Kaid Benfield Archive


Giving to the street (for walkability & sustainability)

Kaid Benfield

Posted May 4, 2010 at 1:32PM

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  (photo courtesy of Steve Mouzon)

Our streets (including sidewalks, street trees, fixtures and so forth) are our most important public spaces.  Whether we experience them on foot, driving along, or simply through a window, streets form the places where we most often experience that elusive thing we call “community.”  They are where the private realm (our houses, yards, offices, shops, churches, etc.) meets the outside world.  How they look and function is of tremendous importance to how we feel about the places we live, work and visit.

Architect Steve Mouzon, who has a new book coming out, also has a recent post on his terrific blog, The Original Green, about some simple ways that our buildings and their occupants can enhance the streets on which they reside.  These range from refreshing the street with a fountain (or a café), to sheltering it with an awning (or, I might add, a tree), to simply providing delight with beautiful flowers.

Steve believes, with reason, that creating better streetscapes, even one house or shop at a time, encourages walking:

“There is no greater expression of neighborliness than showing kindness to someone you may never know. We can give gifts to strangers in person, of course, but our buildings can do it, too. Imagine what your neighborhood would be like if every home and shop gave a gift to the street! Wouldn’t it encourage you to walk more, where you could savor those gifts, rather than just zipping by in a car? a street that shelters, delights, and provides a place to rest (c2010 FK Benfield)And as we’ve discussed here on numerous occasions, encouraging walkability is one of the most important things you can do to make your neighborhood healthier and more sustainable.”

One of the things I love about Steve’s writing is that he is unafraid to speak from and to the heart, and in such a positive way.  We need more of that.

I think the lack of nourishing interaction with the street is part of what was bugging me last week about some of AIA’s ‘green’ award winners, particularly 355 11th Street and Manitoba Hydro Place, which to me add only a very cold and unwelcoming kind of beauty to their surroundings.

Other types of gifts that Steve (whom I cited in my post a few months back about urbanist bloggers who make me think) believes our buildings can provide to their streets include information, entertainment, directional reference points, places to rest, and memorials.  He’s a terrific photographer and provides an image to illustrate each, including one taken “in front of the New Old Inn across from the River Windrush in Bourton-On-The-Water” (which, as I’m sure many of you know, is not far from Upper and Lower Slaughter).  Read his post here.