When you look at any larger city in the western world from above, most of the time you see the same pattern over and over again. You have blocks, streets, sidewalks and train tracks. The most important features are the roads and streets, they divide a city into a lot of blocks. Sidewalks are between the roads and the blocks, sharing space with the street. The wideness of the streets correlates with the size of the blocks it separates. Most of the time they have lines of parking spaces for cars. Blocks are a bunch of buildings in a square, that face the roads, forming squares and rectangles, with some larger yards in the middle. The yards are used for gardens, supermarkets, playgrounds, etc.. Towards the yards the houses show balconies, winter gardens, terraces and a lot of windows.
But does it have to be this way? The importance of cars in our society, has made them the main design-theme for our cities. This is why we have to combine streets and sidewalks in complicated intersection systems with traffic lights and long phases. This is why everyone who wants to move around in the city without using a car, has to participate in car traffic and bad air conditions. And this is why we consider cities to be rather ugly and smelly.
In my opinion there's the option for another design. As I tried to point out, we don't have to keep the system that historically replaced our roads for all kinds of relocation to become streets for motorized verhicles only. So here is what I am proposing as an alternative system. Imagine streets without sidewalk and pedestrians. All intersections would be much easier to design, and much more efficient in guiding traffic. But where would the pedestrians walk? There would be a second grid, intersecting the city, but shifted half a block to the southeast. So as a result, these pedestrian walkways would cut every block into half. One block is connected to the next block, not on the corners of the square, but right in the middle. The blocks would need to have at least one gap on each of the four sides, so that connections to other blocks can be established. Guiding pedestrians across a road is much easier and more efficient than at intersections. The buildings would have their entrances toward the center of the block, where it is more quiet and cleaner and nicer to look at. The pedestrians would experience a much greener and quiter city, where they would encounter more neighbours on the streets. the streets would be much easier to clean, and wouldn't need gardens to seperate living space from road noise and smells. Bigger streets could also crossed on a level below or above the ground, so that traffic lights wouldn't be needed at all anymore. It would be just like turning your back on the cars, and turn toward the neighbours and community.
I think such a coexistence would be a good solution between car-free city-centers and traffic jammed surrounding areas.
picture by Jonn 'Dorvak'
This article originally appeared here