I was at a project review yesterday for a very large project in Istanbul. It has a site that is about 2 kilometers by .5 kilometers (about 15 blocks long in NY terms, and longer than the historic peninsula in Istanbul is wide), so a fairly big project. In reality it is a neighborhood, not a single project site. The main piece of information for this short essay is that, while the western edge of the site is bounded by a future highway, the eastern side is bounded by a future street; a surface street that we will have direct impact upon both in terms of design and future operation. Further, the areas directly to the east of our site (essentially across the street from us) are projected to be commercial development that leads into more residential neighborhoods. So we have two neighborhoods connected by a public street.
In the course of the discussion about the master plan, I was reiterating that whatever we do needs to create the potential for connectivity; pedestrian connectivity, to the new developments across the street from us. One of the responses I got was a question asking whether or not we need to even think about this; pedestrian movement. I have heard this response in every project I have worked on in every country, continent, town, village, etc., across the globe. It is a nearly universal response, but generally not a response from the general public. Instead it is something that is usually proffered by someone from our profession, other architects.
After 25 years of pushing to get cities designed that facilitate pedestrian activity, I still find it unbelievable that anyone in our profession would, or should, ever ask this question. There is only really one thing that all great cities share and that thing is people on the streets, in public squares, at markets, all going about their daily business on their feet. Or, to be more precise, all great cities provide the streets and public places that make it easy, comfortable, convenient and in many cases necessary to move through the world on our feet.
I know there are numerous nuanced and academic arguments for and against everything that goes into the creation of cities, districts, neighborhoods, etc., but if it isn’t walkable is it even a city? Is there any single outcome that is more important? Shouldn’t we always strive to create places that facilitate the highest level of pedestrian activity and the highest potential for connecting these places to other places that do the same?
Of course we should. One day, maybe, the question will be more universally how, now why.