Sunday, November 09, 2008


John Norquist was Milwaukee's mayor for many years, and he was a good one. One of the things I liked about him was that he was willing to think about unglamorous policies for making the world better. Among these was the need for narrower streets.

Wide streets within residential areas do three things: they make developments less compact, they add to the impermeable area and therefore accelerate run-off, and they encourage drivers to speed through neighborhoods, thus reducing their attraction for walking.

Many of the world's most successful cities have narrow streets. Here is an example of a one:

Paris has pretty much the same residential density as Manhattan. The reason that it doesn't need many high-rises to accomplish this is it wastes so little land on things like excessively wide streets. Compare it to Anaheim from the same elevation:

You get the idea.

People love doing "green things," such as building LEED certified buildings and harnessing solar energy. These are indeed wonderful things. But doing simple things such as building more compact places would almost certainly have at least as large an impact as more glamorous pursuits.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this concise and insightful post. Jane Jacobs, in "The Life and Death of Great American Cities", named "short blocks" as one of the four essential aspects of great urban living spaces. You have reminded and clarified us that no matter the block size, wide streets in and of themselves are just terrible for communities.

Anonymous said...

thanks!!!i admire it!!!nice post nad more power!!

Don Coffin said...

A side benefit to narrow streets is that narrow streets also privelege walking and disadvantage cars. So emissions should fall as well.

Anonymous said...

The amount of street space wasted in American suburbs is phenomenal, but when I mentioned it in a meeting of the zoning board of my small town, you would hav thought I was against motherhood! so wide useless, environment damaging streets are here to stay. Urban standards are more about emotions than reason and aesthetics!

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