The City at Eye Level

cover_cityateyelevelForward by Dr. Joan Clos, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director, UN-Habitat.

The character of a city is defined by its streets and public spaces. From squares and boulevards to neighbourhood gardens and children’s playgrounds, public space frames the city image. In the history of cities, successful urban development has not been possible without an organized physical layout and a system of public spaces and street connectivity within cities. Streets play a critical role in cities, connecting spaces, people and goods, and thereby facilitating commerce, social interaction and mobility. Streets and public spaces have also contributed to de ne the cultural, social, economic and political functions of cities and towns.

Nowadays, when planning a city, the inter-play and multi functionality between streets, public spaces and ground oor building façades (plinths) has often been overlooked or neglected. Streets are usually regarded as mere links in a road network, enabling travel, and this has often de ned how the streets are used. Where public space is inadequate, poorly designed, or privatized, the city becomes increasingly segregated. Where the ground oor of a building and its relationship with the street and public space has been ignored, their use and design make the space un-attractive and sometimes unsafe.

In this light, UN-Habitat emphasizes the role of streets and public spaces as a connective matrix on which healthy and prosperous cities must grow, embracing the essential requirements of being inclusive, connected, safe, accessible, multi-functional and livable. Therefore, the quality of the ground oor façades we pass close by at eye level is particularly important to enhance environmental sustainability, enrich the quality of life and promote equity and social inclusion. Tools and regulations to strengthen the relationship between the ground oor and the street will improve the interaction between private, semi-private, semi-public and public spaces.

Attractive public spaces and well-connected street networks encourage more people to walk and cycle, improving their health while reducing motor traffic, energy use and pollution. When designing buildings, building façades and public spaces, attention needs to be placed not only on the space itself, but the inter-play between form, function and connectivity between the buildings, the street and the open public spaces. These spaces need to be flexbile enough to serve a variety of users and uses, ranging from the informal to formal.

This publication on “The City at Eye Level – lessons for street plinths” provides valuable lessons, approaches and inspiring practices on how well-designed building façades and properly designed and managed streets and public spaces not only contribute to improve the overall visual character of a city, but also stimulates economic activities and enhances the functionality of the city. >>