Livable streets

Donald Appleyard's We used to live on a busy street, directly across from a hospital. In front of our house the street split, throwing an uninhabited triangle patch of lawn in between us and our across-the-street neighbors.

Connections were sparse. We barely knew our neighbors.

Now we do.

Our new house is situated away from the main traffic vein; the houses are directly across from each other. And, according to a fantastic study conducted in 1969, it should be no surprise that we’re closer to our neighbors than we ever had been in our old neighborhood.

It’s social science.

According to a study on the livability of cities by Donald Appleyard, a former Professor of Urban Design, “just the mere presence of cars, with their implied aspects of danger, noise and pollution, crushes the quality of life in neighborhoods.”

From “Research: Mapping the Impact of Traffic on the Livability of Streets” (from Information Aesthetics):

…One chart conveys the social interactions on the 3 different streets, with each line denoting a unique connection between one person on the street and another. There are much fewer lines on the heavily traffic street as opposed to the moderate or the light traffic street, which clearly has a lot more interconnections. This chart also includes clusters of little dots that indicate where people physically gather. So it shows how on the heavily traffic street, there are a much smaller number of dots and there are only a handful of places where people would gather on their street.

Traffic forms a wall in between people, and proximity plays just as much a part in being good neighbors as personality. The same could be said about a bunch of things, I’d assume. Mall design. Festival planning. Most importantly: office arrangement. The closer and more open the environment – free from traffic, clutter and walls – the better the interaction between employees.

We all need our space. But we also need to feel close to something.

This was lovingly handwritten on November 10th, 2010