Tag: urban design
Simulating Urban Place: The Importance of Experience
It was possible for such a humanistic tradition to emerge because those who founded the college held a commitment to an integrated view of education and had a high tolerance for each other’s approaches. With the exception of Catherine Bauer, the founding members were raised locally and rooted in the Bay Area experience: William Wurster had his roots in Stockton , T. J. Kent and Fran Violich grew up in San Francisco, Vernon DeMars in Oakland and Garrett Eckbo in Alameda; after an exposure to East Coast schools all embraced modern architecture’s social agenda. They practiced regionally; several of them worked prominently in the field of low-income housing, others, as founders of Telesis in 1939 and motivated by an appreciation for the Bay Area’s exceptional beauty, reacted against the mindless urban development that accelerated in the decades after WWII. As mentors they pointed out that no matter the size of an individual designer’s contribution, it was possible to act intelligently with an eye on the larger environmental, social and political context.
In the 1960s, the college attracted a large number of faculty members from further afield, especially in the field of urban planning and design. Donald Appleyard, who came from MIT together with Roger Montgomery, who came from Washington University in Saint Louis, both started to offer an interdisciplinary urban design curriculum to graduate students from all three departments.
Urban design as a tie between the three departments became the college’s hallmark and over the last four decades a group of urban designers with roots in design practice shared an interest in research and teaching that led to a normative stance, emphasizing more the prescriptive, “what should be,” and less the descriptive, reflective mode, emphasizing the “what is.” The colleagues I am thinking of include Don Logan, Dan Solomon, Christopher Alexander, Clare Cooper Marcus, and Sam Davis, who taught at Berkeley when I joined in 1976. Allan Jacobs came to Berkeley at about the same time. During Richard Bender’s time as CED Dean, Donlyn Lyndon, Randy Hester, Michael Southworth, Elizabeth Deakin and Linda Jewell joined; Nezar Alsayyad came to the faculty after he completed his PhD with Spiro Kostov; René Davids and Renée Chow, Louise Mozingo and Walter Hood joined during Roger Montgomery’s tenure as Dean. Mark Anderson, Elizabeth MacDonald, Nicholas de Monchaux, Paz Gutierez, Karl Kuhlmann and Ron Rael are the most recent members of the faculty with a dedication to urban design.
Academic groups need jolters. Peter Hall jolted the group saying that increasingly the form of urban regions would need to be studied; Manuel Castells pointed the group towards a major shift in how society uses space. The information age had changed how people interact socially at all levels. Two decades earlier Mel Webber jolted the members of the group with his thesis that local place was growing less important as society was becoming more and more placeless. The polemics of the discussion made students in the simulation laboratory work on a film Webberville versus Applelandia. In one community, the curtains are drawn to keep out the glare as residents communicate with their peers in faraway places; in the other community, the residents erect barricades in the streets to protect against traffic, environmental degradation and for greater social justice.
Not unique to Berkeley, there still exists a healthy tension between those who view material space relative to socioeconomic dimensions and those who view the experience of place as an inspiration for design. It is therefore important to reflect on the power of direct experience, and the power of abstractions as something that education can bridge. If more bridges between the two modes of thinking, planning and design can be made, the college can confidently face the next 50 years.
The Environmental Simulation Laboratory, founded in 1972 by Appleyard, provides such a bridge. Ahead of its time, it was built on the premise that it is possible to bring parts of the city into a laboratory in order to experiment with changes to urban form. Throughout history and across disciplines simulations have been used to forecast conditions that might become reality. The applications of simulations are broad and have grown in engineering, design and planning as well as navigational training, medicine and education. Fundamentally, two types of simulations are possible: existing and future urban conditions can be explained as concepts or as experiences. When computational techniques became available in the 1970s, conceptual simulations received a major boost. A decade later, with the advent of digital image processing, the sensory or perceptional forms of simulations advanced. By now, animations, virtual walks or drives through photorealistic settings have become commonplace. But with such advancements it is important to remember that simulations remain abstractions of reality. What is selected from reality, and what is left out, can significantly influence the outcome of simulations, thus the future form of cities.
Will the simulated world behave in very much the same manner as the real world? The answer to this question is important for urban designers, who use simulations to explore the implications of policy on the form of cities. If response equivalence between simulated and real world experiences cannot be guaranteed, simulations would have no credibility, could be misleading and should not be used in decision making processes. Knowledge about response equivalence falls into the realm of psychology. Kenneth Craik, one of the pioneers in the field of environmental psychology, collaborated with Appleyard in the early years to measure people’s responses to simulated scenes and compare them to responses after an experience of the real world. Answers to the equivalence question involved a large scale validation project sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Residents and nonresidents were randomly selected to tour a suburban environment complete with shopping centers and office parks, followed by the screening of a virtual drive through the same area. Some subjects saw one and not the other, some saw both in the sequence described or vice versa. The experiment concluded that simulations can be surrogates of a real world experience. This meant, ideally, that the simulations should not be presented in static form, but as dynamic animations, produced in a manner that comes close to human experience, moving through space and time. The experiment also acknowledged that subjects who were unfamiliar with the setting reported close to equivalent experiences after the real world tour and after watching a tour of a virtual, simulated world, or vice versa. But for subjects familiar with the real setting, the equivalence of the two experiences was not as strong. For them the real world setting had social meaning that could not readily be simulated. Thus the validation experiment touched upon findings made about the same time, first in geography and later in the field of psychology, claiming that place in cities, neighborhoods and landscapes takes on meaning based upon people’s memory, attachment and dependencies.
The validation project also confirmed a number of earlier theories, first J.J. Gibson’s ecological theory that reminds us of perception’s dynamic process, which operates under constantly changing conditions and frequently in motion over time. As well as Egon Brunswik’s probabilistic theory: The observer builds up a repertoire of probabilities that provides likely conclusions by combining trustworthy clues to give an educated guess about the true nature of a situation or place.
Admittedly, for the everyday user of simulations, perceptional theories would be of limited use, if it were not for the fact that simulations are produced in a highly politicized milieu. Change in cities will always be associated with controversy. Especially when large projects are considered, proponents and opponents rival for public attention, appeal to decision makers and will treat information about change selectively, emphasizing its benefits or detriments depending on who is preparing the case. For an outsider, the credibility gap appears obvious and the difference in the portrayal of the real and the imagined can at times be comical, but for the actors involved the matter is deadly serious, because much can be at stake. Therefore, anybody interested in reducing the credibility gap for the benefit of a more open debate would call for a special commitment among those who produce simulations. Simulations should be representative of the changes that a new project will impose on the conditions that exist and on possible future conditions — ideally, they should consider cumulative change — without exaggerating or diminishing the impacts of change. The modeling should be open to accuracy tests. Realistically, such work could not be expected from proponents or from opponents, but could only be performed by individuals outside the controversy, for example, at research universities.
Modeled after the Berkeley lab, several such laboratories have emerged. For example, in the 1990s the Berkeley laboratory became the model for laboratories at Keio and at Waseda Universities in Tokyo. Here the rationale was developed for exemption from national planning law and introduction of special area planning controls for several Tokyo neighborhoods, including the famous Ginza district; earlier in the 1980s, a new laboratory in New York shaped regulations for Times Square, Television City, the Upper East Side and for West Way. The latest of this type of simulation laboratories was built in 2007 at the Milan Polytechnic with the purpose of examining the insertion of large scale projects into the still largely horizontal cityscape. In these laboratories, simulations are made to support the process of reasoning; modeling turns an abstract idea and transforms it towards the realm of the concrete. Not yet reality, but through simulations urban form and the associated conditions become more understandable. Models allow for greater clarity, and simulations are useful for explaining urban conditions to those who may not otherwise understand the implications of decision-making, such as politicians, community representatives, and the news media — thus the public at large. Simulations alone cannot claim to deliver judgment about good performance, fit or compatibility; the evaluators will make such judgments, but simulations make possible an open, public discussion among evaluators about the magnitude, pace and nature of change, its perceived degree of faithfulness to a recognized tradition — authenticity — or, a conscious break with tradition — a new beginning.
With the advent of Geographic Information Systems, perceptual simulation can be combined with spatially referenced data. For example, the attempt by the San Francisco business community to find sufficient land to accommodate 10 million square feet of additional office space is such an abstraction. The Berkeley Simulation Laboratory has a 30-year tradition to show whether and how that much floor space will fit into what is already there. Many contemporary examples for simulation applications come to mind. In California, as population grows, we need to simulate a type of community that is designed to reduce green house gasses consistent with Senate Bill 375.
Simulation is a bridge between concept and experience. At the CED we are in the process of opening a new bridge to visualize spatial data at the metropolitan scale. We are calling this new type of laboratory a Global Metropolitan Observatory. It originated out of a strategic initiative proposed to the Chancellor when the faculty were asked to brainstorm about the contribution Berkeley could make to solving the most urgent problems of the new millennium. Our response was a study center with the focus on sustainable metropolitan form. The new observatory will continue Berkeley’s tradition. It speaks to the strength of an educational tradition, when it is carried on by others, when it evolves and when it resonates in professional cultures different from those places where it originated.
Everything Will be Designed for the Best
by Elena Tomlinson, M.Arch Student
The first encounter with Distrito Federal, Mexico is marked by the endlessness, monotony, and grittiness of its metro system. The first impression however, had already been made ahead of time. The existing conditions of our site were charged with the familiar discourse of crisis — the ominous presence of “la mancha urbana” threatening to put an undeserved end to the “Venice of the New World.” Such was the premise of the Mexico City studio — a joint effort between UC Berkeley, Universidad Iberro-Americana, and the California College of the Arts. Our field trip was intended to be a search for Mexico City’s beauty, but also an anticipated encounter with some of its grim reality. The biggest surprise was that Mexico City lives with its abjection in relative peace — a compromise that seemed to mock our Panglossian zeal as architecture students, our belief that everything will be designed for the best and that we would stop encroachment on the canals of Xochimilco with the best of all possible archaeology museums.
Professor René Davids’ assigned program was provocative. He prompted us to re-think the city and the chinampas through alchemical experimentation, film-making, and landscape interventions. In other words, employing a cross-disciplinary methodology of design would allow us to transgress the space of the archaeological museum and challenge its status as merely a venue of entertainment. Instead, we were to act as curators by critically questioning the art object. The program was designed to unsettle our indifference for the artifact and to help us overcome our museum fatigue. The studio also prompted us to accept the two mutually exclusive but intimately connected forms of urbanity in Mexico City — characterized by informal settlements and unsustainable growth on one hand, and affluent enclaves and gated communities on the other hand. Ironically, the site of our museum mirrored the fragmentation of its larger urban context by being divided into a fenced off island or chinampa on the western half, and an informal settlement on the east.
The design process for the Xochimilco Archaeological Museum was fraught with resolving the tensions between formal and informal, cultural anxieties and political biases, and rural traditions and urban futures. The catalog of all possible solutions that was presented in our final review, speaks to the irreconcilability of some these elements. For example, in some cases the informal settlement was romanticized and left intact, while in others the site was treated as tabula rasa. Our design solutions attempted to bridge the divide between existing living patterns on the site and the actual topography and urban form. But what if we had considered our informal settlement less as an image, but more as a narrative, a process? Less than a space, or built fabric and more as a boundary? All in all, the Mexico City studio strenuously challenged our beliefs in physical determinism and our optimistic design approach by urging us to surrender to the complex, intricate, and contested nature of urban design.
Xochimilco Archeological Museum and Botanical Garden: The Mexico City Studio
The Mexico City studio conducted during Spring 2007 explored the manner in which the physical and conceptual understanding of landscape can enrich current forms of architectural and urban design practice. The Xochimilco area of Mexico City is well known for its extended series of canals — the remaining vestiges of an ancient system of lakes stretching for most of the valley of Anahuac in the middle of which Tenochtitlan, the impressive capital of the Aztecs, was located. Originally drained by the conquistadors to reproduce the conditions found in Spain, today the lake-bed is almost entirely occupied by Mexico City. The loss of subterranean water has had various ecological ramifications including: the gradual sinking of large parts of the city, loss of natural habitats, depletion of native vegetation, and the obsolescence of traditional agricultural methods of cultivation in the middle of the water called chinampas. Often referred to, incorrectly, as “floating gardens,” the chinampas were in fact, stationary artificial islands created by staking out the shallow lake bed and then fencing in the area with wattle. The fenced-off area was then layered with mud, lake sediment, and decaying vegetation, which eventually brought it above the level of the lake. Chinampas were separated by channels wide enough for a canoe to pass.
The worsening environmental situation in Xochimilco has generated a demand to conserve its landscapes and artifacts while also integrating them to the needs of modern society. The creation of an Archeological Site Museum and Botanical Park was seen as an important catalyst for this goal. Arguing that archeological exhibits need to be conserved within their contexts rather than as objects of display based on their aesthetic values, the studio attempted to connect each exhibit to the historical relationship between nature and man.
To understand the social, political, and environmental context of design, and in order to foster collaboration with Mexican students, architects and landscape designers, UC Berkeley students visited Mexico from January 8th to the 15th. Students were asked to research Mexican culture, artists, and architects; study precedents; create films; and collect rubbings and photographs of the building/construction sites in Mexico. They were also required to draw and research twenty pieces displayed at the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City which would be exhibited in the Xochimilco Archeological Museum. Throughout their design process, students were frequently asked to switch from the urban to the museum-interior scale and vice-versa.
The program for the Archeological Museum was developed in conjunction with students from the Universidad Iberoamericana of Mexico City headed by Isaac Broid, Mauricio Rocha and Luis Villafranca, and an advanced studio from the California College of Arts (CCA) in San Francisco headed by Sandra Vivanco. Mid-semester review for the studio took place along with the CCA and Mexican students at a grand review held at the CCA. The objective of the international studio was to encourage cooperation and collaboration among higher educational institutions in the United States and Mexico, increase the knowledge of cultures and institutions in both countries, and help prepare students to work throughout North America. The work of the three schools was exhibited in the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco from May 18 to June 1, 2007 and will also be exhibited at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City later this year.
Navigating the Waters of Collaboration
By Jean Eisberg, Master of City and Regional Planning ‘07
During the spring 2007 semester, I traveled to Jiaxing, China with a group of students, faculty, and professionals for an interdisciplinary design studio. We were fortunate to be able to collaborate with students and professors at Tongji University, located nearby in Shanghai. The Tongji group guided us during the trip and throughout the studio.
I studied China as an undergraduate student and while visiting the country again, I was reminded of why I was initially so intrigued. This is a country whose history, politics and social structures have changed radically over the past several decades. Jiaxing exemplifies this dynamic.
Jiaxing boasts a mix of cultural and historic amenities as well as modern industry and technology. Water defines the landscape; it is, at times, beautiful, but it is also polluted and often strewn with debris. Nearly empty eight-lane roads portend the growth to come. But, today, it is difficult to differentiate Jiaxing from the many other mid-size industrial cities in China. Our group needed to enhance the existing assets in Jiaxing to bring out its unique identity and ensure its competitiveness in the region. The central government’s proposed high-speed rail station offered an incredible opportunity to make this happen.
After returning to Berkeley, it was time to get to work. But, as planners, urban designers, architects and landscape architects, we did not always speak the same language. We spent several weeks sketching, arguing, and jumping in and out of scales. Out of the chaos emerged some great ideas about water, open space, transportation, energy, architecture, and urban design. Our recommendations encompassed all scales — from architectural materials and façade details to a transit plan and renewable energy resources — reflecting the range of disciplines represented among the students in our studio.
The Tongji students helped us to understand the traditions, policies, and culture that define and affect architecture and development in the region. Collaborating with our colleagues at Tongji was one of the highlights for me. With a year of college-level Mandarin muddled in the back reaches of my brain, I got a chance to practice speaking and drew laughter for my errant tones. But even better was the chance to share opinions on what planning means in our respective countries. As one Tongji student admitted, China plans and develops without always considering the repercussions or offering mitigations. I countered that in the United States, legislation and politics often necessitate intense scrutiny and lengthy processes that can prevent projects from moving forward. We both wondered about the middle
I still see opportunity in China in terms of its tremendous growth. But I also see the possibility for China to become a leader in sustainable development, something we can all learn from.
Overcoming Culture Shock through Design
by Linda Roberson, M.U.D. Student
In composing this short piece about my experience in the China studio this spring, I grow ever more grateful for the opportunity, as lessons continue to be revealed.
China is vast, exciting, frustrating, and complex — like nothing else I’ve experienced. As a graduate student in Urban Design this studio experience was remarkable, if not pivotal for my future career. The studio was a collaboration of students from various departments such as Architecture, City and Regional Planning, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design. The design program called for a sustainable city — one that would respond to current environmental issues in China as well as the local culture of the design site.
While there were certainly bouts of chaos and confusion during the China studio, my enduring memory of the experience is of the endless opportunities that it presented. My colleagues and I worked hard to implement a clear design direction and strategy by creating a structure for the class early on. Often, when we couldn’t get the answers or direction we needed, we contacted professionals and consultants who had the experience and knowledge to steer us in the right path. In retrospect, this methodology was at times frustrating but also incredibly rewarding and rich with lessons for young designers such as myself. As part of an interdisciplinary design team composed of undergraduate and graduate students from the College of Environmental Design, I realized early on that I needed to share with the class exactly what it was urban designers do. I wanted to learn from my classmates and they were probably expecting the same from me. I remember describing the urban designer as one who works at a variety of scales, develops frameworks and basically prepares the outline so that a particular area of land can be turned over to the architect or landscape architect for development and specific design implementation.
I would be lying if I said that my ideas were accepted without resistance or that I didn’t face language barriers. But slowly the lessons began to unfold. For me, this studio was not about disciplines or design territory, sustainability, or deliverables. Instead the China studio was a unique experience that allowed me to question some of my own definitions regarding design practice, site, and culture in a productive and meaningful way. In conclusion I can say that if China is a frontier goldmine for an entrepreneur, for a student with initiative, it was a blank slate. It was only later that I realized that this was one of most important lessons that I would learn through the China studio.
Speeding Toward a New Jiaxing
“There is an ecological apocalypse unfolding in China right now.” The statistics bear the point.
There are approximately 300,000 premature deaths each year attributed to air pollution alone. A quarter of China’s 1.3 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. China has the world’s fastest growing auto market, giving it the notorious label of the world’s leader in vehicle fatalities and second in oil consumption behind the US. Currently, the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter, China is on pace to surpass the US in 2008 — some researchers even argue that it already has.
During the spring 2007 semester, students at Tongji University in Shanghai, China and the University of California, Berkeley in the United States took on this challenge, collaborating on a design studio in Jiaxing, China, a second-tier city 80km outside of Shanghai. The group included undergraduate and graduate students pursuing coursework in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and urban design, as well as faculty and professionals from both countries.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a private foundation based in San Francisco, California provided a grant to the group to explore international urban sustainability. The Jiaxing City Government partnered with our group and posed a set of urban development research questions to the students. The charge was to develop a plan for the City in anticipation of a proposed high-speed rail line connecting the Shanghai Pudong International Airport to Hangzhou, with stops in Shanghai and Jiaxing. As an added challenge, Jiaxing’s station stop was proposed in an agricultural area 10km away from the existing central city. This new rail line could connect Jiaxing to Shanghai in 15 minutes and to the airport in less than a half hour. What would this compression in time and space mean for Jiaxing?
The students identified two major challenges to address: China’s environmental crisis and connecting the proposed rail station to the central city
First, the students proposed a transit corridor between the new station and the existing city center. They recognized the opportunity to create a new hub within the City, but wanted to maximize accessibility to the new station and the central city, to encourage investment in both anchors as well as in the corridor between them.
Second, they proposed an integrated sustainable design strategy for Jiaxing. Adopting the “3 E’s” principles of ecology, economy and equity, they endeavored to improve Jiaxing’s air and water quality, expand renewable energy sources and reduce waste, while maintaining a competitive economy. Moreover, they sought to create an equitable design that would accommodate all types of people, regardless of age, income or other status.
Despite the troubling statistics, there is opportunity to make real improvements in China’s environment, if the government and citizens choose to take on the challenge. Through sustainable design and policy measures, China has the potential to emerge from environmental crisis as an environmental leader. Jiaxing could serve as a model for sustainable development in China, providing its citizens a better life and a more environmentally sound, economically strong and equitable society.
 Porritt, Jonathon. “China: The Most Important Story in the World.” Green Futures. September 2006: 3.
Designing from “Here” for “There”
By Yael Perez, Student, PhD Architecture
I joined the Nano City Super Studio as a result of my background and interest in development issues in India, as well as the desire to learn about the design process.
As a PhD student my research interests focus specifically on the current trends in architectural practice where architects around the globe often design for sites that they have never been to or have had minimal contact with. As a practicing architect I have lived and worked in Northern India, where I was involved with several development projects that stress local building traditions. The Nano City Super Studio was thus a unique opportunity that helped me develop my research focus and fine tune my thesis topic, which is now framed as: “Bridging the gap between architect and site through technological tools to enhance place-sensitive design.”
So how did a group of Berkeley students bridge the architect-site gap in Northern India? A trip to India seemed to be the logical first step, but a week’s visit there left us with more questions than answers. For example, the most prominent features appearing on our site maps, two rivers delimiting the site, were found to be dry most of the year and flowing with muddy water during the monsoon season. Predominantly, the buildings in the area were concrete structures of poor quality or shabby vernacular dwellings. In contrast the most beautiful visually seductive aspect of the site — a mosaic of agricultural plots of land — was precisely what we were required to change.
Back in the studio in Berkeley, we found ourselves using virtual tools such as Google Earth and aerial photos. The high-resolution images highlighted features that we had failed to notice during our site visit. These included a water source, irrigation tunnels, an avenue of trees along a road, and several other elements which could be combined into a contextualized, practical, and place-sensitive urban environment. And while virtual tools cannot replace the tactile and sensory knowledge gained from a site visit, they definitely complemented it and kept us connected to the site despite the distance.
Beyond my own interests, a project like NanoCity, which combined both theoretical and practical questions, was a perfect fit for an advanced graduate-level studio and influenced all of us considerably. The challenges of designing a new city and the inherent difficulties of bridging geographical and cultural distances, were augmented by the fact this was a concrete project executed together with our client. Working on a real project forced us to deal not only with subjects we are enthusiastic about, but also with those that are usually overlooked in studio-courses such as government regulations, financial feasibility, attractiveness of the solution to potential investors, and of course producing high quality deliverables for our client.
Our experience was further enhanced by the professors who not only taught the design studios but also acted as consultants to the studio team and arbiters with the client. Their expertise in various relevant fields such as transportation, energy, and international development contributed greatly to the design and learning process. The close interactions between the students, professors, and the client resulted in a mutually productive learning process which in turn helped us devise better design solutions. It will probably be several years before we get a chance to take part again in such a complex design process–particularly one where designers, clients and developers benefit from fruitful interactions with one another.
Reclaiming The Walkable City
Previously, transportation planners viewed movement by foot and bicycle as recreational, rather than legitimate transport to be seriously considered. A major shift in policy away from auto-centric planning, to mandated accommodation of the pedestrian and bicycle in federally supported transportation projects has stimulated numerous pedestrian and bicycle policies, plans, and built projects across the country. Recent studies on the many health benefits of walking have helped strengthen the case for making walkable cities.
Urban Design, Transportation Planning, and the Pedestrian
Urban design and transportation planning have evolved along distinctly different tracks over the past century, urban design focusing on the concrete experiential qualities of the built environment, generally at small to medium scale, and transportation planning focusing on more abstract function and efficiency for the motorist, at the scale of cities and regions. Before the “scientific” revolution in transportation planning, civil engineers in the U.S. were trained to deal with the character of the locale. The road was engineered to serve transportation needs, but also to fit in with the landscape and to enhance the experience of the user.
Beginning in the 1930s the profession of street and road design split in two separate directions: those who specialized in the technical aspects of transportation planning and engineering, and those who dealt with place-based design. While transportation planners have focused on abstract “macro” variables like capacity, demand, rate of flow, trip origin/destination analysis, congestion patterns, and regional land use patterns, urban designers and landscape architects have looked at “micro” variables, the form and use of local places. The consequences of this split for pedestrians and the built environment have been enormous.
Walkable Cities of the Past
Walkability was essential in cities before the automobile era. Streets of the preindustrial city were by necessity walkable, since everyone depended upon ready access by foot or slow moving cart, wagon, or carriage for access to jobs and the marketplace. Activity patterns had to be fine grained, density of dwellings had to be relatively high, and everything had to be connected by a continuous pedestrian path network. Cities of the middle ages were remarkable in their walkability and typically packed all the necessities of urban living into an area no more than ½ mile from the central square. For example, the entire built-up area of Urbino, Italy occupied only 300 acres yet housed 30,000 people. Early American cities like Boston were highly walkable, as well. Before major land filling operations began in the early nineteenth century, everything was on a small peninsula of little more than 800 acres where every point could be reached in a walk of less than one mile or ½ hour. Despite enormous growth and modernization, the central area still maintains its walkability, a rare situation for the American city.
High speed transport and the quest for efficiency killed the walkable city. Each advance in transportation technology — from horse drawn cart or carriage, to horsedrawn streetcar, to electric streetcar, to automobile and superhighway — has degraded the pedestrian environment. Hazardous high speed traffic broke up the fine grained pedestrian network and imposed barriers to free movement on foot. In ignoring the pedestrian experience, the street lost its intimate scale and transparency, and became a mere service road, devoid of public life. Modernist planning and design separated pedestrians from the automobile, shunting them off to raised plazas, skywalks, barren “greenways,” and sterile pedestrian malls. The automobile oriented values of Modernism have been codified in the transportation and street design standards that we struggle with today.
In the late postindustrial city it is impossible for the pedestrian or bicyclist to navigate freely. The street patterns of most residential areas built after 1950 are based on the discontinuous cul-de-sac rather than the interconnected grid. Block sizes are too large to permit a range of route choices and land use patterns are coarse with activities widely spaced and segregated by type. Streets are often over scaled and inhospitable to pedestrians and frequently lack sidewalks in order to reduce infrastructure construction and maintenance costs. The entire system has been designed for the convenience of the motorist (Southworth and Ben-Joseph 2003).
The benefits of increasing walking are now recognized. Walkability is the foundation for the sustainable city; without it, meaningful resource conservation will not be possible. Like bicycling, walking is a “green” mode of transport that not only reduces congestion, but also has low environmental impact, conserving energy without air and noise pollution. It can be more than a purely utilitarian mode of travel for trips to work, school, or shopping, and can have both social and recreational value. It is also a socially equitable mode of transport that is available to a majority of the population, across classes, including children and seniors.
Compared with Europeans, Americans walk very little. Only 9 percent of total trips in the U.S. were by foot in 1990 but 84 percent were by car, whereas in Sweden 39 percent were by foot and 36 percent were by car. In The Netherlands and Germany walking and bicycle trips increase with age and account for over half the trips for people age 75 and older (Pucher and Dijkstra, 2003). In addition, only 6 percent of trips were by foot for Americans age 75 and older in 2000. (Frank et al 2003).
Walking can promote mental and physical health including cardio-vascular fitness, reduced stress, stronger bones, weight control, and mental alertness and creativity. Walking is the most accessible and affordable way to get exercise. As obesity has now become a major public health problem in the U.S., several studies have made connections between health and the design and planning of cities. They make a strong case for better design and planning of the pedestrian environment.
- Three quarters of U.S. adults do not get enough physical activity, and one quarter is inactive in their free time. Nearly two thirds (64.5 percent) of U.S. adults are overweight and almost one third are obese according to a recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (Ewing et al 2003). In contrast, European countries with the highest rates of walking and bicycling have less obesity, diabetes, and hypertension than the U.S. (Pucher and Dykstra 2003).
- As little as ½ hour moderate activity such as walking or bicycling may be adequate for long term health, but only one quarter of the population achieves this (Frank et al 2003; Powell et al 2003).
- People who live in “sprawl” are likely to walk less, weigh more, and have greater incidence of hypertension than people living in more compact areas (Ewing et al 2003). Residents of more walkable San Diego neighborhoods engaged in 70 more minutes of physical activity in the previous week and had less obesity; 60 percent of residents in less walkable neighborhoods were overweight (Saelens et al 2003).
- Women between the ages of 70 and 81 who did more walking and other physical activity tended to have better cognitive function and less cognitive decline than those with less activity. Those with the highest levels of physical activity had 20 per cent lower risk of cognitive impairment (Weuve et al 2004). Men over 71 who walked the least (less than ¼ mile per day) had nearly twice (1.8 times) the risk of developing dementia as those who walked the most (Abbott et al 2004).
- People who live in walkable neighborhoods may have higher levels of “social capital,” and are more likely to know their neighbors, participate politically, trust others, and be socially engaged (Leyden 2003).
Criteria for the Walkable City
“Walkability” might be defined as the extent to which the built environment supports and encourages walking by providing for pedestrian comfort and safety, connecting people with varied destinations within a reasonable amount of time and effort, and offering visual interest in journeys throughout the network.
What are the qualities of a walkable city? To encourage walking designers and planners need to go beyond utilitarian access and address several qualities of the path network.
1. The path network should be well connected without major gaps or barriers, both locally and in the larger urban setting. Connectivity of the path network is determined by the presence of sidewalks and other pedestrian paths and by the degree of path continuity and absence of significant barriers. While it is tempting for simplicity to measure walking distance to destinations radially “as the crow flies,” this approach can be misleading, especially when street patterns are coarse and fragmented. However, as patterns become finer grained and more interconnected, blocks become smaller with higher connectivity of paths, and the ratio of access for the “crow fly” measure to actual walking distance approaches 1:1.
In addition to path distances to various points, it is important to examine the amount of path choice. Density of path intersections and block sizes can be revealing: a high density of intersections and small block sizes usually correlates with a high degree of connectivity. Barriers to pedestrian access such as cul-de-sacs and dead end streets, or busy arterials, railroad or power line rights-of-way, rivers, or topographic features must be minimized.
Connectivity is best addressed when an area is being designed, of course, and is much more difficult to remedy once a place is built. Most of the post-industrial suburban landscape suffers from lack of pedestrian connectivity, typically with a pattern of disconnected cul-de-sacs and barrier arterials and highways. In some cases, connectivity retrofits might be possible, with pedestrian overpasses or underpasses across barriers, or traffic calming devices. Cul-de-sacs might be connected to provide a continuous bicycle and pedestrian system (Southworth and Ben-Joseph 2004).
2. Pedestrian paths should be linked seamlessly, without interruptions and hazards, with other modes such as bus, streetcar, subway, or train, minimizing automobile dependence. Walking and bicycling are now seen as essential ingredients in an integrated, intermodal transportation system to give travelers transportation options and to provide continuity from home to destination. Beyond providing an internally well-connected pedestrian network, it is important to provide connectivity with the larger city and region through convenient and accessible links to other modes such as bus, streetcar, subway, or train within a reasonable time-distance. This means that stations need to be spaced frequently enough to allow pedestrian access for residential and commercial zones, usually ¼ to ½ mile, or a 10 to 20 minute walk. A complete pedestrian network will offer full connectivity between all modes so that one can navigate seamlesslessly from foot to trolley or subway to train or air without difficult breaks. A small pedestrian district, no matter how well designed, cannot contribute to a reduction in automobile use if it is not well supported by transit and situated within an accessible mix of land uses.
3. Land use patterns need to be fine grained and varied, especially for local serving uses, so that pedestrians can actually walk to useful destinations. Studies have indicated that distance to destinations is the single factor that most affects whether or not people decide to walk or to take the car, and is more of a determinant than weather, physical difficulty, safety or fear of crime (Funihashi 1985; Handy 1996; Komanoff and Roelofs 1993). Several studies have found that the distance Americans will walk for typical daily trips is quite limited, ranging from 400 feet to about ¼ mile (Weinstein1996). Untermann found that 70 percent of Americans would walk 500 feet for daily errands and that 40 percent would walk 1/5 mile; only 10 percent would walk ½ mile (Untermann 1984).
A walkable neighborhood or city has an accessible pattern of activities to serve daily needs. This means that one can reach most local-serving uses on foot within 10 to 20 minutes or up to ½ mile. The types of activities that fall within this “neighborhood access” category include shops, cafes, banks, laundries, grocery stores, service stations, day care centers, fitness centers, elementary schools, libraries, and parks. However, most post-industrial development in the U.S. has lost walkability and the necessary fine-grained pattern of uses so that it is impossible in many areas to reach even one everyday activity on foot within ½ mile.
Could a very low density city ever become walkable? Land use intensity and diversity, like connectivity of the path network, are best established at the very beginning of the development process. Once a low density coarse grained pattern is put in place, it is a legal and physical challenge to insert density and variety.
4. The pedestrian network needs to be safe for people of varied ages and degrees of mobility, both from traffic hazards and crime. Perhaps the best understood and most fully developed aspect of walkability is pedestrian safety. In most U.S. cities transportation and land use policies have made walking and bicycling inconvenient, unpleasant, and dangerous. Each year 6000 pedestrians and bicyclists are killed in traffic in the U.S.; pedestrians are 23 times more likely to get killed than automobile passengers (Federal Highway Administration 2003). Environments that maximize fast and efficient auto travel are rarely enjoyable or safe for pedestrians and bicyclists.
A recent trend across the country has been “traffic calming,” techniques for making streets more pedestrian friendly by slowing down traffic through a variety of devices: chokers, chicanes, speed bumps, raised crosswalks, narrowed streets, rough paving, traffic diverters, roundabouts, landscaping, and other means.
5. Pedestrian paths need to be well designed in terms of width, paving, landscaping, signing, and lighting. The quality of the path itself, of course, is essential to walkability. Perhaps the least hospitable pedestrian path is the auto oriented commercial strip, a treeless expanse dominated by several lanes of noisy traffic, polluted air, glaring lights and raucous signs. The street has few, if any, designated crosswalks and is much too wide for a pedestrian to cross comfortably. The chaotic frontage is poorly defined, lined by blank big boxes, large parking lots, and drive-in businesses. Haphazard utility poles and boxes, street lights, traffic control signs, hydrants, mail boxes and parking meters dominate the sidewalk, which is constantly interrupted by driveways to businesses (Southworth and Lynch 1974).
If the strip is pedestrian hell, then the ideal pedestrian path will provide for the comfort and safety of pedestrians of varied ages and physical abilities. It should be continuous, without gaps, and should have a relatively smooth surface without pits, bumps, or other irregularities that could make walking and wheelchair access difficult. It should be at least wide enough for 2-3 people to pass one another or to walk together in groups, and much wider in very urban situations. Terrain can be a significant factor in walkability, especially in cities with snow and ice. Encroachments into the pedestrian right-of-way such as utility poles, mail boxes, or newspaper vending machines can compromise walkability by constricting the pathway or blocking crossings. Landscape elements such as planted verges help insulate the pedestrian from the moving traffic, and street trees provide protection from the sun and help define the street space. Pedestrian scaled path lighting can enhance nighttime walking and provide a greater sense of safety.
6. The path context, including street design, architecture and landscape, needs to offer visual interest and overall explorability. Perhaps the most problematic and least developed of walkability criteria are those related to quality of the path context. A safe, continuous path network in a monotonous physical setting will not invite pedestrians. The path network must engage the interest of the user. Many aspects of the path context can contribute to a positive walking experience: visual interest of the built environment, design of the street as a whole, transparency of fronting structures, visible activity, views, lighting, and street trees and other landscape elements.
The postindustrial city has become an increasingly closed and hidden world as processes of production and marketing are hidden from view. Big box shopping, introverted shopping malls and office parks, vast parking lots and reliance on electronic communications have all contributed to urban landscapes that are difficult to read. A transparent environment allows one to sense the social and natural life of a place through first hand observation. Such qualities are impossible to deal with at the macro scale of most transportation analysis and planning, but require detail design and attention to the special qualities of places. In most large developments of mass produced housing, repetitive architecture and uniform street designs devoted to the automobile have produced neighborhoods with little pedestrian appeal.
In the past century a few notable exceptions to the general trend of post war development have sought ways of maintaining pedestrian access, while accommodating the automobile. In the 1920s and 30s, Clarence Stein structured his designs for new garden suburbs such as Greendale, Wisconsin and Radburn in Fairlawn, New Jersey around a continuous green core with pedestrian and bicycle paths that connected homes with school, local shops, and transit. In Britain in the 1960s, Gordon Cullen and others developed plans to restore or reinvent the traditional townscape as an engaging “sequence of revelations” for the pedestrian (Cullen 1961). The idea is still alive, although not commonly seen, in places like Village Homes in Davis, California and Reston, Virginia. Many New Urbanist developments emphasize walkability, as well. In The Kentlands in Gaithersburg, Maryland particular design attention was given to creating pedestrian scaled streets with varied architecture and landscape. Small-scale detail along the streets, as well as changing vistas and focal points from neighborhood to neighborhood make it an enjoyable place to go for a walk. Every district has numerous alternate pathways. It has been so successful in this regard that people drive to it from other suburbs just to take a walk (Southworth, 1996). In all of these cases walkability has been an important feature, but regrettably each of the developments is a rather small, auto dependent island stranded in motopia.
There is no general theory of spatial design for the pedestrian environment that applies everywhere. Although many urban designers have attempted to develop formulas for street width, setbacks, or ratios of enclosure height to street width, for every rule that is made, examples of successful streets can be found that break the rule. The canyon streets of Manhattan are often perceived as attractive and walkable, as are the small seventeenth century lanes of Marblehead, or the broad tree-canopied boulevards of the Country Club district of Kansas City. Street trees and other vegetation almost always enhance walkability, but several European examples immediately come to mind that violate this ideal such as the treeless, arcaded streets of Bologna or the stone streets of Venice, Florence and Sienna. Here the architecture, street space, and street life provide the interest and engage the pedestrian in exploration. Many U.S. neighborhoods such as streetcar suburbs built from the 1880s to 1920s are rather nondescript architecturally, but still have a high degree of walkability. They are valued for the comfortable scale of the streets and blocks, the canopy of street trees, the variety of architectural expressions, and the connection of buildings to the street.
Successful approaches will vary by culture, place, and city size. Nevertheless, a few attributes are likely to contribute to the quality of path context in most urban and suburban settings: scale of street space, presence of street trees and other landscape elements, views, visible activity and transparency, scale and coherence of built form. The important thing is to engage the pedestrian’s interest along the route.
It will not be easy to achieve walkable cities in the U.S., especially since more than half of the typical American metropolis has been built according to automobile dominated standards. There may be resistance to improving things for the pedestrian or bicyclist, fearing space will have to be taken away from the car. Often it is more difficult to retrofit built-up areas because the patterns are already established. While it is not impossible to retrofit existing street networks to serve pedestrians and to insert some density and mixed uses into low density cities, it will require imagination and persistence.
To create the walkable city in the automobile age, emphasis will need to shift from almost total auto orientation, to acceptance and promotion of pedestrian and bicycle access at all levels. The regulatory environment will need to shift toward encouragement of walkability, and the design and planning professions will need to work toward creation of integrated pedestrian access at all scales of movement. The tasks are challenging but the benefits for urban life will be substantial. A focus on the walkable city will transform the way we live in fundamental ways, benefiting health, social relations, and the natural environment.
I am grateful for the assistance provided by Raymond Isaacs, Sungjin Park, and Jeff Williams.
For a more detailed discussion of this subject see: Southworth, Michael, “Designing the Walkable City,” Journal of Urban Planning and Development, Fall 2005.
Abbott, R., White, L., Ross, G., Masaki, K., Curb, J. and Petrovitch, H. (2004). “Walking and dementia in physically capable elderly men.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 292 (12) 1447-1453.
Cullen, G. (1961). Townscape, The Architectural Press, London.
Ewing, R., et al (2003). “Relationship between urban sprawl and physical activity, obesity, and morbidity.” American Journal of Health Promotion 18(1) 47-57.
Federal Highway Administration (2003). Accommodating bicycle and pedestrian travel: A recommended approach, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, D.C.
Frank, L., Engelke, P., and Schmid, T. (2003). Health and community design: The impact of the built environment on physical activity, Island Press, Washington, D.C.
Funihashi, K. (1985). A study of pedestrian path choice. Working Paper. Center for Architecture and Urban Planning Research, The School of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
Handy, S. (1996). Urban form and pedestrian choices: Study of Austin neighborhoods, Transportation Research Record, 1552: 135-144.
Komanoff, C. and Roelofs, C. (1993). The environmental benefits of bicycling and walking, National Bicycling and Walking Study, Case Study No. 15, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, D.C.
Leyden, K. (2003). “Social capital and the built environment: The importance of walkable neighborhoods.” American Journal of PublicHealth 93(9) 1546-1551.
Powell, K., Martin, L., and Chowdhury, P. (2003). “Places to walk: convenience and regular physical activity.” American Journal of Public Health 93(9) 1519-1521.
Pucher, J., and Dijkstra, L. (2003). “Promoting safe walking and cycling to improve public health: lessons from the Netherlands and Germany.” American Journal of Public Health 93(9) 1509-1518.
Saelens, B., et al (2003). “Neighborhood-based differences in physical activity: An environment scale evaluation.” American Journal of Public Health 93(9) 1552-1558.
Southworth, M. (1996). “Walkable suburbs? An evaluation of neotraditional communities at the urban edge.” Journal of the American Planning Association, Winter.
Southworth, M., and Ben-Joseph, E. (2003). “Reconsidering the cul-de-sac.” Access, Spring.
Southworth, M., and Ben-Joseph, E. (2003). Streets and the shaping of towns and cities, Island Press, Washington, D.C.
Southworth, M., and Lynch, K. (1974). “Designing and managing the strip.” in City Sense and City Design: Writings and Projects of Kevin Lynch, Banerjee, T. and Southworth, M., eds, MIT Press, Cambridge.
Untermann, R. (1984). Accommodating the pedestrian: Adapting towns and neighbourhoods for walking and bicycling, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York.
Weinstein, A. (1996). Pedestrian walking behavior: A review of the literature. Working Paper, University of California at Berkeley.
Weuve, J., Kang, J., Manson, J., Breteler, M., Ware, J., Grodstein, F. (2004). “Physical activity, including walking, and cognitive function in older women.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 292(12) 1454-1461.