Streets have traditionally been used to move people and goods from place to place and as a conduit for utilities. In recent years, everyone from planners and urban designers to engineers, environmentalists and disability advocates has been thinking about how streets can improve the livability of the urban environment. What would streets be like if they truly accommodated people of all ages and abilities? How can streets be part of community-wide efforts to combat obesity, create a sense of place, provide jobs and regenerate the environment? How will the form and function of streets change as we adopt new technologies? The re:Streets project is responding to these questions with a manual for designing streets for living, not just driving.
Funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, re:Streets is exploring the future of streets developing innovative solutions to America’s street design challenges. The project is pairing the most recent, cutting edge design research with the results from a two-day charrette at UC Berkeley on July 21-23, 2011 featuring experts and pioneers in professions related to the design of streets. The most effective solutions will be published in an interactive design manual.
Some of the solutions that will be included in the re:Streets design manual have already been proven effective; others will be experimental.
Participants in the re:Streets charrette will evaluate ideas and technologies that have just begun to influence street design and could help to expand the public uses of streets. For example, the automotive industry is developing vehicles that require much less roadway space; if travel lanes only need to be five feet wide, there will be more room for recreation, community events and other activities in the right of way.
Electricity from vehicular movement and solar roadways could be stored under the roadway to light up the nighttime street and provide power for festivals and mobile vendors. Networks of planters and gardens could treat pollutants, provide shade and wildlife habitat, and add natural beauty to streets. Cisterns under the roadway could collect, purify and distribute stormwater. Urban agriculture could supply inexpensive fresh food to city dwellers and provide impetus for neighborhood markets.
New technologies and design approaches could also make streets more flexible and responsive to community needs throughout the course of the day. The roadway itself could expand or contract and lanes could change, from directing traffic to indicating the boundaries of a basketball court. New street closure devices could be timed to provide neighborhood gathering spaces in the evenings and on weekends. Multisensory signage could make wayfinding in cities easier and safer for everyone while adding interpretive elements to enhance place identity. Public art projects could become more dynamic and mobile, creating a diversity of culturally vibrant places within our cities.
Some American cities are already experimenting with bold new street design approaches. For many municipalities, however, adding sidewalks or bike lanes is a major accomplishment. Recognizing that cities have differing street design needs, the re:Streets charrette attendees will also explore strategies for prioritizing modifications and for developing networks of street types based on the specific requirements of local residents and their community’s unique social, cultural and environmental character.
The re:Streets manual is scheduled in for completion 2012. When it is released, the project e-book will be available for free download. As solutions are tried and streets are built or remodeled, the results will be added to the re:Streets e-book, creating an evolving, collaborative reference for improving our communities.
Re:Streets project partners include Landscape Structures, Inc., Ironworks, Inc., DeepRoot Partners, L.P., MIG, Inc., America Walks and PLAE, Inc. For more information go to www.restreets.org.