Liveable Streets are Vital Sign of Quality-of-Life
Most livable cities around the world engineer their public spaces and streets focusing people and their everyday needs. While travelling around the world and looking through the lens of a planning engineer, I can detect their people friendly city planning philosophy in their sustainable neighborhood design, generous public spaces, detail attention in preserving their heritage and healthy and happy city life. People’s feeling of safer street are reflected in the face of women’s freedom, fearless movement of children, secure feeling of seniors and protection of society’s vulnerables through ingenious street planning and design. Improved quality of life as a result of safer mobility is embedded in their social fabric. Economic freedom, environmental protection and quality-of-life goes hand-in-hand. Gauging how prosperous our society is and how healthy our environment truly is, the Genuine Progress Indicator is hoping to link between economic security and livable society when it will be replaced by current biased indicator such as GDP. “Complete Mobility” becomes a framework through which we might address issues of healthy neighbourhoods, accessibility, tourism, trade, labour markets and connectedness.
Recently, I visited a beautiful and liveable City – Santiago, Chile. Nineteenth century neoclassical architecture and winding streets, dotted by art deco, Santiago gives a flavour of liberal culture and majestic view of Andes mountain. Vibrant streets takes to active squares. Santiago proves pedestrian is heart of the city where women and children walk around without any fear. Business flourish on pedestrian friendly environment. And the night is simply enjoyable as day.
Story of a pedestrian arterial network in the heart of Santiago is a wonderful illustration of reclaiming streets for pedestrian to support local economy. One of its cleverly designed street is Ahumada Street – a perfect street to take your better half in a Valentine’s day. Although this street was of the oldest pedestrian street, rapid motorization in 1960s pushed the street into four-lane arterials. Quality of life deteriorated rapidly with retailers moving out “busy streets” to then quiet newProvidencia‘s suburban commercial district. People protested. In response, City converted the street into pedestrian zone banning cars from colonial downtown heritage area, next to Plaza de Armas. In 1978, the pedestrian renovation was completed. Today, Ahumada pedestrian network attracts 2.5 million pedestriarin everyday, making it world’s largest and heavily used pedestrian street. Business thrived as cars disappear from the area. When street is closed for cars, people come out in thousands to enjoy streets and places. City should not be just efficient. City is place social interaction, cultural and vibrant. Nevertheless to mention, Ahumada street proved that mass volume of people are the secret of any commercial success, not cars as opposed many retailers believe in USA and Canada.
Santiago City planners have converted their heritage into national treasure and their local economy thrived from sustainable tourism. Barrios are best example. Old Santiago is a labyrinth of alleys winds between the beautifully decorated walls and magnificent buildings. Beautiful open courtyard concept are intermingled with full of delicious Chilean food. Cars move very slowly since street design are carefully done to lessen the negative impact of vehicles.This intelligent design of private-public space sharing invites people and become a safe place for everybody because of “eyes on the street” concept that Jane Jacobs taught us in the 1960s. Chilean learned and applied beautifully.