Category Archives: Architecture

Occupy Broad Street

Today is the fifth Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. For some thoughts about that, click here.

Broad Street
THE BROAD crossroads where Wall Street and Broad Street come together is a beautiful space, fully the equal of medieval European plazas. Today, post-911, it’s closed to almost all traffic, because the New York Stock Exchange sits at the southwest corner of the intersection. A few weeks ago, it was the symbolic center of the NYC DOT’s Shared Streets Lower Manhattan, when one Saturday afternoon 60 blocks were designated “shared spaces,” where “Pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles will share the historic streets of Lower Manhattan and motorists [were] encouraged to drive 5 mph.”

When Americans talk about shared space, someone will often say, “We’re not Amsterdam.” Well, parts of Nieuw Amsterdam / New York City make a good place to start shared space experiments. Eighty per cent of Manhattan residents don’t own a car, and only twenty per cent of Manhattan workers commute to work by private car. Then add the fact that many streets in the Financial District have restricted access: some streets are only open to residents or workers employed on the street; while other streets have tank barricades and are only open to emergency and delivery vehicles.

In the real Amsterdam, 85% of the streets today have s speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour (18.6 mph), and the other 15% have a top speed of 50 kph (31 mph). On the slower streets, pedestrian and cyclist have as much right to the street as cars and trucks, and may be anywhere on the street at any time. All of the detritus of traffic engineering—bold stripes and arrows painted on the pavement, large signs, colored bus lanes, and the like—is missing, and at the intersections, there are no stop lights, stop signs, yield signs, or crosswalks. Motor vehicles must be driven at a speed that successfully allows cars and trucks to stop for pedestrians and cyclists in the intersection.

That is “Shared Space.” That is the spirit behind the experiment the DOT tried out on Saturday, August 13, and what it hopes to try again in the future. I hope they will and therefore I make Broad Street my Street of the Day. Some of the my notes on that continue below. Continue reading

Occupy Main Street

Great Barrington’s Main Street should be a place where place people want to get out of their cars to shop, eat, and socialize—under a majestic canopy of tall trees. That’s not what State DOTs build, however.

This story originally ran in the Berkshire Record, following earlier stories (links below).

East Side of Main Street

East Side of Main Street, Great Barrington, Before & After
(Larger images below, with commentary)

AN OLD CHINESE PROVERB says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” In other words, it’s not too late to fix the economic and social problems the recent rebuilding of Main Street brought to town.

Great Barrington’s Main Street has lost the curb appeal that helped make it the Smithsonian’s best small town in America. “That’s just aesthetics,” some will say — including a few who contributed to the design decisions that make the new Main Street so ugly — but what real estate brokers and developers call “curb appeal” is not just aesthetics. It has economic value and social outcomes.

Let’s look first at the trees on Main Street. Studies by groups like the city of Portland, Oregon, the Yale School of Forestry and the National Association of Realtors show that majestic street canopies like the one Great Barrington used to have increase retail sales and real estate values. Surveys in which people walk around towns and cities recording the places they like and don’t like show that we are attracted to places with beautiful trees. The book The Happy City establishes that beautiful, mature trees increase our day-to-day happiness, and a growing body of research in cognitive science is beginning to record the data behind these effects.

Great Barrington's Main Street in the Nineteenth Century, when it had a classic American streetscape of mature street trees forming a canopy over the space.

Great Barrington’s Main Street in the Nineteenth Century, when it had a classic American streetscape of mature street trees forming a canopy over the space.

Continue reading

A Sidewalk Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

IN 1919, the car hadn’t yet conquered West 57th Street in Manhattan. Together, the sidewalks for the pedestrians were still significantly wider than the roadway, and the modern detritus of the traffic engineer is nowhere in sight.

West 57th Street in 1919, looking east towards 7th Avenue

West 57th Street in 1919, looking east towards 7th Avenue

MCNY image from “West 57th’s Hodgepodge Block,” by Christopher Gray

West 57th Street today, looking east towards 7th Avenue

West 57th Street today, looking east towards 7th Avenue

Also see the unbuilt Winslow Homer Walk. You can download a PDF about Homer Walk here.