This is the 20th episode of a series 25 building blocks to create better streets, neighbourhoods, and cities. Its topic is to enable citizens having daily necessities in a walking and bicycling distance.
During the pandemic, lockdowns prevented people from leaving their homes or moving over a longer distance. Many citizens rediscovered their own neighbourhood. They visited the parks every day, the turnover of the local shops increased, and commuters suddenly had much more time. Despite all the concerns, the pandemic contributed to a revival of a village-like sociability.
Revival of the ‘whole neighbourhood’
Revival indeed, because until the 1960s, most residents of cities in Europe, the US, Canada, and Australia did not know better than their dally needs were available within a few minutes' walk. In the street where I was born, there were four butchers, four bakers, three greengrocers and four groceries, even though the street was not much longer than 500 meters. No single shop survived. My primary school was also on that street, and you had to be around the corner for the doctor. This type of quality of life went lost, in the USA in particular. However, urban planners never have forgotten this idea. In many cities, the pandemic has turned these memories into attainable goals, albeit still far removed from reality. Nevertheless, the idea of the 'whole neighborhood' gained traction in many cities. It fits into a more comprehensive planning concept, the 15-minute city.
Support for facilities
The idea is that residents can find all daily needs within an imaginary circle with an area of approximately 50 hectares. This implies a proportionate number of residents. A lower limit of 150 residents per hectare is often mentioned, considering a floor area of 40% for offices and small industry. The idea is further that most streets are car-free and provide plenty of opportunity for play and meeting.
Opportunity for social contacts
In a 'whole neighbourhood', residents find opportunity for shopping and meeting from morning to evening. There is a supermarket, a bakery, a butcher, a greengrocer's shop, a drugstore, a handful of cafes and restaurants, a fitness center, a primary school, a medical center, craft workshops, offices, green spaces and a wide variety of houses. Here, people who work at home drink their morning coffee, employees meet colleagues and freelancers work at a café table during the quiet hours. Housemen and women do their daily shopping or work out in the gym, have a chat, and drink a cup of tea. People meet for lunch, dinner and socializing on the terrace or in the cafes, until closing time. A good example is the Oostpoort in Amsterdam, albeit one of the larger ones with a station and a few tram lines.
On the map above, the boundaries of the neighborhoods with an area of approximately 50 hectares are shown in the form of circles. The circular neighborhood is a model. This principle can already play a role on the drawing board in new neighborhoods to be built. In existing neighbourhoods, drawing circles is mainly a matter of considering local data. The center of the circle will then often be placed where there are already some shops. Shops outside the intended central area can be helped to move to this area. Spaces between existing homes can be reserved for small-scale businesses, schools, small parks, communal gardens and play facilities. Once the contours have been established, densification can be implemented by choosing housing designs that align to the character of the neighbourhood. Towards the outside of the imaginary circle, the building density will decrease, except at public transport stops or where circles border the water, often an ideal place for higher buildings.
If a thoroughfare passes through the center of the circle, this street can be developed into a city street, including a public transport route. Facilities are then realized around a small square in the center of the circle and the surrounding streets.
Incidentally, space between the circles can be used for through traffic, parks, and facilities that transcend districts, for instance a swimming pool or a sports hall or an underground parking garage. Mostly, neighborhoods will merge seamlessly into each other.
It will take time before this dream comes true.
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