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A Walk Down A Perfect Street

December 4, 2008

I am going to have a little fun and pretend that I was walking down the perfect street. By my definition, a perfect street is one that meets all the criteria for being a quality public place where people want to spend time. As I walk down this perfect street, what would I see? What would I smell? What would I hear? How would I feel? What would be going on around me?

Ann Arbor, MI

Ann Arbor, MI

The first thing I would notice about this perfect street is that there are lots of people walking around, mingling with one another, talking to friends, sitting and enjoying a cup of coffee with friends, window shopping, and people watching. Some people will be walking slowly while eating an ice cream cone, and others will be walking quickly with their briefcase on a way to a meeting. Some people will be standing around talking with friends, while others will be sitting on benches or short walls in small groups conversing about their lives. There will be people entering and exiting buildings, and some sitting in sidewalk cafes enjoying the view. As my previous posts concerning sidewalk contact and safety explain, the abundance of people of all ages and backgrounds is what makes the street interesting and vibrant.

The next thing I would notice is that the architecture of the buildings is diverse. There will be a mixture of building types with varying styles of architecture. The buildings will be narrow and no taller than six or seven stories, and there will be no separation between them. Very importantly, the buildings will meet the sidewalk and there will be a connection between the people inside the buildings and outside the buildings because of the large windows on the storefronts. There won’t be a vast asphalt wilderness called a parking lot between the street and the building. Parking will be offered on the street or behind the buildings.

I will notice that the sidewalk accessories, such as benches, planters, and lamp posts are plentiful. The lamp posts will be smaller, human scale and not towering over the people. The benches will be frequent and arranged so that they are conducive for conversation. Straight benches will be in groups facing one another. There will be planters that are raised so that people can stop and have a seat or prop their feet up on them while they relax.

I would notice that the sidewalks are wide — wide enough for several people to walk abreast. There will be bulb-outs at the intersections and at strategically placed crosswalks between intersections to give pedestrians added safety when crossing the street. Signal timing will be pedestrian oriented, giving pedestrians a leading walk signal so they can cross in safety. There might even be innovative crosswalk designs where the pedestrians can actually cross the intersections diagonally with dedicated signals, which would save them from having to cross an intersection twice. Bicyclists will have lanes, ideally physically separated from the automobile lanes, where they can travel safely. There will be bicycle racks places along the street so that those bicyclists have a place to lock up their bikes when they enter the stores and shops.

As important as what I will see is what I will hear and smell. I will hear people laughing, talking, and maybe even crying. I will hear children singing and laughing. I will smell freshly brewed coffee wafting out from the coffeehouses. I will smell freshly baked bread and pastries emanating from the bakeries. I will smell the flowers and trees

My walk down the perfect street will leave me feeling energized. I will know that I have experienced a great place. It will make me want to return over and over, as it will all the other people there as well. This will cause the street to become even better as more people discover it and make it their favorite place to be.

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