To answer this question, we must first realize what streets are NOT. Streets are NOT roads. Roads are designed to connect two places (towns, cities, neighborhoods, etc.) They are meant for transportation, typically via a motor vehicle. Roads do not contain, or sparsely contain, homes, stores, and businesses.
In contrast, streets are located within towns, cities, and neighborhoods, and provide much more than transportation. Streets are lined with homes, store fronts, and businesses. Streets are intended as a public place where people can mingle, conduct business, live, and play. Despite what your mother says about playing in the streets, actual streets are great for playing. If this seems like a crazy concept to you, I will point you to the following three videos.
The first video is Barcelona in 1908, you will notice pedestrians everywhere, children and adults on bicycles, stores and homes directly on the street. This street is not the exclusive domain of cars, as we are used to. It belongs to all citizens despite their chosen mode of transport. Feel free to skip around these videos if you wish. It really is fascinating to view 100 year old street life.
This was a very common sight in modern cities 100 years ago. Here is a video of San Francisco from 1906 with a very similar scene.
Now let’s take another look at the first video. This time with video from the present-day spliced in as a comparison. You will see that these are no longer streets, they are roads. There is little to no pedestrian traffic (or any traffic for that matter, I wonder if this video was shot during a holiday), and the road has become the exclusive playground for motor vehicles. Pedestrians have been relegated to sidewalks only, and roads have been setup for high speed travel. Personally, I would not classify this 100 year change as “progress”.
This post, and the previous post, are intended to describe some of the characteristics that I look for in healthy communities. I look for walkable streets, a good mix of people and modes of transportation, and ease of mobility. Future posts will begin to look at how we can address the problems of our modern cities and move toward more livable communities.
Extra: If you have 15 minutes, here is a Ted Talk from someone much smarter than myself, explaining the importance of separating roads and streets.