Streetscape

Streetscape.jpg

Having found out about the setting of your town and what give it its character, now explore the public space in your town. Public space is all around us and we use it every day: the street you use to get to work or to shops, the parks where you walk the dog, the playgrounds where children play, the corners where you bump into friends, recreation spaces such as allotments and sports pitches, and the squares where your town comes together for festivities and markets.

 

The streetscape is experienced close up by residents and visitors, and provides an important social space for meeting and encounter.  A well designed and maintained streetscape has a wide economic impact, increasing footfall within town centres; social impact, increasing conviviality through events, accidental meeting and socialising; and health benefits, encouraging people to spend time outdoors:

“A high-quality public environment can have a significant impact on the economic life of urban centres big or small, and is therefore an essential part of any successful regeneration strategy.  As towns increasingly compete with one another to attract investment, the presence of good parks, squares, gardens and other public spaces becomes a vital business and marketing tool: companies are attracted to locations that offer well-designed, well-managed public places and these in turn attract customers, employees and services.” [1]

Connections between these spaces for pedestrians, vehicles, bicycles and public transport are important to their success.  Find out if your Local Authority has a policy for the long term upkeep and improvement of these spaces.  It could influence your approach.

It is unlikely that funding will be available to redesign all the public spaces and streetscape in your town at once.  Try to identify a hierarchy of spaces to guide allocation of funds as they become available.  To start with, aim for small changes that will have big impact.  Many public spaces are filled with clutter - barriers, crossings, signposts and traffic signals.  Simply condensing, removing or simplifying these elements can make the public realm more inviting and improve its quality.

 

Public Spaces and Squares

Surrounded by buildings and at the meeting point of important streets, town squares enclosed spaces have traditionally been the social heart of our towns.  The location of markets, festivals, events and the town Christmas tree, squares can be the centre of town life.  However, the competing demands of traffic, events, parking, pedestrians, shops, cafés, monuments, seating and planting can make the space confusing.

Questions to ask:

  • Does your town have a main square or a series of squares?
  • How is it used on a day to day basis?
  • What buildings are around it?
  • Where do people sit?
  • Where are the main routes into and through the space?
  • What elements make up the square - monuments, trees, water, paving, or benches?
  • Are there places that are underused or could be improved?

Checklist:

  • Identify any squares and relationships between them
  • List how squares are used at different times of the day, week, month and year - what events take place?
  • Map how people move through the space


Streets, Lanes and Alleyways

Is your town well connected?  Terms such as connectivity and porosity are used to describe how well people can move around a place.  Can people easily move around your town through its streets, squares, alleyways and paths without coming to a dead end?  Think about the number of obstacles (badly paced signs, bollards or benches) that disrupt the flow of movement; how much greenery there is; the amount of street given to vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists; and how sociable the streets are:

“A road can’t just be a highway space.  It has to be a social and environmental space too.” [2]

Cars dominate many towns, but recent changes to the approach taken to streets developed through the ‘Manual for Streets’ and the London Mayor’s Office ‘Better Streets’ aim to remove the dominance of the car and redress the balance between the vehicle, pedestrian and cyclists.  This can increase social interaction, revitalise trade, and reduce accidents. [3]  The ideas suggest that streets can be places for people to inhabit and enjoy.  Think about the impact of all forms of transport and their dominance in your town:

  • Vehicles: The volume and speed of traffic has an impact on how spaces are used.  Fast moving traffic or heavy vehicles can intimidate pedestrians and create an uncomfortable experience.  By identifying which routes are most used, where busy intersections are found and which are rarely used, you will find out how vehicles move through your town.  In some cases, by-passes or ring roads direct traffic around the town centre, reducing congestion within.
  • Public transport: Train and bus links are important for connections within the town and to other places, especially for commuters and the elderly.  Map the locations of stops within your town and frequency of services.
  • Pedestrians and cyclists: Small towns are ideal for the use of sustainable transport, and safe routes for pedestrians and cyclists can encourage low-carbon living.
  • Parking: Parking is a major concern in small towns today.  Providing access to retail, employment and leisure facilities, parking is used by residents, locals and visitors.  A balance is required between town centre parking for short stay and disabled users, and edge of town parking for longer visits.

Some towns were founded at important points on historic roads, such as drover’s routes or at fords, and these roads have now become major thoroughfares, providing the primary means of access to town centres.  Do historic routes still exist in your town?

How do people know when they have arrived at your town?  The thresholds between towns and their surroundings are often marked by speed restrictions or ‘Welcome to...’ signs.  However, some towns have invested in innovative threshold markings or landscape or artistic interventions to let people know they have arrived.

Questions to ask:

  • Where are the main routes through your town?
  • Where are the ‘gateways’ to your town and how are they marked?
  • Are there good links between your town and the surroundings?
  • Where is there the most and the least traffic?
  • Which are the most popular pedestrian and cycle routes?
  • Are there designated cycle paths?
  • Are there any points of conflict between different road users?
  • Which form of transport is dominant?
  • Where are bus or train stops and shelters?
  • Are there areas not well served by public transport?
  • Where are car parks located?
  • Do some places feel safer than others?

Checklist:

  • Identify the busiest routes around the town
  • Identify key vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle routes around town
  • Locate and map car parking and numbers of spaces
  • Locate and map public transport hubs and stops
  • Identify gateways into the town and how they are marked

 

Furniture and surfaces

“The design of public spaces including street furniture, signage and lighting etc. [should] be part of a harmonious whole.  What we have in abundance may be described as clutter.  Town centres are not regenerated by planting faux-Victorian signposts, litter bins and benches among traffic lights and their attendant control boxes, traffic signs and galvanised metal pedestrian barriers.” [4]

Watch where you’re walking!  Have a look down at the surfaces of the streets, paths and squares in your town.  What are they made of?  Are they in good condition? Do they make a good impression?  Surfaces provide the background to your town, and line the routes which allow pedestrians and vehicles to move around.  Use of one material throughout can unify a town, while different materials can be used to identify crossing points, vehicle routes and cycle paths.  Think about how suitable the materials are for elderly and disabled people to travel over.

Poorly looked after surfaces with broken paving, litter, potholes, drainage problems, poor repairs, chewing gum or weeds has a negative effect on the sense of place, and can pose a risk to the safety of pedestrians.

Items of street furniture, such as benches, planters, bollards, bins, signs and so forth, make a difference to how your town looks and feel, and influence how people enjoy the public spaces.  Where they are placed and how they are maintained are important considerations.  What do you look at when sat at a bench?  Are you in the sun?  Is it well looked after, or is the paint peeling and timber rotting?  Street furniture is periodically renewed and repaired, meaning that many different styles of bench, bin and bollard can found.  If one coordinated range of street furniture is used it will strengthen your town’s identity, especially if created especially for your town.

Questions to ask:

  • Are paths safe and comfortable to use?
  • Does your town have distinctive furniture, or is it from the “everywhere catalogue”?
  • How well maintained are the streets, the street furniture and the planting?

 

Be inspired by... Marsden & Slaithwaite DIY Manuals

The DIY manuals highlight a series of small scale community projects that could have a major impact on the character of the two towns. 

Click here to find out more.

 

Checklist

  • Identify different materials used in the streets around your town
  • How many types of bin, bench, planter and bollard are there? Map their locations
  • In what condition are the surfaces and items of street furniture?

Find out more….

Street Pride - Civic Voice’s campaign and toolkit supporting local action to rid streets of unnecessary clutter

Street Design - English Heritage has developed regional documents and a street audit to promote the restoration of character to streets

DIY Streets - A Sustrans project and guide for those interested in changing the focus of their street to people rather than vehicles

Living Streets - a national charity with the aim of putting pedestrians first to create liveable streets

 

Start studying... community

 

 

 

[1] CABE, The Value of Public Space p3

[2] Peter Lipman, Sustrans, quoted in Samuel Jones & Melissa Mean, ‘Resilient places: character and community in everyday heritage’

[3] Mayor of London, ‘Better Streets: Practical Steps’ p6

[4] The Princes Trust for the Built Environment, quoted in National Assembly for Wales Enterprise and Business Committee: Regeneration of town centres p32