streets as social spaces

The following are notes from the plenary presentations and breakout workshops I attended during the third and final day of the Walk21 conference in Toronto, Oct 4 2007.

Issues of universal accessibility, visions and philosophy for streets as public spaces were discussed.

Previously posted notes related to this conference can be found under the category notes from walk21.



Carol Thomas, UK
Shared Space – Safe Space: Meeting the Requirements of Blind and Partially Sighted People in a Shared Space

Shared space (pedestrian priority street – pedestrians and cars share space) is good but shared surface (no curb on the sidewalk) is dangerous for people who are sight impaired. Blind people want and need a curb. It provides a safe area that they can use with a consistent sense of safety.

Even when creating shared space, don’t take away the delineation of vehicle versus pedestrian space – safe zones are still needed.

Jim Walker, The Access Company
Transport for London

/* “Local Accessibility Schemes” was offered as a standards guide addressing key barriers to access and a range of measures and standards. was provided as a reference source, but when I searched that site, then the internet, I couldn’t find it.

Are you designing with people with disabilities or designing for them?
• locomotion
• seeing
• hearing
• reaching, stretching, dexterity
• learning disability

/* jargon alert: “deprivation” is the word they use in describing the data they have collected on where people with disabilities are living and where their need for services is.

The presenter talked about his experience making the Jubilee Walk in London more accessible. The route was established by the queen to commemorate her silver jubilee. It connects major cultural and heritage institutions in London.

One challenge was to create interpretative panels to describe and explain the view from different spots. Many different materials, layouts and textures were tested to find out what would work best for people with any of the above noted disabilities; e.g. brail, engraved or embossed images, etc.

“Walky Talky” is a program to be implemented this year that allows pedestrians to phone a special number that describes the space, tells stories or provides background information about the site or view.

Some reference resources he suggested:



Pier Giorgio Di Cicco
Phenomenological thoughts on pedestrianism, the body, and the city, and the importance of recovering our geo-physical relationship with the land

Toronto’s poet laureate provided an overview of the whole conference with highlights, common themes and wizened observations. The following phrases were from that speech.

Leave a footprint of delight. Good things start with smiles.

Don’t close the roads, open the streets.

TS Eliot – “a study of anatomy will not teach you how to make a hen lay eggs.”

“Sustainability is about replenishing an ethic of entitlement with an ethic of sufficiency.”

“The enemy is the absence of civic communion.” A city’s reason for being is closeness. “The enemy is the zeitgeist of withdrawal.”

“Anonymity is as toxic to the heart as hydrocarbons are to the environment.”

Create a public forum for encounter. If people take delight in each other, they will leave a footprint of delight.



Brad Graham, Assistant Deputy Minister, Ontario Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal

“Density without design is disaster.”

!! There is an excellent example of engaging youth in community planning in Ontario. A youth design charette was held in developing the Ontario Growth Plan.

Tim Pharaoh, Consultant, Llewellyn Davies Yeang

He recommended looking up Manual for Streets from the website. He talked about the need for “context sensitive design.”

Litigation fears are founded and are a good excuse for not being innovative.

Road hierarchies should be scrapped; use social function terminology instead.

Streets should be viewed as social spaces reflecting local distinctiveness, created using quality materials and plantings.

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