How a high quality public realm can improve community vitality. The appearance and condition of our public realm can inspire, invigorate, frighten or deflate us. Transportation infrastructure that is designed to be aesthetically rich, and offer a variety of social and community experiences, can foster civic engagement, encourage social connection, and strengthen community identity.
Lara’s talk was quite enticing! Although most of us in the profession know the many benefits that come with innovative street design, we often fail in trying to sell those idea to agencies. There is a reason why it takes so long to implement these changes at these kind of levels. For starters, we have grown with the car and dedicated most of our streets to the automobile. Additionally, the intact infrastructure is costly to replace. Lastly, there is a fear of change. However, what Lara was advocating for was not only hwo changed street benefit public life, but also for more research and how we articulate this argument for the public and agencies alike. The format of this presentation was thoughtful and convincing but because of the lack of supporting evidence for how these streets improve public life, change has been slow. I appreciated how she framed her argument to include users of all ages, which can improve community cohesion, build economic benefits, and in general, beautify and make place.
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As we’re often educated in courses throughout Wurster, streets provide multiple benefits to communities beyond simply efficiently moving people from point A to B. Yet, as Lara discussed in her presentation, perhaps our bigger challenge is figuring out how to communicate those messages to both diverse project teams and the general public. Her presentation did an excellent job at weaving together a story of the most essential ways that a well-design street benefits people, including social interaction, health, and sustainability.
For me, it was interesting to hear the interaction between Caltrans and academia, specifically in the reliance upon academic research to build a case for more of the social and health benefits of streets. It makes sense that that the stormwater and infrastructural research is more readily funded, especially as it has a more immediate monetary outcome to the street network.
Lara also did a good job at both exemplifying and reminding us, as soon-to-be landscape architects and planners, that our work needs to equally joined by a solid and clear message of its importance. Our drawings and models alone are not enough – but need to be coupled with a narrative that evokes a stronger understanding and willingness to work towards more comprehensive street design.