Monday, May 7, 2012

Complete Streets Abu Dhabi

Lest you think the US and Europe have the monopoly on Complete Streets, take a look at this Urban Street Design Manual from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Aside from noting that with enough money from oil and gas production, your planning department can have a pretty snazzy website, I was fascinated by a number of small (but significant) policies that marked this design manual as unique to its city, such as:
A sikka in Abu Dhabi
  • A whole section devoted to techniques for shading sidewalks
  • The use of sikkas (narrow pedestrian pathways found in new and historic neighborhoods)
  • An emphasis on creating spaces that allow privacy and security for women
  • The incorporation of ablution sinks into the street furniture (and reuse of their water for landscape irrigation) 
This highlights something important about complete streets: they're not just about building sidewalks, they're about building community identity. Streets should reflect and encourage the character of the neighborhood  they are located within. That means more than just adding some pretty street furniture, or "branding" the community with special signage. There are real cultural differences in the way different communities use streets. For example, in South and Central American countries (and many Latino neighborhoods in the US),  streets function as a sort of extended front yard where a diversity of activities (vending, socializing) take place. They have a different place in the culture of the community than you might find in, say, a neighborhood in Woodland Hills. (For more info, see James Rojas discussion of Latino Urbanism here.)

True complete streets should be designed to take into account the way a particular culture uses its roadways, including spaces and features that will complement the history and demographics of a particular neighborhood. A roadway in a area with an aging population, for instance, might include a particular focus on universal design. Space for street vending or small-scale businesses might be more important in some commercial areas than room for cafe seating. As we move towards more function-driven street design, we should consider not just the generic purpose of a roadway (commercial-serving, residential neighborhood, bicycle corridor), but also the specific desires and needs of its users.

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