Modernism, Pedestrians, and Public Space

A century of North American street design

Authored by: Paul Hess , Kelly Gregg , Ryan Whitney

The New Companion to Urban Design

Print publication date:  May  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138302129
eBook ISBN: 9780203731932
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter reviews North American pedestrian-oriented street design and its European influences. After World War II, pedestrianized streets were created in both North America and Europe, but then abandoned in North America. Ideas about traffic calming, including having pedestrians and vehicles sharing the same street surface, evolved in Europe but had limited impact in North America. However, starting in the 2000s, the adoption of Complete Streets policies for the safe accommodation of pedestrians on all streets represents a significant change in North American thinking. Parklet programs that extend sidewalks into parking zones, and pavement-to-plazas projects that create pedestrian areas in former roadway space, are also creating new public spaces. These initiatives, though, replicate basic modernist principles about separate, specialized vehicle and pedestrian spaces. Thus, despite calls to make pedestrian-oriented streets the center of urban design, current street design ideas continue to be deeply entangled with those about managing and accommodating vehicle traffic.

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