networks – $155 billion a year between federal, state, and local sources of funding. Shouldn’t we be getting the most we can from these investments?
Designing streets that function as great places is more than just a “nice” thing to do. As Peter Kageyama, founder of the Creative Cities Summit, explains: “No longer is it sufficient to build places that are merely functional and safe. Our placemaking aspirations must be as high and as grand as our economic goals because they are bound together.” In an age when people are more mobile than ever, and cities and businesses compete to attract talent, great streets are essential to boosting economic development and tourism.
And great cities need more than just one great street – they need many great streets that connect people to key destinations and places. That’s the idea behind the Power of 10 concept that Project for Public Spaces developed, where streets become part of a network that links a city’s best assets and places together, making them easily accessible. At a local scale, which could encompass several blocks in a distinct neighborhood, Streets as Places have 10 or more important destinations, while each of those individual places then has a multitude of things to do. The Power of 10 speaks to the importance of layering multiple activities and uses together – opportunities to sit and relax, to eat, to socialize, to recreate, to shop, and so on – to create dynamic streets that attract many people and encourage them to spend time there.
A recent UN-Habitat report shows how “those cities that have failed to integrate the multi-functionality of streets tend to have lesser infrastructure development, lower productivity and a poorer quality of life.” With these issues in mind, how do we ensure that streets in our communities are living up to their potential?
This resource is intended to help communities do just that – by highlighting key Streets as Places principles, actions (individual, community, and government), and tools, supported by real-life examples from around the world.