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The Street and Its Influence On Pedestrians cut

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					                                                                           Raphael Sartorato

                                                                                     11/18/06

                       The Street and Its Influence on Pedestrians

       Walking through the busy streets brought a great sense of adventure. Families

with their children ran around unbound, unleashed by laws or policies. I was in a fantasy

world where cars were nowhere to be seen. Stores had their doors wide open with

merchandise flowing out the doors into the streets. I took these streets and ventured deep

into the park. I followed, not knowing where they would lead me, but experiencing them

gave me a sense of joy. When I turned the corner, I was confronted with a lonely

restaurant that had the best barbeque ribs I’ve ever eaten. I sat down and ate with a

feeling of accomplishment, as if I found a pot of gold hidden from the public view. All I

did was walk these streets, and when I sat down to reflect upon it, I felt like Disneyland

really was the happiest place on earth.

       Streets are made to be an adventurous experience. Disneyland might only be a

fantasy world, but it was based on a real one: a place where the street itself is the source

of entertainment. But as the tides turn and demand changes, the streets begin to take a

different shape. They begin to look more towards cars than the pedestrian. Thus, the

pedestrian changes from an adventurous lot to clusters of robotic souls flowing down

streets in the fastest way possible. Therefore, the evident transition of the street form has

direct influence on the behavior of the pedestrian.

       When it comes to the maze-like streets, strollers are out to experience the city.

Before being planned, Paris was like a wilderness. As Paris grew, spontaneously like a

forest, the wanderer became an adventurer out to lose himself in the thick wilderness that
is his city. As explained by Paris, or Botanizing on the Asphalt, this Parisian wanderer is

called the flaneur: the typical street walker who delights himself with the freedom of

venturing into the streets for no other means than pleasure as he looks for the unknown

and the unseen. This flaneur, which is the Scandinavian word for “to run giddily here and

there,” is influenced by the formation of the streets of Paris. The street became a

gathering place for many strangers who would remain strangers, and the flaneur felt

completely at home in this strangeness.

        San Francisco in the United States holds much European flavor. “San Francisco,

in its scale and its street life, is able to keep alive the idea of a city as a place of random,

unmediated encounters” (The Solitary Stroller and the City). The American flaneur lives

here. Harriet Lane explains that all people, in every race, gather on a wide sidewalk, as if

it were a carnival. People cheer and have a good time as they leave their jobs, close down

their stores, and begin walking with strangers with no particular destination or desire but

to walk and enjoy San Francisco. The pedestrian in cities like San Francisco are the

practitioners of the city, as explained by Paris, or Botanizing on the Asphalt, for the city

is made to be walked.

        Walking the streets really gives a person a feel of citizenship. “A city is a

language, walking is the act of speaking that language” (The Solitary Stroller and the

City). Yet as the street evolved toward the early 20th century, the wealthy discovered the

joys of the carriage. As carriages became more popular the demand for them exceeded

the joys of walking. Slowly, this led to the domination of automobiles and the sudden

transformation of the street that led to a transformation of the pedestrian.
       The transformation of the street is much like the change from the ocean to the

river. Under the sea is a completely new world filled with life having the freedom of

exploration. It is not constrained by anything, rather it itself constrains land. But as the

land grows, it begins to dominate the sea, narrowing it and transforming the vastness of

the ocean into series of rivers (The Solitary Stroller and the City). A fast flow of water is

created in a river, forcing fish to swim simultaneous with the flow, which leads to the

river becoming ugly, dirty, and narrow. Focus is on travel, not exploration. The fish in the

ocean are more colorful, more exotic. There is more diversity than in the river fish, which

are duller. Thus, just like how the form of the street has an influence in the behavior of

the pedestrian, the form of water a fish swims in has a direct effect on its development.

       When the fish swims the rivers, it is much like when the pedestrian walks the

straight, narrow sidewalks on automobile dominated streets. As the car becomes the focus

of street construction, the pedestrian’s sidewalk seems to be a byproduct. The

adventurous maze-like street thus becomes a straight boulevard where cars can travel

quickly. Pedestrians become influenced by these roads and they begin to abandon their

exploring instinct and focus more on fast traveling. Experiencing the street becomes more

like trying to experience a wilderness when its trees have been cut down. Thus, as the

freedom of the pedestrian to choose and imagine is slowly taken from them, they adopt

habits that allow them to get by the street quickly. Pedestrians become alike worldwide:

robotic in function.

       In streets where cars dominate the road and the sidewalk is narrow, the pedestrian

becomes the most advanced transportation device, unmatched by anything engineers try

to construct. “The pedestrian comes with a unique system to avoid collisions, a
remarkable demonstration of cooperative efforts,” states the author. (The Skilled

Pedestrian) People never “crash” into one another like automobiles do, and yet, in big

cities, more people walk than drive. Pedestrians have a system of street language that,

unlike the unique language spoken by the flaneur, is internationally spoken in every

major city. In Japan, pedestrians act like New Yorkers: they are fast walkers and

aggressive while clustering in the middle of the way. London pedestrians block the traffic

flow just like in NYC. Schmoozers, men who congregate on sidewalk curbs facing the

buildings while chatting about life, are present in the same manner in Milan as they are in

NYC (the Social Life of the Street). Pedestrians communicate using very quick and small

gestures: the nod of the head, eye contact, or motion of hand or newspaper. In dense

crowded situations, the pedestrian does not slow down; rather, he maneuvers himself

through the crowd avoiding much contact. When he finds himself in a collision course

with another pedestrian, he calculates the steps in his mind to see if he needs to slow

down or speed up to avoid collision. New Yorkers are able to jaywalk their way through

the roads, zigzagging their way past the stand still traffic. Thus, he is able to arrive at his

destination much faster. Unlike the flaneur, who is pleased with new discoveries about

the street, the robotic pedestrian is pleased with new shortcuts to see less of the street as

possible. This behavior of the pedestrian is only a product of how the streets are

formulated towards the automobile.

        The form of the street says that the pedestrian belongs on the sidewalk. In

Madison Avenue, New York, a trial pedestrian mall was launched. “For a two-week

period the city closed a fifteen-block stretch of Madison Avenue to vehicles between

noon and 2 pm” (The Sensory Street). Even in Tokyo, where the same trial was tested,
this brought more people to the street but 60 % of them stayed on the sidewalk (The

Sensory Street). The sidewalk is where the shops are, where food can be bought, where

window shopping can be done. Consequently, people go to the streets not to experience

the street, but to use it to go to a desired destination. People stay away from the road

simply because they do not belong on asphalt. Cars belong there and people belong on

the sidewalk, however nice it may be.

        When studying the street form, one can see that however the street takes shape, so

does the pedestrian. Once the street is unleashed to go where it pleases, the pedestrian

becomes curious, and his adventurous side takes him through the streets just for pleasure.

Once the street is held straight, bound by the flow of automobiles, the pedestrian has no

sense of adventure or pleasure, and sees the street as only a means of travel. Pedestrians

were once used by the city to express its identity and to speak its own language. But once

the street changes form, the joys of the adventurous pedestrian are driven away by the

dominance of cars and every city becomes the same: filled with robots who use the street

as a mode of transportation. There is no room for exploration, no time for an adventurous

mind to find life in the hidden parts of the city streets.