Oklahoma University’s Institute for Quality Comunities has carried out a striking before / after analysis of the street design evolution for some cities of the Amerian Midwest, and showed the tremendous impact of the car on the planning.

In the interactive examples, the change in the urban fabric is imediately perceptible – the former dense neighbourhoods, with a dense grid of narrower streets, were in many cases replaced by way more massive blocks, separed by wider avenues. The human-scaled environment was replaced by geometries adapted to the car and the higher speeds, with fast lanes, big gauges and inherant dificulties and discomfort for the pedestrian traffic. Moving from point A to B has certainly remained possible (though in some cases less direct), but the walkability and the pleasure of the walk were reduced – it is easy to imagine for instance the context of a viaduct underpass, or a route along a traffic-oriented boulevard, replacing a smaller scale street, with its ground level activity.

This legacy calls for important efforts, mainly from the Municipalities, the urban and lanscape planners and the transportation engineers, in order to find local solutions that will help re-stitch the territory, invent new qualities and increase the walkability. The article cites for instance the transformation of Milwaukee’s urban highway in a boulevard, reestablishing the former (smaller) grid. The sector’s activity grew rapidly following the transformation, companies and stores settled in the new area. The price per acre also increased by 180% between 2001 and 2006, in comparison with the +25% growth as a medium value for the city.

The photos are extracted from the article, to be seen here.


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