Taking back the street

Fancy becoming a street designer?

Streets tell a lot about societal priorities. What road users are more important, cars, bikers, public transport, or pedestrians? Streets define the character of our towns, so its time to dig a bit deeper in the way we can influence their design. 

Often a city street has cars in the middle and pedestrians on the side. While this seems like the standard today, streets were a lot more like public spaces before the mass usage of cars. Have a look at this article that shows how walking on the street became a crime over time.

It’s strange to imagine now, but prior to the 1920s, city streets looked dramatically different than they do today. They were considered to be a public space: a place for pedestrians, pushcart vendors, horse-drawn vehicles, streetcars, and children at play.

© Manhattan's Hester Street, on the Lower East Side, in 1914. (Maurice Branger/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

As cities started to revolve more and more around cars so did our policy and design of our streets. Today a call for streets that center around pedestrians is growing all over Europe. Cities are making room for bicycle paths, and people are vouching for car-free streets. However, street design is a top-down practice, but that shouldn’t stop you form taking back the streets.

Fine Young Urbanists street mock-up

In Riga, a group called Fine Young Urbanists took matters into their own hands. By redesigning the profile of the street they took back space designed for cars and made it into a place for pedestrians and bicycle users. In doing so, they showed that having pedestrians and bicycle users share a small pedestrian lane, while trams and cars use up most of the street isn’t necessary.

Mierīgi! is a mock–up we built on Miera Street in Riga in September 2014 to test what the street profile would look and feel like with combined tram and car lanes, wider sidewalks and real cycle lanes. Not bad at all.

Have a look at the video of their experiment and see how drastically street design can alter the atmosphere of a place:

Feeling inspired? Before starting your own street experiment somewhere in the city, what about first trying it out in a fun web application:


(Re)designing streets is often done through design practices taught in architecture school. Not many people use cross sections in their daily practice, and so street design is pretty much left to a select group of people, while it affects everyone. The idea behind Streetmix is to make street design easy and doable for everybody.

You’re a street designer, you just don’t know it yet

© streetmix

Streetmix is a great initiative that provides a tool that enables anyone to design their urban environment. Have a look at their design principles here, and start designing your street!

Involved city makers
Toms Kokins
Fine Young Urbanists
Evelina Ozola
Fine Young Urbanists
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