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NEWSLETTER ARTICLES From the archives...


feature street 13

By: Walt Chambers, guest author

The feeling and experience of a great street is instantly recognizable. You know it when you are on one. The street has a feeling of place that is engaging and enveloping. It’s comfortable and enjoyable to walk down. Whether it be Portland’s Pearl District, Boston’s Newbury Street, or 5th Avenue in New York City -- they all posses that certain quality. What most people don’t know, though, is how that quality comes to exist.

Great Streets San Diego (GSSD) wants people to know.  GSSD is a new education and advocacy organization in San Diego to help increase the awareness of the design elements needed to create great streets, livable neighborhoods and vital, vibrant cities.

Architecture, in the form of a good street wall, is an essential part of a great street. Yet good architecture is only one of the elements needed. Believing an important building would revitalize a fledgling downtown (and bring greatness by association), some cities have turned to “starchitects” to design trend-setting buildings. Likewise, trendy entertainment districts or stadiums have been built with a belief that importing excitement will result in an actual city. 

But neither starchitecture or stadiums make a great city. Great cities have great architecture because they foster innovation, artistic and cultural diversity and create wealth. They have a variety of good restaurants, museums and theater because their density, diversity and good design make it possible.

What makes a street successful? People. It is people and social interactions that make successful, vibrant, and livable streets and cities. As such, it must be the goal of every architect, designer, planner, engineer, and city official to design an environment that attracts people and facilitates interaction.

Much of what we know about how cities work was brought to light 50 years ago with the publication of Jane Jacob’s seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Great Streets San Diego has adopted her 4 principles and expanded on them with some 21st century input. She put it best; “To generate exuberant diversity in a city’s streets and districts, four conditions are indispensable;”

Good Street Design :: Good Street Wall Architecture :: A Mixture of Primary Uses :: People (Density)

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These four conditions must exist in synergy in order to create good urban streets and neighborhoods. No single one of the four elements alone will create a great urban space.

Architecture’s role is to create a street wall that is engaging to people, enjoyable, and allows people to interact. There is no one solution to architectural design at the street level, but it is safe to say that elements like blank walls, monotony of form or materials, lack of scale, and parking lots are not people-oriented.

As William H. Whyte said, “It's hard to create a space that will not attract people; what is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.”

To learn more, go to www.sdgreatstreets.org, and/or follow Great Streets San Diego on Facebook. 

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