Why streets are the most important public spaces

Public space01 December 2023
01 December 2023

Streets for a long time were only perceived as routes for traveling from one point to another, and only recently have cities in Ukraine recognized their social function. What should landscape architects do to make people want to spend time on the street? And why will these attempts be futile without the attention of the city residents themselves to the public space.

When Did Streets Become Roads?

In the times when cities were only being founded, all life took place on the streets: trade and communication, festivals and revolutions. At the end of the 19th century, transportation appeared – railways, trams, cars – and streets began to separate space for transport and pedestrians. After World War I, cars increasingly occupied urban life, and streets gradually transformed into roads. In cities, highways, interchanges, and tunnels appeared where there was no room for pedestrians. In the USA and Europe, movements began in the 1970s aimed at returning the streets to the people and making the pedestrian the main focus in the city – these movements had varying degrees of success and continue to this day: in Europe, cars were restricted in city centers and public transport was developed, while in the USA, streets still belong to cars. What is happening in Ukraine?

The Experience in Ukraine

In Ukraine, attention to the pedestrian began much later. At the end of the 2000s, individual urbanists emerged who talked about an accessible and comfortable pedestrian city. The founder of a landscape architecture studio, Maksym Kotsyuba, explains that positive changes in this area began in 2014: "The decentralization reform had a very tangible impact on our work. That's when the active urban movement began and the promotion of the idea of a human-centric city." According to him, concrete actions at the city level have been visible only in the last few years: authorities are clearing streets of illegal trading, creating public spaces on the streets.

The Most Important Public Space

In Ukraine, public space is often understood as a park, courtyard, or square. However, while parks can be visited at will, streets are used daily by everyone, hence they require more attention.

"Currently, streets are designed by the city's Road Department, and their specialty is roads, so it's not surprising that they don't pay much attention to pedestrians," says Maksym Kotsiuba. "But even streets in new residential areas are often designed following the poor example of Road Department streets. We design streets as public spaces."

One such example of work by the Kotsiuba studio is the streets in UNIT.City. Here, there is no transit or intense traffic, so allocating separate lanes for cars, cyclists, scooters, etc., didn't make sense: it would have created more barriers than order.

The pedestrian is the primary user of street space.

In this space, the pedestrian is the main focus, although cars and cyclists can also pass through. Landscape architects have employed numerous techniques to ensure that vehicles slow down and drivers behave more cautiously. For instance, the roadway is not distinctly separated but rather the entire space is perceived more like a sidewalk that vehicles can drive on – this encourages drivers to move slower and more attentively. Parking spaces on the streets are delineated with posts, not different types of paving, so when there are no cars, the space doesn't look like a parking lot. Even the internal streets that connect to city streets still have wide sidewalks and relaxation areas. This is an excellent example of how to design a pedestrian-oriented street.

Architects should design streets for people, but citizens too can actively influence the process. There are communities fighting against cars parked on sidewalks. Additionally, city residents can organize protests, create petitions, participate in public discussions, engage in tactical urbanism, establish community organizations, and demand city politicians' attention to the pedestrian urban environment.

 Illustrations - Yaro Yakovlev

Strategy + design — Other Land

Web development — Perevorot.com