April 7, 2006

The Loss of Streets As Neighborhoods

Ecology Action Centre's Maggy Burns decries the dramatic change in our view of public roads "away from seeing streets as neighbourhoods and towards seeing them as thoroughfares," she writes in the Chronicle Herald -- "the shift away from seeing our streets as part of our community. The kind of community where sidewalk cafes coexist with grandmothers walking, who coexist with cars and with children playing."

It's an interesting point, because all too rarely do we see, hear or read anything about roadway planning besides funneling traffic. Oh, sidewalks might be installed, but nobody thinks about whether there's a walker friendly streetscape, with things like proper landscaping buffers between the sidewalks and whizzing traffic, or buildings sited to encourage pedestrian streetlife, or realistic ways of crossing roads with any serious vehicle traffic.

"A collection of values gets lost when streets become simply a means of getting from one place to another as quickly as possible," she says. "We lose the right to play in public spaces; we lose the sense of community that comes from stopping for a chat with a neighbour while walking the dog or biking to work; we even lose the economic benefits of shopping at local stores where our money stays in the community."

Make no mistake: The thriving local business districts of the early 21st century will be those that create an attractive, appealing pedestrian environment -- good mix of retail and residential along with great streetscapes.

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