The Voyage of the Woonerf

Writing in The New York Times, Paul Hockenos describes the revival and global spread of the "woonerf", the Dutch complete street model that's bringing shared public space to cities from Montreal to Auckland.

1 minute read

May 2, 2013, 1:00 PM PDT

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


Woonerf Sign

Payton Chung / flickr

"Roughly translated as 'living streets,' the woonerf (pronounced VONE-erf) functions without traffic lights, stop signs, lane dividers or even sidewalks. Indeed, the whole point is to encourage human interaction; those who use the space are forced to be aware of others around them, make eye contact and engage in person-to-person interactions," explains Hockenos. 

"Woonerfs and their derivatives — sometimes called shared spaces, complete streets or home zones — are piquing the interest of urban planners in several countries," he notes.

“You either love them or you hate them, depending on whether you’re a car driver or a parent with kids,” said Dirk van den Heuvel, an urban architecture expert in the Dutch city of Delft. “But they’re popular places to live here — low density and lots of greenery — and that’s why the model is making a comeback,” he said.


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