What Makes a Streetscape Appeal to Pedestrians?

Researchers who studied the appeal of New York City streetscapes find an additionally significant factor on the streets of Salt Lake City: the photo op.
August 12, 2015, 2pm PDT | Emily Calhoun
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Sasha Kargaltsev

A recent study by planning scholar Reid Ewing determined that three streetscape features significantly correlate to pedestrian use in NYC: active use (i.e., streets with schools, busy office buildings and parks); the presence of street furniture (such as ATMs, parking meters, and benches); and first-floor window-to-façade ratio (the proportion of windows on a building’s façade).  But New York City is not called the Greatest City on Earth for nothing. As Laura Bliss writes, "There’s so much that sets New York apart from other American cities: its density, its walkability, its spread of urban versus suburban development, among others. What about smaller towns?"

Ewing’s new study of Salt Lake City suggests that to achieve walkability, planners in other cities might want to also ask: can it be Instagrammed?

The Salt Lake City study was designed to determine whether pedestrians in a less dense city with an average level of metropolitan sprawl were drawn to streetscapes with the same features found to be significant in NYC. While two of the three factors—active use and windows—contributed to the significance of what the researchers termed transparency on 179 blocks in Salt Lake City, of additional importance was the imageability of a streetscape.

Imageability, Bliss writes, "is what makes a place distinctive and memorable—a visual identity that could be made of parks or plazas, unique views or vistas, old or unusual architecture, and al fresco dining."

The relative importance of imageability is still widely unknown. However, reports last winter of young girls taking selfies in front of an active building explosion site in NYC’s East Village suggest that, as Bliss reports, "walkability is about more than density, street-level retail, or any one design quality in isolation."

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Published on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 in CityLab
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