Peter M lobbed up a juicy post a few weeks back asking “Why the Pedestrian Angst?,” and suggested some very reasonable ways to improve the design of Auckland’s streets. My simple answer to the rhetorical question is that there is a huge disconnect between how the city talks about being “liveable” as documented here and here and what people experience on a day-to-day basis.
I would like to share a newer framework for planning and designing streets for liveability. I find this particular approach readily understandable and logical. The technique can provide a quick typological reference point and can help people to understand not only the trade-offs of balancing multiple user’s needs, but more basically, to communicate that all streets in fact have a current or potential ‘place’ value.
During the modernist era the concept of streets and in effect cities were turned inside out (hello Mayoral Drive). As Professor Stephen Marshall (one of the proponents of this system) writes,
“Modernism filleted the city – stripped the spine and ribs out from the urban flesh, and set up the road network as a separate system.”
The traffic engineering, planning and scientific classes took over the design of streets and viewed them as an “efficiency” problem. Typically this meant treating street networks as conduits (aka roads) that would benefit from increased traffic flow and safety. This paradigm led to a one-dimensional hierarchical approach to street design that amongst other things separated users and relegated traditional urbanism (storefronts, public realm) to “access areas”, the lowest twigs on the tree, which typically resulted in dull, non-places.
The legacy of this era still lingers. Many street network designs consider movement and access still as a one-dimensional construct. The above graphic depicts the classic inverse relationship between mobility and access. This paradigm fails to recognise the place value of streets, the most obvious example being main/high streets.
The fact is that real streets are inherently multi-functional providing a wide range of economic and social values in addition to being movement conduits. Interestingly, great streets, the ones with the highest real estate value, and the ones you most likely want to spend time on are almost always both spatially integrated (well connected in a network) and have high levels of movement. Thankfully, we are now beginning to realise this value of streets and the role they play in making great cities.
This Link and Place approach to street planning and design considers streets on two dimensions that are not mutually exclusive. Link is the ability of a street to move people and goods through, while the Place function seeks to encourage users to linger and use the space. This approach recognises the inherent tension between the uses (through vs to), and does not presume traffic priority.
There is much reference to “movement” and “place” in the Draft Auckland Plan and it is finally starting to trickle down through local projects. I believe this Link and Place framework is the best way to communicate and deliver these goals of balancing movement and place.
Here is how it might be calibrated for use in Auckland. A place like Aotea Square would have the highest place value and lowest link value. A residential area (should) have both low link status and low place value. A motorway has high link value and the lowest place value. Queen Street has both a high place value and higher link value, especially as it still serves a key public transportation role and has such heavy foot traffic.
Here is Elliott Street. With the advent of the shared space improvements its link value has remained constant but it now has a higher place value. This place value level improvement can be observed (and will likely be quantified someday) by the increase in pedestrian serving businesses such as cafes and micro-retail stores. Not only does this design shift the street typology but it results in actual economic value by capturing latent demand.
Here is Symonds Street through the University. Presently students are forced to wait excessively at intersections, and their cross-street access is intentionally limited. Excessive numbers of lanes, high speeds and oversized vehicles create a hostile pedestrian environment and there are no provisions for cyclists (at a university?). Meanwhile, the existence of the motorway and heroic modernism of the Wellesley Street tunnel should have diminished its link status. It does, however, retain a significant public transportation role.
The highest value of Symonds Streets is not as a link or a through conduit but that of a place. With 50,000+ people living, working and studying here, there are not many higher place values in Auckland. A variety of street design changes would help to recognise the potential value of this place. So the next time you’re feeling the pedestrian angst, take a look around and you’re likely to see heaps of place value that’s just waiting to be realised.
Kent Lundberg is an urban planner at Isthmus.