Streets do say things about our city," said Sam Schwartz, aka "Gridlock Sam," at Talking the Walk: The Importance of Pedestrian Friendly Public Spaces, MPC's first 2010 roundtable last week. "Chicago streets are saying some wonderful things, and they could say even more.”
That’s a fair challenge from someone who’s helped revolutionize the way New York City’s streets are planned. Speaking to a sold-out crowd, Mr. Schwartz, president and founder of Sam Schwartz Engineering, described the long road it’s taken for New York to be able to plan for innovations like a pedestrian mall on Times Square. A key component of this change, he said, has been the engagement and education of residents. Advocacy groups like the Project for Public Spaces, Transportation Alternatives, and Open Plans, which manage the popular Streetsblog and Streetfilms, have been instrumental in building public support for innovative use of streets, and helped push leaders to be creative when planning for these public spaces.
Mike Toolis, chairman and CEO of VOA Associated Incorporated, followed Mr. Schwartz. He spoke about the importance of building design on the pedestrian experience. Design aspects like windows on the streets that invite pedestrians into the space, awnings that protect against weather, the location of driveways – especially for commercial buildings – and decorative elements like signs and window displays, are essential in creating an environment that is welcoming and exciting for people walking on the streets.
John Tolva, director of Citizenship & Technology at IBM, wrapped up the discussion by exploring the increasing role of technology in the pedestrian experience. With more people toting BlackBerries, iPhones, and other portable electronic devices as they walk along city streets, the applications on these devices are playing a significant role in the pedestrian experience. Web sites like WalkScore.com are just the tip of the iceberg and, as we continue to expand our digital infrastructure, Mr. Tolva challenged us to ensure our technology works in concert with our physical infrastructure.
The Talking the Walk panel discussion coincided with the second in a series of Chicago Dept. of Transportation (CDOT) Complete Streets workshops, which MPC helped host. Before the roundtable, a select group of city agency heads and departmental leaders, led by Acting CDOT Commissioner Tom Powers, gathered at MPC to learn about Chicago’s Complete Streets policy and explore how they can work across agencies to make the most of the city’s valuable public spaces. Mr. Schwartz, attending this event with representatives from his newly opened Chicago office, discussed tentative plans for the city’s pedestrian plan, which Sam Schwartz Engineering has been awarded. Also joining the discussion was Norm Steinman, planning and design division manager for the Charlotte Dept. of Transportation in North Carolina. Mr. Steinman spoke about Charlotte’s Urban Street Design Guidelines, widely regarded as one of the best Complete Streets implementation guides in the country.
MPC is tackling these issues through Placemaking Chicago, a project that enhances quality of life in the Chicago region through the creation and enhancement of public spaces. Collaborating with CDOT on the Complete Streets workshops is just one approach MPC is taking. Technical assistance projects such as the Polish Triangle and an emerging project to plan for transit-oriented development around the CTA Red Line extension in South Chicago, help inform policy advocacy for legislation like the Pedestrian Safety Bill. In addition, outreach and education through the annual What Makes Your Place Great? Contest and regularly updated case studies from around the Chicago region make this a project that, in true MPC fashion, is connecting the dots.
A full recording of the Talking the Walk panel discussion is available online at Chicago Amplified, and it will be broadcast on CAN TV at the following times:
- Sunday, May 23, at 2:30 pm on Channel 21
- Thursday, May 27th, 9:00 am on Channel 19
- Thursday, June 3rd, 12:30 pm on Channel 21
To learn more about Placemaking Chicago, please contact project manager Karin Sommer at 312.863.6044 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Talking the Walk roundtable was generously sponsored by Sam Schwartz Engineering.