Carfree Cities

The reference block

City blocks can be of almost infinite variety. In some cities, blocks are often perfectly uniform, as in large gridded areas of Manhattan and many other US cities. In other cities, blocks are highly irregular, as in most European city centers and the oldest parts of Boston. I find the complex forms typical of older cities highly attractive, but there is no reason why districts with both types of block should not be constructed in the same city. The districts at the city center will see the greatest use by people whose homes are in other districts and cities, so these districts would benefit the most from a regular street pattern. There are a number of aesthetic advantages to crooked streets, but straight streets are certainly acceptable.

The reference design for a block in a carfree city is neither large nor small. It is roughly rectangular and measures about 80 by 60 meters (measured to the centerlines of the encompassing streets, which are 5 meters wide). The interior courtyard is about 60 by 40 meters. About 88 blocks of this size would comprise a single district (although only a few of the blocks could be the same shape as the reference block).

Small squares, in the style of the Venetian ramo would be located at the intersections of most streets. These are the ideal location for small neighborhood businesses serving the local population, such as convenience stores, cafés, etc.

Absent the transportation issue, densities could be somewhat lower than proposed. However, no reasonable topology and transport scheme can keep maximum transport times within the metropolitan area well under one hour unless densities are high. Smaller cities could have more internal open space and lower densities.

Interior courtyard for communal use
Interior courtyard for private use

Interior Courtyards

The use of the interior courtyards (the open space inside a city block) is sure to give rise to debate. I favor community open space with paths threading between the buildings. This is semi-private space but open to anyone who wants to use it. Many will favor private back yards, each fenced off from the other. Both desires can be served, in different blocks.

Detail of a small segment of a district
showing streets, squares, buildings,
and interior courtyards

Interior courtyards admit daylight to building interiors and provide green space adjacent to virtually every building.

This concludes the description of the reference design for carfree cities. Of course, in most instances, considerable variations will have to be made between the reference design and actual practice in a given location. However, the reference design will still serve as a useful guide in developing large carfree areas in both new and existing cities.

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