photo Reconquerir_couv_VBATr
Reconquering the streets
examples and paths of action from around the world

© 2012 Les Éditions Ulmer
8 rue Blanche 75009 Paris
Why reconquer the streets?

Because it is here where the quality of life in a city or village is won or lost. There are streets, streets which are alive, where one feels good, without necessarily being commercial, where we say we'd like to live and raise our children. At the other extreme, there are streets which are bleak, barren, deserted, and which unfortunately have become the norm in our country. Why? Is it inevitable?

In his book, which is the fruit of 30 years of experience as an architect and urban planner, Nicolas Soulier, shows us that this is indeed a history of cars, which are often given a disproportionate space, but not only; it is also a story of "spontaneous life", of a framework that allows life to express itself spontaneously, it is the details, small changes, that when accumulated may have great effects.

In France, the situation often seems blocked, sterilized, and many people believe - “if progress has destroyed the streets, we must accept the situation without nostalgia”. After having made a sort of “inventory of blockages”, Nicolas Soulier shows us the situation is not inevitable but that many examples of "reconquered streets" have flourished throughout the world. From exemplary instances taken from Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, England, Canada, USA and Japan, Nicolas Soulier draws conclusions and suggests practical courses of action to "reconquer our streets".

Antoine Isambert  (Les Éditions Ulmer)


When we step out the door, if babies in strollers are on an even level with car tires and tailpipes, if children cannot go into the street alone or go to school by themselves, if we waste precious time in long commutes, if senior citizens and idle people no longer have a place or know where to go, if local shops disappear, we can begin to question our habitat.

As soon as we consider the street as simply a means of getting from one point to another, where all is occupied by the automobile, whether for parking or driving, we are in their realm and no longer at home. But it is not just a question of cars. It is also a question of people. Residential streets need to be inhabited and not simply traversed or bypassed. If we tolerate that the street in front of our house is only a circulation pipe it is because we no longer understand the street as being a part of our habitat. When our homes close in on themselves and we turn our backs to the street, we lose contact. The street becomes dull, deserted and lifeless. The habitat is inert.

I was led to this grim conclusion within the context of my practice as an urban planner and architect, and through experiences which I present in the first part of this book. Nowadays one could think that the situation of perishing streets is inevitable, and that it is better to accept, without being nostalgic, the fact that residential streets without shops and services are bleak.

But, other experiments ( especially outside of France) show that residential streets can be alive and given the right conditions, people actively invest themselves and take care of their street. The street is metamorphosed. I develop some of these inspiring examples, and propose a journey through a selection of streets in Europe, North America and Japan, paying equal attention to successes and failures.

These examples show us that we should not be discouraged, our neighborhoods could be much more pleasant. We can reconquer our streets without demolishing or rebuilding everything. All that is required is that we, the adjacent habitants of the street, no longer turn our backs and lock ourselves behind privacy screens, walls and solid doors. If we turn to the street, we could take very different actions, and consider that the street is also our business.

It is difficult to influence the vast operations of urban planning. But we can take concrete action in our everyday life right in front of our homes, at our doorsteps. It is action at the individual, human scale and very much in the realm of possibility. We, the habitants of the street, can improve the streets where we live, and for an essential part we are the only ones who can do it. We must find collectively ways to stop the sterilization of our streets and to stop blocking initiatives.

This book is an attempt to contribute to this awareness. It is based on my experiences, travels and studies as an architect, urban planner, and teacher. This is neither a textbook nor a scientific theoretical book: more an investigative report, a practitioner's notebook. It is an attempt to show and provide evidence of understanding, and to propose tools and notions to those who want to know how to debate and act, how to bypass and overcome blockages, and how to find good entry points to reconquering our streets.

CONTENTS Introduction STERILIZATION PROCESSES Sterilization by rules - reduced to inaction Regulatory framework - a few examples13 Children - « designated areas for this purpose »24 A sterilization process28 Sterilization by roads - urban planning experience in Nîmes, France The Thouroughfare33 Multicriteria decision analysis36 20 years later43 Residential sterilization - two urban planning experiments in the Parisian suburbs Government sudsidized housing development in Aulnay-sous-Bois50 Government sudsidized housing development inViry-Châtillon60 FERTILE PROCESSES Double sharing of the street - an example from Bremen Modal sharing of the street74 Frontal sharing of the street78 Second sites - examples from Freiburg-im-Brisgau Spontaneity86 The notion of second site94 « It's great but it wouldn't be possible here » A new style of urban planning, decision making and social work101 Street life - the importance of frontages An interface : adjacent private streetfront properties122 Frontages125 Active frontages in Bremen and Freiburg128 Sterilized frontages in Aulnay-sous-Bois, Viry-Châtillon, Nîmes134 The dynamic of modal choice136 Frontage actions - a panorama Active frontages - a few examples In Holland144 Other examples from Northern Europe148 Montreal149 United States152 Frontages and flowerpots158 Flowerpot gardens in Japanese frontages160 Frontages that we sterilize Parking frontages167 Trash can frontages177 Curtain frontages178 Buffer frontages180 Condemned frontages182 Frontage sterilization: beware of the domino effect183 Frontages that we protect An example from Leipzig186 Frontages that we reactivate Action in the public frontages192 Tactical urbanism196 Actions of adjacent habitants in public frontages199 « You, the adjacent property owner can make a difference »206 Actions in the private frontages209 Paths of Action - a few elements (re) balancing the modal sharing of the street Imperative nº1: 20 mph231 Imperative nº2: from road rules to street rules236 Imperative nº3: making use of bicycles238 Imperative nº4: limit the space for cars247 Imperative nº5: sharing the street is not splitting the street251 Imperative n°6 / n°1: active frontages for walkable streets253 (re) balancing the frontal sharing of the street Where to draw the frontage line ?256 Frontages, adjacent architectures, second sites262 The part of adjacent property owners268 The part of plants273 Overview278 Epilogue : The importance of streets280 Acknowledgements284 Photo credits285
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Reconquering the streets nicolas  soulier