At Ecobuild Michael Sorkin talked about designing new cities in the US and in China, where walking radiuses of 10 minutes were being used as a defining characteristic of a healthy and sustainable neighbourhoods.
Elsewhere, Will Self keeps up his ‘psychogeography’ campaign, extolling the benefits and radicalism of travelling by foot:
We understand that to walk the city and its environs is, in a very powerful sense, to use it. The contemporary flâneur is by nature and inclination a democratising force who seeks equality of access, freedom of movement and the dissolution of corporate and state control.
Meanwhile, the economics of having to transport people and goods, and the small matter of pedestrian safety keep other discussions down to earth.
Somewhere in the middle, Manual for Streets 2 (MfS2) and the concept of shared spaces keeps both viewpoints in focus for designers and planners – and for product manufacturers and technological innovators – all of whom are involved in squaring the circle, and trying to create better environments for living.
In theory, barriers, bollards and strict demarcation are against the spirit of shared spaces. But the reality is that sympathetic and thoughtful design can mean that low key safety features are less intrusive.
There’s also the school of thought that says we can revel in street furniture elements as individual features in their own right. Note the popularity of the Bollards of London blog.
‘Smart’ traffic management technologies are also being more closely integrated into realtime traffic control and pedestrian movement.
The thinking behind ‘puffin crossings’ (‘pedestrian user-friendly intelligent crossings’), for example, is to make traffic signal and pedestrian crossing control more contextual, while encouraging greater awareness of traffic by people crossing busy roads.
The ADEPT website (the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport) makes the same points:
ADEPT believes that seeing approaching traffic will reduce the risk of an accident should a driver fail to stop at a crossing. Pedestrian detection may be used to confirm the presence of a pedestrian waiting to cross, and to vary the duration of crossing time to more accurately reflect the time needed to cross the road. The crossing time can be extended for groups of pedestrians, and for mobility impaired users, or operate for a minimum time when a single pedestrian crosses quickly.
It’s not necessarily something that would float Will Self’s boat, but systems and software are being harnessed here to help pedestrians and drivers to co-exist. This summary from the Intelligent Transport Society talks about influencing driver awareness and behaviour:
ITS [intelligent transport systems] can be applied to road transport to improve efficiency and safety through the provision of on-line information to drivers in their vehicles and by equipping the vehicle with computerised systems which assist the driver (e.g. following and lane keeping).
It also improves the efficiency of transport by use of electronic systems to improve traffic control and enforcement of traffic regulations. Electronic motorway tolling and congestion charging are also ITS options.
For designers and for residents – whether commercial or private – there will, no doubt, be ‘robust exchanges of views’ as the realities of shared spaces, town planning and traffic management are hammered out. But that’s shared spaces for you, be they residential car parks, market town centres, or historic ‘debatable lands’:
In 1551 the Crown officers of England and Wales, in an attempt to clear out the trouble makers, declared that ‘All Englishmen and Scottishmen, after this proclamation made, are and shall be free to rob, burn, spoil, slay, murder and destroy all and every such persons, their bodies, buildings, goods and cattle as do remain or shall inhabit upon any part of the said Debatable Land without any redress to be made for the same.’