March 28, 2006

‘Does This Sound Like Your Community, Your Life?’

"What would it be like if the pace were a little slower, if the physical surroundings made you want to be on the street with others, if the variety of uses on the street enabled you to get multiple chores done in a small area, yet you had all the conveniences of the modern day world?"

So asks Bill Steiner who is leading a planners' tour to Orvieto, Italy. He describes Orvieto as "a city instructive in how to develop physical spaces and cultural support for people-friendly cities":
• Government policy is overtly designed to enhance quality of life, seen as the city's greatest asset
• Streets are alive with people
• Courses are offered on building quality of life
• State law excludes gas stations from the city center
• Local law prohibits fast food and big box retail from locating in the center city
• Families routinely eat dinner together
• Homes are not locked

Now there are plenty of good reasons I've chosen to remain living in the U.S. instead of moving to Europe. There's a lot I love about American life, and I am NOT claiming that Europe is "superior" to America. But I do believe there are aspects of the lifestyle in some areas of Europe that we might learn from, and adapt to our American communities that could indeed improve our quality of life. And I think people-friendly, pedestrian-appealing public spaces is definitely one of them. Human-scaled development vs. designing for optimum auto flow is considered important in more communities of Europe than it seems to be here. But one doesn't preclude the other.

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