“getting there, going there and almost there”: an audit for urbanists

Think about human journeys in the city. Every trip begins on foot, usually in a private place. In order to reach the next place, paths cross and the way we travel diversifies. The urban experience is the system of mutually crossed paths. Amid the paths is the public realm, the historic locus of regulation addressing appropriate conduct, health, safety and land use.

The urban experience is also the best spectator sport we have, free of charge.

The opportunity to draw back and observe the sport of “getting there, going there and almost there” yields memorable snapshots of daily life, some of which are displayed below from around the world.

Such snapshots of the interaction of people and places illustrate far more than our best spectator sport. They prescribe salient points of public-private interface and frame the quality of the urban experience—and most importantly—define questions of considerable value to today’s urban dialogue.  

In particular, these observations frame an audit for us all about today’s urban quality of life and the success of our urban agenda.

  • What is the role of signage in governing human conduct?
  • Are public right-of-ways maintained to facilitate safe pedestrian passage and shopping carts?
  • Are we facilitating storage of bicycles and other human-scale vehicles?
  • Do land use regulations allow for sight-lines and storefront uses that can enhance small business?
  • Is transit well-integrated with other vehicular and pedestrian infrastructure?
  • Do public places and byways allow for safe seating and waiting?
  • Are we continuing to explore the possibilities of reclaimed pedestrian environments?
  • Are we enhancing or detracting relationships with surrounding natural resource amenities?
  • Are we encouraging interesting and diverse treatments of private spaces?
  • How best to cordon off public places in the interest of enhanced security and when are such measures appropriate?
  • How are we addressing the increasing preoccupation with cell-phones and other electronic devices?
  • Are we encouraging simultaneous recreation and transportation in urban environments?
  • How do we protect against the human tendency to cross in front of vehicles without crosswalks?
  • How can we supply the maintenance and upkeep to assure the success of public places?
  • What “private” activities should be limited on public rights-of-way?

Let the urban audit begin. Ponder the questions above as you consider the imagery below, in light of your own perspective.  You may emerge as an urban policy maker, or, at a minimum, a fellow observer of the pending moments of our urban experience.

Click on each image for more detail.

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