In the pursuit of economic development, companies and individuals alike choosing to live, work, and play in areas with better quality of place over those with tax breaks and subsidies. So, what key resource can promote this type of live, work, and play environment? The answer is surprisingly simple—streets. Streets that promote economic development are accessible, safe, and diverse.
As part of a city’s hospitable environment, people and businesses desire streets that are accessible to all. Easy accessibility to walkers, cyclists, and transit riders makes a street both welcoming and appealing to a diversity of people. Knowing what a community wants is vital in determining the use of space within a successful street. Danish architect and urban design consultant Jan Gehl once said, “We found that if you make more road space, you get more cars. If you make more bike lanes, you get more bikes. If you make more space for people, you get more people and of course then you get public life.”
Safety can be brought to a street by making it slow, well-lit, and social. In streets, speeding cars pose the biggest threat to safety, especially at intersections. People drive as fast as the street design indicates, and narrower lanes and more distractions cause drivers to pay closer attention and move more slowly. Lighting is an important factor in both real and perceived safety, which is nearly as important as real safety in the use of an area. Encompassing several aspects of safety, the influential Jane Jacobs promoted “eyes on the street” in order to make neighborhoods safe. More people enjoying time on the street means there are more potential witnesses to a crime, which discourages its taking place at all.
Streets can become a diverse environment by being detailed, flexible, and active. Streets should have innumerable details that encourage exploration and keep the experience interesting upon return visits. Flexible streets can be used for local celebrations, shows, and markets, which very directly impact economic development. In conjunction with less strict policies on activities, vending, and performances, enjoyable activities help to attract diverse groups, cultivating more activities and leading to more people enjoying the space.
Public works can initiate live, work, and play neighborhoods through streetscape design and begin to see the economic and social value of these projects. This valuable asset sets the stage for a holistic environment that can attract individuals and companies alike. In the words of Janette Sadik-Khan, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, “Streets are some of the most valuable resources that a city has, and yet it’s an asset that’s largely hidden in plain sight.”
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