Emergent Urbanism

Rediscovering Urban Complexity

A pattern language for New York streets

The New York City Department of Transportation has published its street design manual, a collection of patterns that make absolutely no references to any traffic control devices of any kind. This is the result of the revolutionary transportation commissioner and, let's admit it, traffic anti-planner Janette Sadik-Khan (NYMagazine article on her rise) who has launched a mini-revolution since being appointed to run the street bureaucracy of New York City two years ago. Traveling around the world to learn what was being done the best, and falling under the influence of Jan Gehl along the way, she is the living proof that visionary leadership can turn even the most entrenched bureaucracy around.

You will notice that the manual distinguishes between ribbon sidewalks (totally useless) and full sidewalks (the bare minimum). In fact they couldn't even find a picture of a ribbon sidewalk with people walking on it.

What this mini-revolution has meant is that the Department of Transportation has been abolished in all but name, admitting the reality that cities do not have transportation, they have spaces. It has also meant that the autocratic, yet highly productive, legacy of Robert Moses has made a comeback. Moses set out to transform New York into a city of the 20th century. Sadik-Khan is transforming his legacy into America's first city of the 21st century, with the same initiative, inspiration and leadership, but with more human and sustainable ends to realize.

Thanks to the pro-urb list for the scoop. You can monitor New York's street revolution in real-time on Streetsblog.


Who was it that said that the best urban transportation system was no urban transportation system?

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