Vehicular supremacy of the public street is currently considered an unassailable truth, but many forget that it is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the automobile, the street was a flexible space, usable by anyone who needed it at the time when they needed it. When vehicles were introduced to cities at scale, we narrowed our sidewalks, destroyed neighborhoods for highways, and limited pedestrian crossings to timed and signalized intersections. This turnover of public space to the automobile caused city populations to plummet, once lively and vibrant areas to become deserted, and brought about the demolition of buildings for the purposes of surface parking. While motor vehicle deaths per capita (1)(2) since 1975 have been on the decline because of added safety measures, vehicles continue to be the cause of approximately 30,0000 deaths per year in the US. Between the issues of parking, pedestrian and cyclist safety, motorway maintenance and pollution, motor vehicles occupy an outsized role in the American city compared to other transportation options. Our core stance on this matter is that “cars are too plentiful, too big, too polluting, and too murderous to stampede a crowded city” (3) and therefore it is time to reconsider their ubiquity and reign over American life.
Within this design solution, the street can once again be used by everyone equally for the purposes that they desire to use it. There is no cultural expectation to be able to park a car anywhere you’d like to, and the space in the public right-of-way is exactly that – for public use. This design solution interrogates that possible future within the framework of play. We are all able to refer to a deep collective memory of playing kick the can in the street, perhaps during a time when it was starting to become dangerous to do so. This design solution re-introduces the supremacy of play in what is currently a dedicated vehicular space. We aspire to imagine our streets as flexible, multi-purpose spaces that can morph and change to address the specific needs of the people. This type of transformation has been undertaken before, in other places. (4)(5)
Kedzie Avenue is transformed into a street focused on a center-running surface light rail with protected bike lanes on either side. The street is navigable by a passenger vehicle, but only with great care and at a slow rate of speed. 62nd and 61st streets are transformed into shared roads for pedestrians, bikes, and vehicles. These streets provide a transition zone before crossing Troy Street. Troy Street - a prototype for the typical residential street in Chicago, is transformed into a multi-use public plaza.
During the day, the Troy Street is transformed into a flexible space where cyclists, automobiles, students from the nearby school and senior citizen walking groups converge. A permanent series of planters and social space is established at the center of the street to discourage vehicular through-traffic and a bright green bike path meanders through the street, shaped and directed by the natural landscape and tree islands. Subtractive space on either side of the bike route can be used in a variety of different ways. Children can play hopscotch on a chalk course; senior citizens can play shuffleboard with the neighborhood friends and children of all ages can engage in the curiosity of building from their imagination. The street is marked with a playful painted pattern across its surface for cognitive recognition of its change in purpose. Within the tree islands are custom tree grates that double as storage of lightweight polycarbonate components (round, square and pie shaped). These components can easily be lifted out of the grate, connected to each other, and formulated as a play area or shelter. When finished, the components can be slid back into the tree grates for the next person to use and enjoy their own version of play. This flexibility is a form of freedom, in which children and the adults that supervise them have the ultimate agency in choosing the mode and method of play.
At night, Troy Street is packed with people, food trucks and street bands for an after-event celebration. The bike path is reflective bright green that provides spectacular illumination. Tree island, streetlights and the circular pergola provide lighting for safe play even at night when the sun goes down. Activating the street at different times of day and night create a safer street that people are able to utilize as they choose, instead of assuming it to be a storage zone for heavy machinery. 1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2016 Data Sheet. https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812451
2. NBC News “Car accidents cause death, injury and trauma. Why do we shrug them off?” https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/car-accidents-cause-death-injury-trauma-why-do-we-shrug-ncna12...
3. Curbed. “Perfecting the New York Street” https://www.curbed.com/2021/11/perfecting-nyc-street.html
4. Paris Plan for a 100% Cycling City. https://www.paris.fr/pages/un-nouveau-plan-velo-pour-une-ville-100-cyclable-19554
5. The Guardian. “How Amsterdam Became the Bicycle Capital of the World.” https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/05/amsterdam-bicycle-capital-world-transport-cycling-kin...