The earliest cities were pedestrian cities out of necessity really, because humans had few other means of movement: by carts, horses or mules. These cities were of a small scale; based on the scale of the human body. And while private life took place in private residences, the streets, squares and plazas were the places for a multitude of urban activities. They formed the ‘open-air living-room’ for all the citizens. The buildings in turn responded to the public use of urban spaces by having a suitable and friendly interface with the streets and squares.
While cities began to change with the advent of the horse-drawn carriages, the real damage to the urban spaces began once the automobile started invading the city in large numbers. Suddenly the streets and public spaces, which were the podium for urban life, had to cater to the demand of the aggressive automobile. And, consequently, streets that were meant for pedestrians – to walk, gather and to lounge – lost their function as places for urban interaction. So much of technology has gone into cars that there really is no way the pedestrianised citizen can compete with the car.
As cars have ruled the streets, the streets have simply become conduits for noisy and polluting traffic; the buildings have just turned their backs to the streets. The earlier human interface between public spaces and buildings has been destroyed. The space allotted to pedestrians has been reduced to small edges of public space such as a sidewalk for getting from point A to B. The function of urban spaces for broader human activities has been utterly lost in cities with pervasive cars.
Over the decades, building laws and byelaws have evolved, which take the car traffic as a given and the whole city design has been dictated by the needs of the car. This has resulted in massive investments in roads and parking infrastructure with the by-product of environmental (noise and air pollution) degradation and in many societies, social segregation for those without cars.
The damage to the urban fabric due to the automobile is in fact so great and growing, that drastic measures need to be taken to restore the city to its ultimate users: the pedestrians.
Back to the Future
Our study shows how to go back to a city designed mainly for pedestrians. In fact, it shows how we can go to the future to design cities for pedestrians; the byelaws that we need to redesign and the use of latest technology to help pedestrian movement, access and general well-being.
The study shows that not only is such a city financially viable, but that it is also more affordable. That it costs less than our present cities, which are geared to the automobile. And it is healthier for its citizens, environmentally friendly and socially inclusive.
The Case Study
The case study involves development of a part of a large city based on the present byelaws in India. The study shows the built-scenario, which we can expect if, based on the present byelaws, we build a series of plots in a city-segment of 1 km. x 1 km. For the purpose of this study all urban blocks have been taken to be 65 m. x 65 m., with a Floor Space Index (FSI or FAR) of 2.5. This means that on a plot, the total built-up area of all floors must not exceed 2.5 times the site area of the plot.
The Present, Automobile-Dictated City
One of the biggest problems for creating a street-building interface for pedestrians is the byelaw regarding the ‘setbacks’. The present byelaws (used in most Indian cities) dictate that the building has to be a certain distance away from the street and this distance is related to the height of the building. The higher the density of the city, the taller the blocks and the greater are the setbacks. In our case study where we work with an FSI of 2.5, the city we will get will be one of 10-12 storeyed towers, whereby the buildings have to be constructed (according to the byelaws) 12 to 18 metres from the street. And cars dominate the streets with pedestrians having little place to walk.
In the Pedestrian City the bye-laws have been formulated first and foremost to take care of the well-being of the pedestrian
The Pedestrian City: Designing With Renewed Bye-laws
In the Pedestrian City the byelaws have been formulated first and foremost to take care of the well being of the pedestrian. The byelaws not only allow, but also state that there should be excellent interface for pedestrians between the streets and the building. The buildings are pushed to the edge of the site and provide a good quality interface with the pedestrian-dominated public spaces around the building. By building along the perimeter, the built form can provide more built-up area per floor and the built-area of 2.5 FSI can be achieved in four storeys. The streets are spaces for a vast multitude of pedestrian activities for young and old, men and women, rich and poor. The limited height of the buildings results in greater interaction between those living in the buildings and the activities in the public spaces. The peripheral building block allows those residents who want the solitude of their private home, to open their units to the quiet internal courtyard within the block.
Street Sections And Street Design: Economy Of Development
Except for incidental streets in which facilities are provided for a dedicated lane for public transportation, dedicated cycle paths and pedestrian spaces are provided throughout the Pedestrian City. The sections of 12 metres of street space can be redesigned, as the illustrations below show, from conduits for three lanes of vehicular traffic to a haven for pedestrians young and old, women and men, poor and rich.
Compared to the vehicular street paved for cars, these street will be clearly more economical to build and on an average the cost of infrastructure for the Pedestrian City will be one-third less than for building vehicular roads.
The Role of Modern Technology in the Pedestrian City
The savings achieved in building the pedestrian city infrastructure can be ploughed back into technological innovations to make the city pedestrian-friendly. These could be of two types:
- A. Infrastructure built into the streets: Examples of these are travelators, which will assist pedestrians to walk further and faster. The use of travelators in public streets has already been successfully demonstrated in Hong Kong and can be introduced in many of our cities. Other facilities in the public spaces could be umbrellas (with sensors), which open to shade pedestrians and diffusers that spray cool water in hot arid conditions. Solar panels could be used to shade streets, at the same time generating electricity for any lounge-facilities for pedestrians. Additionally, the provision of free and ubiquitous Wi-Fi in public spaces will be a must.
- B. Innovative appliances for aiding pedestrian propulsion: These can be categorised under two types, namely the ‘wearables’ and the ‘non-wearables’, which assist pedestrian propulsion. Under the wearable category we can think of the many exoskeletons that are evolving from medical (revalidation) use and military use. But also smaller gadgets like the Honda Walking Assistance Device, which can assist walking. Under the non-wearable category we can think of devices like Piaggio’s Gita, that is a device that can carry goods weighing up to 18 kgs. for the pedestrian and simply follows its ‘master’ via his smart telephone.
How many people will be able to live, work and recreate in such a city?
What the above study shows is that an urban settlement based primarily on pedestrian movements is not only possible, but is also more economical for governments to execute. Therefore what will need to be done is:
- A. To change the building bye-laws to those based on primarily pedestrian movement.
- B. Allow for the use of new and disruptive technology to assist pedestrian movement in a way that it is simple and inclusive.
- C. To redesign the network of public spaces to make them into a pedestrian paradise for all.
When properly designed and executed, the impact of Pedestrian Cities will be to make our cities:
- A. Socially just and inclusive, since all public spaces will be accessible to all.
- B. Environmentally sustainable, since the noise and air pollution caused by cars will be absent.
- C. Healthier, since better environment leading to more walking will tackle the rising problem of obesity in urban populations.
- D. And economically sensible, since the government will save greatly on building such cities and the citizens will save on the expense of private cars.
- E. It will also increase civic engagement and pride as more citizens meet one another in
Acknowledgement: Prajakta Gawde (inputs) and Manali Patil (illustrations)