Week 5 2017


Jacobs, Allen, B. (1993) Great streets. The MIT Press, Cambridge & London.

‘You go back to some streets more often than to others, and not just because the things you do or have to do are more centrered on one than another. Maybe you focus a part of your life more on one street for reasons not necessarily economic or functional. Maybe a particular street unlocks memories or offers expectations of something pleasant to be seen or the possibility of meeting someone, known or new, the possibility of an encounter.’ p.2

‘Streets are more than public utility, more than the equivalent of water lines and sewers and electric cables, which, interestingly enough, most often find their homes in streets; more than linear physical spaces that permit people and goods to get from here to there.’ p. 3

‘Communication remains a major purpose of streets, along with unfettered public access to property, and these roles have received abundant attention, particular in the latter half of the twentieth century. Other roles have not.’ p. 3

‘In a very elemental way, streets allow people to be outside. Barring private gardens, which many urban people do not have or want, or immediate access to countryside or parks, streets are what constitute the outside for many urbanities; places to be when they are not indoors. And streets are places of social and commercial encounter and exchange. People who really do not like other people, not even to see them in any numbers, have good reason not to live in cities or to live isolated from city streets. The street is movement: to watch, to pas, movement especially of people: of fleeting faces and forms, changing postures and dress….It is possible to stand in one place or to sit and watch the show…. Everyone can use the street…Knowing the rhythm of a street is to know who may be on it or at a certain place along it during a given period’ p.4

The street a place ‘to feel greeted and welcomed, to be part of something larger than oneself. As well as to see, the street is a place to be seen. Sociability is a large part of why cities exist and streets are a major if not the only public place for that socialbility to develop.’ p. 4

‘The people of cities understand the symbolic, ceremonial, social and political role of streets, not just those of movement and access.’ p. 4

‘The interplay of human activity with the physical place has an enormous amount to do with the greatness of a street.’ p. 6

Dolf Schnebli, architect, wrote: ‘A good urban street is always good in a context. Its goodness can change- if Hitler is in charge of the city, all streets are bad…To eat in a beautiful space is nice, but if the food is bad, I prefer good food to an ugly place. I prefer good food in a beautiful place. But bad service may destroy the whole thing. Therefore the best- good food, good space, good service, good company. We could go on.’ p.7

Criteria for good streets:

  1. help to make community: streets should facilitate people acting and interacting to achieve in concert what they might not achieve alone.  ‘A great street should be the most desirable place to be, to spend time, to live, to play, to work, at the same time that it markedly contributes to what a city should be. Streets are settings for activities that bring people together.’ p. 8
  2. physically comfortable and safe. He points out that ‘physical safety is another matter, and it can mean many things. One shouldn’t have to worry about being hit by a car or truck or about tripping on the pavement or about some other physical thing built into the street being unsafe. –> I believe he is talking about perceived safety.
  3. encouragement of participation. ‘ For over 15 years on the main street of Curitba, Brazil, a long, long strip of paper has been laid on the pavement every Saturday morning, held down by wooden sticks every meter or so, theereby cerating hundred of individual white paper surfaces. Children that come are offered a brush and paint, and they do pictures as parents and friends watch….Participation in the life of a street involves the ability of people who occupy buildings to add something to the street, individually or collectively, to be part of it. That contribution can take the form of signs or flowers or awnings or color, or in altering the buildings themselves. Responsibility, including maintenance, comes with participation.’ p. 9
  4. The best streets are remembered. They leave strong, long continuing positive impressions. –> a street is memorable. p.9
  5. street is representative- ‘it is the epitome of a type; it can stand for others; it is the best. p.9

Urban settings: scale of the street and block and buildings and spaces –> also the setting of peoples lives.

‘There is a magic to a great street. We are attracted to the best of them not because we have to go there, but because we want to be there. The best streets are joyful as they are utilitarian. They are entertaining and they are open to all. They permit anonymity at the same time as individual recognition. They are symbols of a community and of its history; they represent a public memory. They are places for escape and for romance, palces to act and to dream. On a great street we are allowed to dream; to remember things that may never have happened and to look forward to things that, maybe, never will.’ p. 11

Jacobs analysed streets in categories:

Cross section, blueprint, drawing
Traffic, parking
sidewalk, pavement details

The eyes move. Gibson ‘In the ordinary vision of everyday life any long fixation of the eyes is rarity…It is equally rare to perceive the environment with the head motionless.. The visual field is ordinarily alive with motion.’ p. 281-2

‘Great streets require physical characteristics that help the eyes do what they want to do, must do: move. Every great street has this quality.’ p.282

Qualities that help a good street:

  • Trees
  • Beginnings and endings
  • many buildings rather than few, diversity,
  • special design features (details)
  • places
  • Accessibility
  • Density helps
  • diversity
  • length
  • Slope
  • Parking
  • Contrast
  • time



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