Pedestrian Patterns

Making small changes with think-tank SPUR

There is a mutually influential relationship between the patterns of human behaviour and the patterns of our urban landscape. Throughout the 20th century, widespread use of cars became one of the dominant influences on town planning, and many cities around the world sacrificed character for automotive efficiency, creating wide, impersonal streets, vast industrial buildings and lengthy blocks tedious to traverse by foot.

San Francisco’s not-for-profit urban-planning think-tank, SPUR, launched an initiative to reclaim the lost human element, turning cities into more welcoming spaces for pedestrians and ‘retrofitting’ suburban spaces with a more engaging and characterful built environment.

The ‘design for walkability’ initiative provides guidelines, case studies and inspiration for city planners looking to provide benefits to the community – not just improve traffic flow. SPUR offers a number of suggestions for changing patterns of thinking about urban layout, which take into account the effect of surroundings on human psychology.
Photo: Point The Way. PATTERNITY

Could, for example, changing the position of a car park result in a happier city? SPUR believes that a few simple alternatives could transform functional but impersonal urban spaces into thriving multi-use areas that people enjoy spending time in.

Such changes include concealing parking below ground or in discreet multi-level structures; orienting buildings towards public thoroughfares and open spaces as opposed to setting them back from the street with parking or private landscaped areas; creating ‘fine-grained pedestrian circulation’ (i.e. smaller blocks with more pedestrian intersections and walking route options); and combatting the effect of vast featureless buildings with landscaping and detail designed to a human scale.

We believe that the urban environment can be an endless source of pattern inspiration, and salute SPUR’s efforts to reclaim the streets for the human perspective.