COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Donald Appleyard

Dec 31, 2008
Dec 14, 2017

Donald Appleyard was a Professor of Urban Design at the University of California, Berkeley. During his career he pursued a strong interest in environmental perception and community based planning. He studied the social and psychological effects of traffic and neighborhood layout, devised sensitive tools for the analysis of peoples' environmental perceptions, and took issue with the power conflicts inherent in mainstream urban planning processes. The Environmental Simulation Laboratory at Berkeley and Places magazine were founded under his leadership. He died in 1982.


Donald Appleyard, who spent a major part of his life energies making cities and neighborhoods safe and livable, died in Athens, Greece, September 1982, an innocent victim of a senseless, speeding automobile. Appleyard was 54 years old. Appleyard, Professor of Urban Design, was a member of the faculties of the Departments of City and Regional Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.

A native of England, he was educated there as a surveyor and architect. Later he studied city planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Subsequently, he became a member of the M.I.T. faculty and taught there for six years.

Over the years, his interests became focused on the livability of cities and neighborhoods, particularly upon streets. Appleyard was that rare combination of innovative path-breaking academic researcher and quiet, insistent activist, professional, intent on getting things done--things that made cities better places for people to live. He was a person of ideas-- especially concerned with expanding the scope of urban design to encompass thinking from the social sciences.

Most of all, Donald Appleyard was a humanist urban planner who loved to work with people on their environmental problems, a person concerned about community and public life. Recognized the world over as such, he was called upon by people and professional colleagues to help them make better urban environments.

Appleyard's research dealt in large measure with subjects including the effects of traffic upon the lives of local residents, the physical characteristics of cities as fulfilling and joyful places to live, how to manage traffic in residential areas, conservation of neighborhoods and the like. He was an innovative and creative researcher in exploring these interests, which accounts for his considerable impact on the field. His methods involved the development of new survey techniques to relate people's perceptions and values to the design process and to resulting physical environments. He was largely responsible for the pioneering environmental simulation laboratory which permits testing and comparing different environments and designs by use of models and video photography where viewers can experience a simulated environment as if they were in it. Examples of the simulation laboratory work include: making films of the effects of future high-rise development on the San Francisco skyline, demonstrating the neighborhood impacts of alternative transportation technologies, and evaluating the impact of a controversial interstate highway.

Professor Appleyard's work was known throughout the world. He was invited to lecture at universities in more than forty countries. At Berkeley, his teaching was central in shaping the education of a new generation of professionals sensitive to the physical environment as people experience it.

He authored more than one hundred articles and professional reports and a host of books, including The View from the Road (1963), Planning a Pluralistic City (1967), The Conservation of European Cities (1979), Improving the Residential Street Environment (1981), and Livable Streets (1981). Of his writing, Grady Clay, Editor of Landscape Architecture magazine, calls his book Livable Streets, "by far the most thorough and detailed work on urban streets to date, offering precise ammunition for activists and citizens for years to come... as a resource for the future, it is a classic." At the time of his death, Appleyard's research and writings were taking him in new, but related, directions, including a major work on the study of environmental symbolism.

Professionally, Appleyard was active in projects that ranged from detailed neighborhood planning and design, such as the Berkeley street diverter program, to plans at a citywide scale, such as Ciudad Guayana in Venezuela. He was a major contributor to the San Francisco Urban Design Plan, had worked in Africa and Mexico, and at the time of his death was on leave working in Athens on neighborhood planning.

Over the years, he had been chairman of the Department of Landscape Architecture and had received numerous awards, not the least of which was a Fulbright Senior Fellowship to Italy in 1975, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Graham Foundation Fellowship. He was at the height of his productive, creative years at the time of his death.

Donald Appleyard is survived by his wife, Sheila, and their four children: Justin, Moana, Bruce and Ian. He is survived, too, by thousands of people who may not have known him but whose environments and lives are more joyful and satisfying because he helped to plan them--humanely.

Reprinted from In Memoriam, by Allan Jacobs and Clare Cooper Marcus 


Livable Streets. In the late 1960s, Appleyard conducted a renowned study on livable streets, comparing three residential streets in San Francisco which on the surface did not differ on much else but their levels of traffic. The 2,000 vehicles per day street was considered Light Street, 8,000 traveled on Medium Street and 16,000 vehicles passing down Heavy Street. His research showed that residents of Light Street had three more friends and twice as many acquaintances as the people on Heavy Street. Further, as traffic volume increases, the space people considered to be their territory shrank. Appleyard suggested that these results were related, indicating that residents on Heavy Street had less friends and acquaintances precisely because there was less home territory (exchange space) in which to interact socially.

Light Street was a closely knit community. Front steps were used for sitting and chatting, sidewalks for children to play and for adults to stand and pass the time of day, especially around the corner store, and the roadway for children and teenagers to play more active games like football. Moreover, the street was seen as a whole and no part was out of bounds. Heavy Street, on the other hand, had little or no sidewalk activity and was used solely as a corridor between the sanctuary of individual homes and the outside world. Residents kept very much to themselves, and there was virtually no feeling of community. The difference in the perceptions and experience of children and the elderly across the two streets was especially striking.

Annotative Image Mapping. Appleyard was one of the first people to use image mapping, a research tool for examining particular transportation and planning issues, when studying street livability in the 1960s. Residents were presented a base map of their neighborhood's building footprints and a companion image of the streetscape. Pieces of tracing paper were laid over the building footprint section of the map, allowing the participants to respond, by drawing directly on these pieces of paper, to questions regarding their feelings about their home territory and their neighboring patterns. Appleyard was thus able to capture and compare the environmental perceptions of residents from various streets. The maps were effective at getting people to speak freely about their perceptions, views and feelings of their street and neighborhood. Through a companion survey, the participants were asked additional questions about how traffic affected such things as tenure rates, preferences and comfort levels. The image maps also served to display collective images of all responses, visually conveying the study findings.

Identity, Power and Place. Appleyard has written about the various stakeholders involved in the everyday making and planning of places, neighborhoods and cities. He boldly expressed the power differences that too often govern Placemaking processes, when decisions are made by and in the interest of the socially, mentally, and physically strongest and solutions are evaluated for economic short term benefit only. He was outspoken about the importance of truly democratic, bottom-up Placemaking, asserting that all parties that have an interest in a place need to contribute to decision-making, and that weaker parties need to be ensured that their interests are fully represented. Appleyard emphasized that on downtown streets where power differences are greatest, weighted priority should be given to groups that take up less space but greatly enhance public life and interaction, namely small establishments, pedestrians and those who have no choice but to be there.


"The professional and scientific view of the environment usually suppresses its meaning... Environmental professionals have not been aware of the symbolic content of the environment, or of the symbolic nature of their own plans and projects... Professionals see the environment as a physical entity, a functional container,... a setting for social action or programs, a pattern of land uses, a sensuous experience - but seldom as a social or political symbol."

"Good urban design must be for the poor as well as for the rich."

"People have always lived on streets. They 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... The street has always been the scene of this conflict, between living and access, between resident and traveler, between street life and the threat of death."


"It was Donald Appleyard's Livable Streets that finally pushed the button. Appleyard laid out the social effects of cars on cities in glaring detail, using the best social-network-analysis methods available. The book is simply an indictment of the effects of street traffic on the fabric of urban neighborhoods." - J.H. Crawford, Author of Car-free Cities

"Appleyard tells us exactly what is wrong with city streets and how to make small changes that will get big results." - C. Kenneth Orski, editor and publisher of Innovation Briefs and director of MIT's International Mobility Observatory

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COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space