Characteristics of Great Streets

Depending on the perspective, there are good streets and not-so-good streets.  And then there are great streets.  This writer has a bias toward streets that are canopied. In Mississippi, that means streets that have treetops over them. Some streets in Ocean Springs, Jackson and Laurel come to mind. This column is about great streets as defined by the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), an organization whose stated purpose is to help people create and sustain public places that build community.

A street is generally defined as a public thoroughfare, usually paved, in a village or town, and usually includes adjacent sidewalks and buildings.  A street is different from a highway, which is defined as a roadway between two towns.  PPS sees streets as places.   Although the organization is obviously urban-oriented, as one can readily deduce from viewing its Web site at http://www.pps.org, my guess is that it would embrace the courthouse square of the South as a great place.  The reason is that the classic courthouse square scene is the place that brings the community together.  It is there that political rallies, arts and crafts sales and a variety of public events are held, all wrapped with commercial storefronts.

From this writer’s perspective a good street is one that achieves its purpose.  If a street is conceived as built as a major traffic artery, then it will probably have multiple lanes and limited access.  These type streets typically are located in commercial areas.  Sometimes rapid growth can result in four-lane traffic arteries running right through residential areas.  Such would then be an example of a less than desirable street.

PPS has identified the following ten qualities that contribute to the success of great streets:

  • Attractions & Destinations. Having something to do gives people a reason to come to a place—and to return again and again. When there is nothing to do, a space will remain empty, which can lead to other problems. In planning attractions and destinations, it is important to consider a wide range of activities for: men and women; people of different ages; different times of day, week and year; and for people alone and in groups.
  • Identity & Image. Whether a space has a good image and identity is key to its success. Creating a positive image requires keeping a place clean and well-maintained, as well as fostering a sense of identity. This identity can originate in showcasing local assets. Businesses, pedestrians, and driver will then elevate their behavior to this vision and sense of place.
  • Active Edge Uses. Buildings bases should be human-scaled and allow for interaction between indoors and out. Preferably, there are active ground floor uses that create valuable experiences along a street for both pedestrians and motorists. These edge uses should be active year-round and unite both sides of the street.
  • Amenities. Successful streets provide amenities to support a variety of activities. These include attractive waste receptacles to maintain cleanliness, street lighting to enhance safety, bicycle racks, and both private and public seating options—the importance of giving people the choice to sit where they want is generally underestimated. Cluster street amenities to support their use.
  • Management. An active entity that manages the space is central to a street’s success. This requires not only keeping the space clean and safe, but also managing tenants and programming the space to generate daily activity. Events can run the gamut from small street performances to sidewalk sales to cultural, civic or seasonal celebrations.
  • Seasonal Strategies. In places without a strong management presence or variety of activities, it is often difficult to attract people year-round. Utilize seasonal strategies, like holiday markets, parades and recreational activities to activate the street during all times of the year. If a street offers a unique and attractive experience, weather is often less of a factor than people initially assume.
  • Diverse User Groups. As mentioned previously, it is essential to provide activities for different groups. Mixing people of different race, gender, age, and income level ensures that no one group dominates the space and makes others feel unwelcome and out of place.
  • Traffic, Transit & the Pedestrian. A successful street is easy to get to and get through; it is visible both from a distance and up close. Automobile traffic cannot dominate the space and preclude the comfort of other modes. This is generally accomplished by slowing speeds and sharing street space with a range of transportation options.
  • Blending of Uses and Modes. Ground floor uses and retail activities should spill out into the sidewalks and streets to blur the distinction between public and private space.
  • Protects Neighborhoods. Great streets support the context around them. There should be clear transitions from commercial streets to nearby residential neighborhoods, communicating a change in surroundings with a concomitant change in street character.

There you have it.  Now, where are the great streets in your community?

 

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