I thought I would kick off the new blog by asking a simple question: What makes a residential neighborhood street a pleasant place for a walk? I’m featuring some examples from around my neighborhood, but these features exist all around the city.
Sidewalks that are separated from the street by a grassy or tree-lined median provide a feeling of comfort for the pedestrian. The tree canopy has the additional benefit of providing shade in the summer, and protection from the wind in winter. The street is relatively narrow, and cars are parked along the street, which has the affect of slowing down vehicles. Usually, one car will have to pull over to let the car moving the opposite direction drive past.
Another important detail is the design and placement of the houses. Residences that are fronted by a garage are a rarity in the traditional neighborhood. Instead, there is usually a front porch that helps provide a feeling of community. The lots are relatively small, and the houses are near the sidewalk.
This is a typical scene for a pedestrian in an Indianapolis neighborhood:
Occasionally, there are interesting historic details that can go unnoticed at first glance. Often in my neighborhood the original granite curb is still intact. Another historic remnant can be a strip of original brickwork on the street itself. This corner is lucky to retain both of these:
Notice in the above photo that there is a section of concrete curb among the granite, as the last repair neglected to replicate the detail. I can imagine the granite curbs will continue to slowly vanish.
Moving on, my personal favorite details are the slowly fading street names embedded into the sidewalk. I love when there is a slight dusting of snow, which help give the stamps some definition. This one is still in pretty decent shape, however.
This blog has posted often about the need for a complete sidewalk network in this city, and that is certainly a cause I will continue to champion. However, it is often these subtle details that can turn a simple stretch of concrete into a community asset. A proper street design provides a place where people actually want to walk, instead of a neighborhood mandated appendage that is only used for exercise.
Giving people the option of a useful walk is also important. If the store around the corner doesn’t have the greatest amount of parking, it won’t matter much to you; you live around the corner and you can walk there. Active neighborhood nodes should be a point of emphasis for any city redevelopment plans.
Neighborhoods such as this are a fine example that developers in the 1920’s knew how to create a memorable place that residents could take pride in for decades to come. It has been done before, and it can be done again. We are not reinventing the wheel by striving for a sustainable Indianapolis. We can look to the past to see what has worked, and then we can apply the necessary modern touches and design. Our city deserves no less.