Why Small Streets?

Back when I proposed converting streets to housing one of my primary goals was to devise ways to make Provo streets smaller.

Wide streets could theoretically be replaced with housing.

Wide streets could theoretically be replaced with housing.

The idea is that big streets encourage speeding, cost the city and therefore taxpayers more, look ugly, and are unsafe. On top of that, the most stunning and beautiful places I’ve visited in the world have tended to have a tangle of really small streets. So it’s both an intellectual-economic argument, as well as a visceral one.

Then I discovered the website Small Streets, which argues that small streets are vitally important to cities:

For centuries, small streets served an integral role in our cities and towns. They provided intimate and nurturing spaces for families within walking distance of daily needs. Small streets added beauty and wonder to our neighborhoods.

Traditional cities and towns contained streets and spaces of a variety of sizes. Wide boulevards and plazas hosted grand public ceremonies and celebrations. Adjacent residential neighborhoods contained a mix of streets. Mid-sized streets and squares created spaces for homes, shops and public buildings. Small side streets nurtured spaces for raising families and small businesses.

A narrow street in Seville, Spain. This street was built by people with fewer resources and less technology then we have today. So we should easily be able to do this again.

A narrow street in Seville, Spain. This street was built by people with fewer resources and less technology then we have today. So we should easily be able to do this again.

On its various pages, the website explains why small streets are more lovablesustainableaffordable and suited to families. The accompanying blog also includes a few examples of places with small streets.

Unfortunately, Provo has very few small streets. That situation can seem inevitable or inherent to the city, but it is not. In fact, its actually an aberration in human history; the massive neighborhood street and the stroad are actually modern inventions.

In any case, the point is that Provo would be a better, more beautiful and fiscally secure city if it had a greater variety of streets.

This relatively small street in Paris is multi-modal: it accommodates cars, bikes and pedestrians, all in a fraction of the space used by even the smallest street in Provo. We don’t have streets like this because we choose not to, not because we can’t.

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4 Comments

Filed under building, Development

4 responses to “Why Small Streets?

  1. Maria

    In many cities where there are small streets, they are not there by design (especially in Europe). They were built way before vehicular traffic is what it is today. I’d be willing to bet that a look into past city council meetings, applications for variances, letters to the editor, etc, would uncover a host of complaints about the problems such narrow streets pose and discussions as to ways to try to solve them.

    • My experience with traveling in Europe is that the people there love their small streets and are baffled by stroads. I’m also not sure there would be that kind of evidence; in Barcelona’s medieval quarter for example, the small streets predate any sort of newspaper in which to print letters to the editor. Significantly, when Paris modernized in the 1800s and created it’s current form — which is still filled with modern streets by today’s standards — there was massive opposition to it among people who wanted to stick with the medieval layout.

      As far as that sort of street growing organically, I agree. However, there’s no reason that couldn’t happen now (and it is in the form of desire lines). What happens is that current footpaths get codified; NYC’s 6 1/5 avenue is a good example of this. In cities like Provo, however, what needs to happen to create small streets is that they need to be blocked off less often, and we need to stop building 5 lane roads and then calling them 2 lane roads. It just throws away money.

      • Maria

        I believe that small streets can be successful if they’re part of a planned community. For example, I think in the area around 700-850 East and Center St. to 150 South the streets are too narrow what with the parking along both sides of the street. However, if there were able to be alleys bisecting the blocks like was done at Franklin Commons–the garages face the rear which are accessed through the alley, garbage cans don’t have to be wheeled out to the street as the alley was designed with garbage trucks in mind–then the streets can be designed to be much narrower. One added bonus is that there is no huge [read: ugly] expanse of garage door visible from the street that is typical of many modern newer developments. As for the letters to the editor I referred to, I just meant that as the cities have grown, they have invariably experienced growing pains, much like our own Center Street. And again like Center Street, I would only imagine that over the years various businesses establishments have tried to petition (using legal methods or public opinion) for wider sidewalks, for having tables and chairs on the sidewalk, fought changes in one-way designations or parking, etc., as needs have changed in modern times.

  2. Pingback: Closing Streets Can Be A Bad Idea | (pro(vo)cation)

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