Ten Qualities of a Great Street
A few days ago, commenting on queenseyes' article on Main Street, Orlanmon asked, â€śWhat do vibrant commercial districts like Hertel Avenue and Elmwood have that Main Street doesn't?â€ť
Some interesting ideas along those lines came recently from George Grasser, founder and president of Partners for a Livable Western New York (see post), in his monthly newsletter. According to George and PFLWNY, the Project for Public Spaces has recently compiled ten qualities of great streets. It's available on the PPS website.
The Project for Public Spaces serves to provide advocacy for livable communities, and a well-planned â€śpublic realm.â€ť Their guiding principles are a direct result of the work of William H. Whyte, whose research with the Street Life Project in New York City led to the groundbreaking classic of urban anthropology, â€śThe Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.â€ť Thatâ€™s a book which shares an honored place next to Jane Jacobs on many an urban plannerâ€™s bookshelf.
The PPS â€śQualities of a Great Streetâ€ť page also gives you the opportunity to nominate your favorite street (Elmwood, Hertel, Amherst/Grant, Chippewa, Rhode Island, anyone?), or add one to the â€śHall of Shameâ€ť (several come readily to mind!). I'll bet Buffalo Rising readers have plenty of candidates for both. You can also sign up to get PPSâ€™s free newsletter, to keep up with their latest public realm information and advocacy.
I asked George a version of Orlanmonâ€™s question: what makes streets like Elmwood and Hertel great? In Georgeâ€™s view, â€śâ€¦because they exhibit many of the ingredients that contribute to a vibrant retail neighborhood, including:
- An adjacent, compact residential area that provides a shed of customers [a term from transportation planning, meaning, basically, where the users are], many within walking distance, for the restaurants and shops;
- Buildings designed and located to attract pedestriansâ€”very few buildings with parking lots in front;
- Business owners who use good signage, who allow passers-by to see through their windows into their restaurants and shops, who keep their sidewalks clean, and who maintain the exteriors of their buildings;
- A citizenry that recognizes that any new development that doesnâ€™t contribute to the pedestrian-oriented streetscape will diminish the quality and long-term sustainability of the street.â€ť
He concluded, â€śIt is very difficult to create a great retail street if one or more of these ingredients is not present.â€ť
I noticed that these factors are as much about people as they are about street and building design. That holds true for the PPS â€śQualities of a Great Street,â€ť as well. Without further ado, here they are, along with illustrative photos from around Buffalo, from previous BRO articles.
Ten Qualities That Contribute to the Success of a Great Street:
Attractions & Destinations. Having something to do gives people a reason to come to a placeâ€”and to return again and again. When there is nothing to do, a space will remain empty, which can lead to other problems. In planning attractions and destinations, it is important to consider a wide range of activities for: men and women; people of different ages; different times of day, week and year; and for people alone and in groups. Create an enticing path by linking together this variety of experiences.
Identity & Image. Whether a space has a good image and identity is key to its success. Creating a positive image requires keeping a place clean and well-maintained, as well as fostering a sense of identity. This identity can originate in showcasing local assets. Businesses, pedestrians, and driver will then elevate their behavior to this vision and sense of place.
Active Edge Uses. Buildings bases should be human-scaled and allow for interaction between indoors and out. Preferably, there are active ground floor uses that create valuable experiences along a street for both pedestrians and motorists. For instance, a row of shops along a street is more interesting and generally safer to walk by than a blank wall or empty lot. Sidewalk activity also serves to slow vehicular traffic. At the very minimum, the edge connection should be visual, allowing passers-by to enjoy the activity and aesthetics of the indoor space. These edge uses should be active year-round and unite both sides of the street.
Amenities. Successful streets provide amenities to support a variety of activities. These include attractive waste receptacles to maintain cleanliness, street lighting to enhance safety, bicycle racks, and both private and public seating optionsâ€”the importance of giving people the choice to sit where they want is generally underestimated. Cluster street amenities to support their use.
Management. An active entity that manages the space is central to a streetâ€™s success. This requires not only keeping the space clean and safe, but also managing tenants and programming the space to generate daily activity. Events can run the gamut from small street performances to sidewalk sales to cultural, civic or seasonal celebrations.
Seasonal Strategies. In places without a strong management presence or variety of activities, it is often difficult to attract people year-round. Utilize seasonal strategies, like holiday markets, parades and recreational activities to activate the street during all times of the year. If a street offers a unique and attractive experience, weather is often less of a factor than people initially assume.
Diverse User Groups. As mentioned previously, it is essential to provide activities for different groups. Mixing people of different race, gender, age, and income level ensures that no one group dominates the space and makes others feel unwelcome and out of place.
Traffic, Transit & the Pedestrian. A successful street is easy to get to and get through; it is visible both from a distance and up close. Accessible spaces have high parking turnover and, ideally, are convenient to public transit and support walking and biking. Access and linkages to surrounding destinations must be a part of the planning process. Automobile traffic cannot dominate the space and preclude the comfort of other modes. This is generally accomplished by slowing speeds and sharing street space with a range of transportation options.
Blending of Uses and Modes. Ground floor uses and retail activities should spill out into the sidewalks and streets to blur the distinction between public and private space. Shared street space also communicates that no one mode of transportation dominates.
Protects Neighborhoods. Great streets support the context around them. There should be clear transitions from commercial streets to nearby residential neighborhoods, communicating a change in surroundings with a concomitant change in street character.