Street Experiments: Open-air workshops initiating urban transformations in terms of both urban mobility and the public urban space.

Introduction and background

In the last decade, Street Experiments grew at worldwide level, both in literature and realisation. However, only during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the aftermath, they increased dramatically. Simultaneously, the concept of the 15-minute City, introduced by Carlos Moreno [1], has gained significance.

Therefore, the manner with Street Experiments relate to planning techniques [2-7], highlight public participation, dedicate spaces for public use and incentive slow mobility [8-9], allowed them to get a foothold into the urban planning sector. They became the most selected choice to transform public space, however they sometimes encounter fail [10-11].

Street Experiments embody an innovative approach of urban transformation which aspires to remove cars from cities, returning public space to pedestrians and cyclists, pursuing the vision of “streets for people” instead of “street for traffic” [12].  Basically, they stand as a beacon in urban planning, offering a pragmatic and inclusive approach to reshaping urban landscapes for the betterment of communities worldwide.

The features that characterise Street Experiments include flexibility, cost-effectiveness, temporariness, scalability and practicability.

Due to their effective but non-radical intervention and their non-permanent nature. Moreover, Street Experiments permit to carry out an initial test phase of reclaiming street space to involve citizens in using public space, produce street furniture, create social occasions through the local community, and make them adapt to change [13]. This phase serves also as a crucial monitoring period for administrations to assess the effects [14].

Street Experiments can be categorised into two different types: bottom-up and top-down. The former indicates a process that starts from the local community initiative, while the latter represents a proposal put forth by administrations and stakeholders.

Often, they are applied as alternative uses of parking lots, as a reconversion of street sections, or as a pedestrianisation of a street or some sections and street re-markings.

There are many types of interventions in literature that belong to street experiments as pedestrianisation or semi-pedestrianisation [15-16], school streets and playstreets [17], pocket parks [18], parklets [12] and pop-up bike lanes [19].

Research and argument

Street Experiments efficiently transform urban mobility and public space. Five different interventions are illustrated below.

Pedestrianisation or semi-pedestrianisation of squares and streets involves the restriction of private vehicle traffic in certain zones, permitting only pedestrians, cyclists and occasionally public transport or authorised vehicles to pass through. As it provides several benefits to the community, it establishes safer, sustainable and pleasant spaces for citizens, fostering sociability, active mobility and decreasing air pollution [15-16];

School street and playstreet are achieved by restricting motorised traffic at certain times of day, creating a safer, more pleasant and learning-friendly space for students. Both can be customised according to the specific needs of the school and the neighbouring community [17];

Pocket park represents a tiny green space that plays a key role in increasing the residents’ quality of life and supports a more sustainable and vibrant urban urban landscape [18];

Parklet is a reclaimed space from street car parks. Its design and implementation frequently involve the participation of the local community to ensure that it satisfies the residents’ needs and preferences. They have multiple application like restaurants and bars’ dehors, gardening and pocket parks. The installation of a parklet may require local authority approval, as it implies the reconversion of one or more public car parks [12].

Pop-up bike lanes provide safe cycling infrastructure that can encourage citizens to choose active mobility and allow them to move around safely [19].

Street Experiments represent a powerful resource for urban transformation, offering several benefits and opportunities to improve the quality of life in cities. The ultimate goal of Street Experiments is to encourage and facilitate urban regeneration with a view to the future. Indeed, they are the drivers and test-bed for this more robust type of intervention. They can revitalise degraded urban areas, creating safer, more inclusive and vibrant public spaces. Experimentation with new solutions is another key aspect, as Street Experiments promote social innovation, seeking to improve city life through sustainable mobility and social inclusion. Civic participation is another essential aspect, involving citizens in the design and management of urban spaces. Besides fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility, this also leads to a better understanding of the needs of the local community. Moreover, they contribute to urban resilience, increasing the flexibility and adaptability of cities to future challenges, such as climate change and an increasingly ageing population. This is particularly relevant in a context where urban population growth, environmental challenges, socio-cultural changes and technological evolution require innovative and sustainable solutions.

In this regard, they transform mobility and public space, bringing beneficial impacts in fields including sociality, environment, enjoyment and safety.

Street Experiments change urban mobility in multiple forms. These interventions include the establishment of spaces for soft mobility, such as cycle paths and pedestrian zones, the implementation of technologies to optimise traffic management and the promotion of transport sharing systems to reduce the use of private vehicles. In fact, by contributing to the modification of both traffic and pedestrian flow and the elimination of architectural barriers, they promote sociality and safety. In order to ensure safety, they also intervene on one-way streets, crossings, restricted traffic zones and cycle paths. Street Experiments also allow the realisation of pedestrian areas and tree-lined pavements that encourage sociability and enjoyment. By influencing urban mobility, Street Experiments provide additional environmental benefits such as better air quality and less noise pollution.

Hence, Street Experiments also transform urban public space. They focus on the establishment of flexible and adaptable spaces that can be used for different activities. In addition, innovative street furniture and the design of spaces accessible to all are key to improving the usability and safety of public spaces. Security technology, such as video surveillance systems and intelligent lighting, further contributes to improving safety in public areas. Squares, green areas and parks shape the space enhancing sociality, improving environmental quality and the enjoyment of the city user, among them including street furniture and trees. Furthermore, they contribute to the accessibility of public space by contributing to both sociality and enjoyment. Street Experiments bring additional value to public space by attracting a functional diversity of facilities and increased commercial density, from which both sociality and enjoyment benefit.

Discussion and conclusion

The growth of Street Experiments and the 15-minute City [1] are two interconnected tendencies that are reshaping our cities in a more people-centric perspective. By focusing on people, places and communities, these innovative solutions can lead to more liveable, sustainable and equitable urban environments.

The impact that 15-minute City [1] and Street Experiments have achieved during and after the pandemic is attributable to the same reason. This is because people realise they require comfortable public spaces close to their dwellings, without necessarily having to move to more attractive surroundings with more pleasant public spaces. Moreover, these interests reflect the desire for accessible public spaces within walking or cycling distance.

They share the same premises and intentions because both aim to encourage active mobility, providing pleasant and safe public spaces in which to move or stop when needed. These solutions are closely related because they encourage to enjoy and spend time in the neighbourhood you live. In this manner is easier encounter neighbours or neighbourhood users. For this reason, somehow, they both incentivise polycentricity guaranteeing equity, since everyone services and public spaces in their neighbourhood.

Precisely as a matter of equity, besides pleasantness, safety and health, it is evident that Street Experiments deserve more attention and, even more importantly, constant improvement in their application.

References:

  1. Moreno, C.; The 15-Minute City: So What? Nature 2022
  2. Herman, K.; Rodgers, M. From Tactical Urbanism Action to Institutionalised Urban Planning and Educational Tool. Land 2020, 9, 217.
  3. Lydon, M.; Garcia, A. Tactical Urbanism Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change; Island Press: Washington, DC, USA, 2015.
  4. Pratama, K.P. Towards Tactical Urbanism for Transport. The Exploration of Parklets in Berlin Neighborhood Streets: Facilitating Active Mobility through Livable Streets. Master’s Thesis, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands, 2023.
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  6. Vasilev, M.; Pritchard, R.; Jonsson, T.; Panek, J. An exploration of multiuser perceptions of a Norwegian Complete Streets modification using interim design strategies. Case Stud. Transp. Policy 2023, 13, 101058.
  7. Weir, K.R. Tactical Urbanism and Its Interactions with Formal Planning Systems and Exploration of Tactical Urbanism Interventions and Their Relationship to the Formal Planning Systems of Norway and Washington State. Master’s Thesis, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway, 2023.
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  9. Ortar, N.; Rerat, P. Cycling through the Pandemic. Tactical Urbanism and the Implementation of Pop-Up Bike Lanes in the Time of COVID-19; Springer Nature: Berlin/Heidelberg, Germany, 2024.
  10. Jarman, N.; Stratford, E. Whose rights to the city? Parklets, parking, and university engagement in urban placemaking. Aust. Geogr. 2023, 55, 115–136.
  11. Pozzoni, M.; Ceccarelli, G.; Gorrini, A.; Manenti, L.; Sanfilippo, L. TomTom Data Applications for the Assessment of Tactical Urbanism Interventions: The Case of Bologna. Sustainability 2023, 15, 12716.
  12. Bertolini, L. From “streets for traffic” to “streets for people”: Can street experiments transform urban mobility? Transp. Rev. 2020, 40, 734–753.
  13. VanHoose, K.; de Gante, A.R.; Bertolini, L.; Kinigadner, J.; Büttner, B. From temporary arrangements to permanent change: Assessing the transitional capacity of city street experiments. J. Urban Mobil. 2022, 2, 100015.
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  15. Gehl, Y. Life between Buildings. Using Public Space; Island Press: Washington, DC, USA, 2011.
  16. Tamini, L. Rigenerazione urbana e trasformazioni delle attività economiche. In Milano Produttiva 2021; 31 Rapporto annuale dei territori di Milano, Monza Brianza e Lodi; Camera di Commercio di Milano Monda Brianza Lodi: Milano, Italy, 2021; pp. 176–192. Available online: https://ester.milomb.camcom.it/rapporto-mp/milano-produttiva-2021 (accessed on 01 April 2024).
  17. Designing Streets for Kids; Island Press: Washington, DC, USA, 2020; ISBN 9781642830712.
  18. Armato, F. Pocket Park: Product Urban design. Des. J. 2017, 20, S1869–S1878.
  19. Ortar, N., & Rérat, P. (A c. Di). (2024). Cycling Through the Pandemic: Tactical Urbanism and the Implementation of Pop-Up Bike Lanes in the Time of COVID-19. Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-45308-3

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