This is an interesting video of Ben Hamilton-Baillie at the recent Congress for the New Urbanism conference (CNU22). Hamilton-Baillie one of the leaders of the progressive street design movement explains how the street delivers the purpose the city- economic exchange, social exchange, and cultural expression, or “money, sex and art” as he quotably sums it up. He describes the progression of the urban street from a condition where things moved very slowly, people moved carefully along and across the street- to today, where everything is over engineered, and highly regimented and segregated. This dramatic change occurred with the introduction of the automobile and enabled by modernist design philosophies (Le Corbusier, CIAM) and technical proponents (Colin Buchanan). This led to the orchestrated surrender of our streets to the automobile (as described here).
At 26:00 Hamilton Baille describes the biggest problem with street design being the confusion between the utility of roads/highway and public realm. Highways are highly regulated, singular focused, and predictable, while the public realm (ie streets) serve a multitude of uses, are constantly changing, and require eye contact and other human cognitive skills. Combining the two results in a Frankenstein environment where people are caged off (or worse relegated to overpasses), signs regulate the most basic movements, and traffic movement is stifled. This environment works badly for both traffic and the public realm. This is very similar to the Strongtowns concept of STROADS, which describes the horrible outcome when the function of roads and streets is blurred.
It is amazing the receptiveness that he gets in this forum. With regard to shared streets this is one of the many areas where Auckland is a global leader amongst new world cities. Today it’s hard to imagine how these were ever built. Was there a traffic signal technology conference in Canberra during the week they were approved?
A few months back Google Streetview introduced a feature many people called the “Wayback Machine” which allows users to toggle back in time through their collection of images. I’ve grabbed a couple before and afters below.
For people interested in shared streets or think that the Auckland CBD is still riddled with of $2 and tacky tourists shops, take a tour of these streets: