The Public Realm: What Works, What Doesn't

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  • 2. Introduction The public realm is comprised of the streets, sidewalks, parks, public squares, and public buildings that knit together a city, town, or suburb. The public realm shapes the life and activities in the surrounding environment. This presentation is designed to give examples of public realms that are successful and those that are unsuccessful, and to explain what makes the difference.
  • 3. West Street, NYC West Street, New York City: This road was clearly designed with only motor vehicles in mind. The landscaping is minimal, and it is almost impossible for pedestrians to cross. As a result, it is a traffic route and not much else.
  • 4. Champs Elysées, Paris Champs Elysées, Paris: Like West Street, the Champs Elysées is a major traffic route, but it is also a setting for much more – cafés, shops, apartments, pedestrians, and people who just want to relax. This is because the road has been designed to be an attractive, usable space for many types of activities.
  • 5. North Michigan Avenue, Chicago North Michigan Avenue, Chicago: The city of Chicago has enhanced its premiere shopping street with well-tended landscaping.
  • 6. Bike Lane, New York City Sixth Avenue, New York City: This bike lane – just painted lines on the street – leaves bicyclers exposed to traffic, and is often blocked by double-parked cars and delivery vehicles.
  • 7. Embarcadero, San Francisco Embarcadero, San Francisco: The bike lanes along the Embarcadero in San Francisco are so narrow and dangerous that most bikers – like this one here – choose to do the safe thing and ride on the sidewalk.
  • 8. Copenhagen, Denmark Copenhagen, Denmark: The bicycle lanes are separated by a curb and trees from the motor vehicle traffic, creating an experience that is pleasant and safe.
  • 9. Los Angeles River, LA Los Angeles River, Los Angeles: After a series of destructive floods, the Army Corps of Engineers diverted the river into a concrete canal and flood control system in 1941. This piece of engineering solved the flood problem, but it eliminated all other uses, and made the river inaccessible to Angelenos.
  • 10. Riverwalk, San Antonio Riverwalk, San Antonio: San Antonio faced much the same problem as Los Angeles – a river that sometimes flooded dangerously. But San Antonio was able to address the flooding problem and still turn the San Antonio River into a great part of the public realm. Riverwalk is now the place to be in downtown San Antonio.
  • 11. Celebration, Florida Celebration, Florida: The town of Celebration turned this drainage area into a lovely part of the public realm – a pleasant place to drive by, stroll, or sit.