Bold Uses on Classic Streets
9 classic examples of roads that everyone can love
The great cities of the world, both large and small, are known for their great streets- -whether grand boulevards or narrow, winding streets. They function as an urban bloodstream, pumping life through the city and connecting the most important destinations. Today’s best streets go above and beyond traditional uses. With a focus on pedestrians and meaningful interactions, the best streets meet the social needs of modern communities.
Boulevards were traditionally multi-lane arteries designed to accommodate large volumes of vehicles. However, the best boulevards today are places for public activities such as strolling, shopping, eating, and socializing. They provide a good mix of shops and other activities that draw pedestrians, creating a major destination for the city.
Commercial Streets have traditionally acted as shopping destinations with retail stores predominating on the ground level retail. At their best, commercial streets give pedestrians priority over vehicles with wide sidewalks, well-marked crosswalks, access to transit and a pleasurable environment for strolling. The most vibrant commercial streets blur the line between inside and outside with outdoor cafes, imaginative store windows and merchandise that spills right onto the sidewalks, newsstands, food carts and other amenities that foster a spirit of excitement day and night. Small and local shops, rather than mega-marts and chain stores, create an eclectic and lively image for commercial streets.
Iconic Streets are ones that, more than any other place, give image and identity to the city. The iconic street that comes to people’s mind most often is the Champs Elysees in Paris with the Arch de Triumph framing the view and the thousands of people strolling and sitting in cafes in classic Parisian fashion.
Pedestrian Streets are blocks of a street, usually in the heart of town, that are closed to vehicle traffic. The most successful Pedestrian Streets entice passersby to sit down at an outdoor cafe, shop from street vendors, stop to socialize, watch a street performer, among many other fun activities. These streets offer the chance to experience the best of a city, not just move through it. Quite common in Europe and Asia, they are rare in North America. They should not be confused with the transit malls built in many American downtowns in the 1970s, which restricted cars but not buses on commercial streets but never generally achieved the feel of a pedestrian place.
Main Streets are traditionally the primary destination in cities in towns, featuring stores, offices and major civic and cultural institutions such as a library, museum, courthouse or post office. The best of today’s Main Streets also exhibit qualities such as a diverse mix of uses, proximity to residential neighborhoods, and access to transit, which generates downtown life in a way that other streets simply can’t.
Market Streets are distinguishable from commercial streets because they feature vendors in addition to ground level retail shops. These market stands are generally owner operated and specialize in local products and foods. The best market streets invite interaction between customers and vendors at a level that goes far beyond experience at a supermarket or department store. Market Streets are places where locals shop, but they also attract tourists who want to discover what’s unique and authentic about the city.
Transit Streets traditionally serve as a pathway for a variety of transportation modes. The best transit streets gain their vibrancy from a diverse mix of vehicles — streetcars, buses, rail, bicycles and private vehicles as well as pedestrians — and a compatible mix of commercial and retail.
Waterfront Streets historically mainly served an industrial purpose. Later, they paralleled the waterfronts but were primarily transportation arteries, cutting off access to the waterfront from the city and neighborhoods that were adjacent to it. Today, the best waterfront streets accommodate a shifting assortment of functions, often changing as they pass through different areas of town. They not only allow public access to the water but provide good views of the water — which is important since looking at water is a strong human instinct. The most important function of a waterfront street is to make a graceful and easy connection between the water and the rest of town.
Great Residential Streets create an inviting neighborhood atmosphere that is a comfortable extension of the home. The best residential streets build a sense of community, offering porches, stoops or front steps, small front gardens or other elements such as benches that furnish neighbors with an excuse to stop and chat with one another. Great residential streets do more than take people home. They also are “places” that encourage strolling and socializing with neighbors.
The American Planning Association’s 10 Great Streets in America
Click here for a listing of the APA’s top American streets.