Just about an hour drive from Madrid, with some 5.000 residents, far from anything similar to a metro area, but with a substantial architecture. A small European town.
Parking Day 2013 has just been held around the world. Chances are you probably never heard about it: people occupy for some time during the day what usually is a parking space, turning it into a public, green space of some sort. There have been several variations, the simplest one beeing that you insert a coin i a parkmeter and simply use what is suposed to be a space for a car to, instead, park some green elements, or even just a green rug, just to make people think about how much of the urban space is devoted to cars.
Among other blogs, I do follow africanurbanism.net, a site in which Victoria Okoye gives a vision of what urbanism is in Accra (Ghana), a very different context to the one in which I live; or rather, in a very different context to the one that the place in which I live is experiencing nowadays, as many of the things she writes about seem quite connected to what any european country probably experienced during the transition from rural to urban societies. In a certain way, she forces us readers to think about what urbanism really is, as connected to solving the needs of citizens.
So, they had this project in a Car Park in Accra, which was conceived before thinking of Parking Day. Sure, it is an ephemeral thing, but it involved a lot of planning: convincing the site owner, bringing all the tyres and the rest of the elements, integrating some community participation… Has this meant something for the residents? I think that only time can tell, but trying is already much more than what many do. So congratulations, Victoria and your bunch of people!
Even if this seems self-evident, it is not always that true when talking about urban planning: the street is a space with its own rules in terms of retail. The pedestrian’s perception (or the perception by motorists) is marked by that logic of motion, and usually the location of shops of different specialities (and therefore, different profit margins) is organised according to the visibility or accesibility provided by each street. On a wide avenue you will have usually higher rents, and higher profit margin shops (apparel, department stores…), while other retailers or services (small restaurants, the showroom of a wholesale textile firm) will be on secondary streets. On urban cores beyond a certain size the retail activities generally organize in “blurbs”, but each kind of store (and each quality range) occupies specific locations, and the street becomes an organizing system.
The Strategic Project proposes an alternative, radical but suitable for a gradual low cost deployment, to the need to limit the unrestricted vehicle access to the city core without harming the accessibility as an essential quality of centrality. The main streets grid guarantees the public transit and automobile access to the whole of the urban space, but the secondary grid restricts the access to residents, creating so a complementary network in which pedestrian well-being, bike accessibility, trees and economic and retail activities become the main elements.
The new urban cell is also the coherent scale to reorganize the citizen access to neighborhood scale public facilities, a powerful asset to correct geographic differences.
The quality of urban spaces can spark the transformation of the city, and this is only possible by a better space allocation to cars, pedestrians and bicycles, taking back a relevant part of the streets for uses that contribute to a better life quality without compromising economic vitality.
The street is a reference for buildings, the place where mobility occurs, and, through retail on sidewalks, the basis for an interaction between the public and private realms. Working on the street design allows a new approach to its organization layout and also to that of the buildings that define its space.
The project proposes to configure new “urban cells” (1) that are based on two essential ideas:
– Separate through traffic from resident’s access, by concentrating the first on a limited number of throughfares
– An evolution from a current 70% of public space for cars to just 30%.
The concept of urban cell has been used in several projects by Salvador Rueda, Chairman of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, a member of the planning team (led by Ezquiaga, Herreros and Perez Arroyo).