On June 23 a stunning article was posted on World Streets, by Paul Barter of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the University of Singapore. He refers to experiments with shared space or ‘naked streets’ which have drawn considerable public attention in recent years. Indeed they have. From 2004 – 2008 seven European partners from five countries have been sharing knowledge on Shared Space.
It takes shared space to create shared understanding
In the Netherlands, since February 2009 the Shared Space Institute is operational, as one of the project’s tangible results. On June 10th 2009 Shared Space Institute had its official opening. The institute is dedicated to further exploring and applying the Shared Space principles. What do they teach us about the ins and outs of successful public spaces, and what changes need to be made to maintain them? And perhaps even more important: what does the Shared Space concept teach us about wealth and health of the people living there?
What does ‘Shared Space’ mean, and why do we think it’s needed?
Over the past decades, traffic objectives and traffic legislation have determined the way in which public spaces were designed. This was meant to improve traffic flows and traffic safety. But it was at the cost of the quality of the public spaces and the living environment of people. And it was also at the cost of the personal conduct in public, and the professional capacities of those who are responsible for public spaces.
In contrast to current practice, Shared Space strives to combine rather than separate the various functions of public spaces. By doing so, the quality of public spaces will be improved, and responsible behaviour will be evoked. So, when designing spaces, Shared Space relies on information from the surroundings to guide road users’ conduct, instead of forcing them to strictly obey to traffic rules and signs. When there is a primary school, we don’t want to hide it behind fences and sign posts. Instead, we extend the school yard out into the street. We think that car drivers are not stupid. If they can see children playing in the streets, they will reduce speed and drive as careful they possibly could.
We need space for traffic and space for people
Of course, this does not mean that rules will be entirely superfluous. Without rules of the road, some well meaning drivers would drive slowly, others would drive quickly, believing correctly that they were doing so safely, and still others would drive quickly but not as safe as they thought they were. Therefore, Shared Space makes a clear distinction between traffic areas and those spaces, which should serve as people space and thus must invite to behave socially. In his article from Tuesday, June 23, 2009 on http://newmobilityagenda.blogspot.com/, Paul Barter very clearly pointed out the characteristics of these areas.
Both of them, roads and motor ways on the one hand and streets on the other, are depending on one another. Only if there is a suitable network for fast traffic, we can design all the other public space for the purposes it’s meant for: all those surprising and interesting things people want to share with each other.
We need to change our minds
But that’s not all. We learned that Shared Space does not only change our thinking about how to handle traffic and how to design our roads and public spaces. It also points out how to tackle the overwhelming power of rules and legislation in politics and in our daily lives. Shared Space gave way to the search for new ways to achieve key improvements in the interrelated areas of road safety, spatial quality, economic prosperity, governance, community capacity and confidence. It stimulates the capacity of communities to be more creative in the way they tackle a broad range of issues. And it also assists politicians, decision-makers, city staff and citizens to ‘think outside the box’ when looking for ways to address public issues.
Who is working at Shared Space Institute?
We are ten professionals in the Netherlands, experienced in various working fields, such as traffic engineers, urban planning, psychology, process management and geography. We are and connected to a worldwide network of researchers, practitioners and citizens. We all share the mission to develop a new way of thinking about public domains.
However, the quality of public space is not a goal in itself. We think it’s important to create ‘people spaces’, places where people can meet, engage and communicate. Space only has quality if it contributes to the quality of life. So, public space is about people and their living environment. And it is also about the quality and justice of society. As a consequence, society itself should be organised in a way that people can act as responsible members of that society.
Shared Research Program
Shared Space Institute is an international knowledge institute, dedicated to knowledge creation, knowledge transfer and knowledge implementation in the field of Shared Space. It is our starting point that public space is the heart of society. Through its quality, public space supports people in their humaneness.
Research and knowledge creation on these aspects are at the heart of our activities. Our approach is integral and cross-sector. This means that:
• research should always be carried out in partnerships with stakeholders in society, to make sure that it is based on the demands of society
• various disciplines should participate and that research should always be related to every day practice in the working fields
• our aim is not to gather theoretical information. Research never should be an aim on itself. If we say ‘research’, we always start from concrete projects
• these projects deliver research questions to be answered. The answers on their turn deliver knowledge to be applied in the projects.
Please find more background information about the Shared Space Institute’s research activities on: http://www.sharedspace.eu/en/activities/research
Needless to say, that our staff is ready to support authorities, professionals and interest groups in development and innovation processes. You’re always welcome for a lecture or a field trip to interesting Shared Space locations. For more details about Shared Space – schemes in the Netherlands please refer to http://www.sharedspace.eu/en/activities/projects.
At the moment, we are busy on working out the Shared Space – research program. Our main research question is centered at the cross roads of the knowledge domains as illustrated in the figure on the right. How are these domains connected to each other, and how do they influence each other? If you improve one of them, what changes does it cause to the others?
Of course, our research will further plunge into projects addressing safety issues, solving community severance, tackling congestion and enhancing economic vitality in streets and public spaces. Our main interest is at developing innovative approaches to the process of planning, designing and decision-making towards new structures for municipal organization and public engagement.
Perhaps interesting to mention: we would like to apply for European funding to build a partnership in the North Sea Region countries working on new strategies towards balancing rules and ethics to facilitate healthy social and economic organisms. We believe new alliances of public and private stakeholders can provide a better quality of life through a new sense of civility.
Our central result will be to deliver a proved strategy which allows to delegate responsibilities to where they belong. Partners will demonstrate this through sharing management and governance, and forming new alliances between authorities, agencies, networks and individuals. Our target groups are: public authorities, business clusters, research institutes, universities, public support agencies in urban and rural areas, and citizens’ organisations. All those who are interested to join the partnership are invited to contact us.
Shared Space Institute
Lavendelheide 21 NL 9202 PD Drachten
Sabine Lutz – s.lutz @sharedspace.eu
P: +31 88 0200 475 M: +31 6 83 20 90 78
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