Below are strategies that cities around the world have used to maximize public space to promote active living and create people friendly spaces. Click here to view Programming Strategies and Resources.
There are many time tested strategies for creating streets that work for all people, regardless of age and ability. The list below is a sampling of resources and design guidelines that can help make it easier and safer to walk, bike and/or take transit to Chicago’s parks. Click here to view Street Design Examples and Resources.
Play Streets are summer events where a city closes one or more blocks to create space for children to play in both organized and spontaneous sports and recreation activities. The goal is to create more youth recreation opportunities in an urban environment, particularly in neighborhoods that are underserved by parks and community centers.
Play Streets are sometimes combined with existing parks that may not provide enough recreational space to meet local demand. The City of Chicago Municipal Code contains language regarding Play Streets and grants the power of designating them in “neighborhoods where recreation space and playground facilities are not otherwise available, and such streets or parts of streets on which vehicular traffic is light.”
New York City Play Streets
London Street Play Project
Open streets events (also known as Summer Streets, Sunday Parkways, and Ciclovias) temporarily close city streets to automobile traffic and open them to pedestrians, cyclists, and many other modes of active transportation, creating a network of “paved parks.” As of early 2012, there were approximately 70 active Open Streets campaigns taking place throughout North America. Taking their inspiration from the Ciclovias popularized in Bogota, Colombia in the 1970s, Open Streets events have proven effective in encouraging individual health and wellness through an active lifestyle. Public agencies also see them as a key strategy in creating more recreation and active transportation opportunities for residents, particularly in parts of the city that may be underserved by parks and pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure. One of the keys to success of these events is the recurring nature of their schedules, such as every weekend, or one weekend a month.
State Street (Chicago)
Summer Streets (NYC)
CicLAvia (Los Angeles)
Sunday Streets (San Francisco)
In partnership with the New York City Parks Department, an architect in the city is creating a new type of portable playground that can be installed in any open space. Children are invited to fashion their own play environments with a variety of connectable, modular foam blocks. The blocks lead to unstructured, child-directed play that fosters cooperative social interaction between the children using the structure. Modular playgrounds can be installed in parks, recreation centers, street festivals, open streets events, and other public spaces, and can be moved around frequently if desired to offer more children the opportunity to enjoy this type of active recreation experience.
Imagination Playground in a Box
Newfangled Sandbox Arrives
Several agencies in Europe (including Barcelona and the Styrian region of Austria) have created scavenger hunts aimed at teenagers, with the goal of promoting transit use and active transportation. Participating teams sign up and receive a welcome packet that includes transit tickets as well as discounted or free entry tickets to popular youth destinations. Teams then have to solve puzzles and complete missions to earn prizes and points, and to unlock the subsequent missions. These extremely popular one-day events attract thousands of teenagers each year.
Gimcana de Barcelona
Catch-It (Austrian, requires translation through Google)
Some cities are installing temporary recreational installations in public spaces to encourage physical activity and social interaction for residents. There are numerous examples of both summer and winter installations. In New York, for example, “dumpster pools” (with a hygienic liner and donated lifeguard services) were unveiled to tremendous enthusiasm in 2010. Another New York initiative, Weekend Walks, creates temporary pedestrian-only streets in neighborhoods. In Paris, streets bordering the Seine River are converted to summertime beaches called Paris Plage (Paris Beach), with sand, chairs, vendors, concerts, and events. There are numerous free recreational opportunities offered, including beach volleyball, kayak lessons, and exercise classes (tai chi, aquagym, climbing, etc.). Numerous cities in the Northern US and Canada have joined the Winter Cities initiative to reinforce the positive attributes of winter and celebrate the season by encouraging activities such as cross-country skiing, sledding and ice skating. The Chicago Park District provides winter programming through its three “Polar Adventure Days,” a one day “Winter Fest,” ice skating rinks, and classes conducted in field houses throughout the city.
New York City Dumpster Pools
New York City Weekend Walks
Pavement to Parks
Major cities throughout the world have begun to repurpose individual on-street parking spaces for community use in an effort to maximize the productive use of the public right-of-way. Cities such as New York and San Francisco have found that steps as simple as repainting the asphalt and putting up moveable barriers have allowed them to make use of excess roadway capacity for small parks, outdoor café seating, and playgrounds. There are certain criteria which must be met in order for a space to be usable, such as strong support from local businesses and community members, a lack of open public space in the surrounding area, and popular pedestrian-oriented businesses.
Pavement to Parks (San Francisco)
NYC Plaza Program
Free Zone New York (Jumping Zones)
The Free Zone project, an art installation by Danish artists Rhone Bosch and Rune Fjord, encourages people to view the city through a new lens by inviting them to engage in “untraditional and humorous” behavior such as jumping in the “jump zone.” The project mimics the graphic style and shape of city street signs, but, instead of conveying traditional messages such as “Yield” or “Pedestrian Crossing,” the reinterpreted signs illustrate persons doing jumping jacks or doing exercises with shopping bags—encouraging individuals to actively engage with their environment. The idea is to spark a discussion about health, transportation, and public space.
JumpZONE (New York City)
A Bike Rodeo offers children a series of activity stations where they can practice bicycle riding skills, including using hand signals, riding in a straight line, stopping, and looking over their shoulder while bicycling. Bicycle laws and responsibilities are also covered, including sign recognition, intersection right-of-way laws, and helmet laws. Bike rodeos are often hosted by fire departments, police departments, or bicycle clubs/organizations. Bicycle helmets can be offered at cost or for free at these events. They can be hosted at schools, through parks and recreation programs, or as part of community festivals and events.
Bike Rodeo Guides
Vacant Lot Greening
Vacant lots are generally seen as a negative presence, attracting vandalism and potentially lowering property values. Some groups have begun to see vacant lots as a potential community resource, however. Pilot projects in Philadelphia and Baltimore, for example, have demonstrated that grassroots efforts can lead to the transformation of vacant lots into interactive community gathering spaces, including pocket parks, playgrounds, and community gardens. The Depave project in Portland (OR) focuses on removing pavement and transforming parking lots and other hardscape into productive, green uses. Vacant lot greening is primarily a nonprofit or community-led effort to revitalize private land and make it accessible for all as a public amenity. City agencies can support vacant lot greening in many ways, including through technical, legal, and permitting assistance.
Philadelphia Green: Vacant Land Restoration
Philadelphia: Grounds for Change: Activating Vacant Land
Baltimore Parks & People Foundation: Vacant Lot Greening
Depave (Portland, OR)
PARK(ing) Day is a grassroots event that encourages city dwellers to reclaim on-street parking and repurpose it into community-oriented temporary public space. Originally created in a single 2-hour metered parking space in downtown San Francisco in 2005, the movement has since spread worldwide. On PARK(ing) Day in September, hundreds of temporary urban oases pop up in cities everywhere. The official mission of PARK(ing) Day is “to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat.”
National website and guide
NYC “Pop-up Café” inspired by PARK(ing) Day
Reclaim Market (San Francisco)
Creative Alley Reuse
Alleyways have long been off-limits as part of the streetscape, due to perceptions of uncleanliness and personal safety issues. Underlit and rarely cleaned, these perceptions may have been accurate in most cases, but the cities of Chicago and Seattle (among others) are working to change that. Chicago’s Green Alley program is focusing on an environmental overhaul of their alley system, looking at efforts such as permeable concrete and bioswales to help with stormwater remediation. Seattle building owners and tenants in the Pioneer Square neighborhood have decided to reclaim their alleyways and activate that aspect of the streetscape through a series of summer art installations, potlucks, and open houses for local businesses and organizations.
Chicago Green Alley Handbook
Seattle’s Nord Alley
New York City Active Design Guidelines
Increasing Active Living: A Guide for Policy-Makers
Tactical Urbanism Guide, Volume I
Reclaiming Vacant Lots: A Philadelphia Green Guide
Open Streets Guide
How Urban Park Systems Promote Health and Wellness
NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide
The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide provides best practices for designing urban streets that are safe and enjoyable for cyclists.
NYC Active Design Guidelines
The NYC Active Design Guidelines include goals and policies for improving access to parks and open spaces by designing pedestrian friendly streets with high connectivity, traffic calming, landscaping, lighting, benches and other amenities.
Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach
ITE’s Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach is an extensive and technical resource that covers many dimensions of creating walkable urban streets, taking into consideration roadway context and adjacent land use.
Safe Spaces: Designing for Security and Civic Values
ASLA’s Safe Spaces: Designing for Security and Civic Values provides abstracts of reports related to security, transparency and risk management strategies.
Parks and Recreation Parks 2020 Vision
Portland’s Parks and Recreation Parks 2020 Vision provides information on park access goals, the measures that have been taken to achieve goals, and current status.
Parks and Recreation Strategic Action Plan
Seattle’s Parks and Recreation Strategic Action Plan includes goals to improve park access and safety.
This Road Diet presentation by Michael Ronkin, former bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for Oregon, details benefits and strategies for rethinking street configurations to include more pedestrian and bicycle friendly amenities.
NYC Street Design Guidelines
The NYC Street Design Guidelines provide comprehensive guidance for intersections, road geometry, pedestrian amenities and materials.
Model Design Manual for Living Streets
The Model Design Manual for Living Streets (Los Angeles County) is a recently released guide that provides a wealth of information on the development of healthy, vibrant livable streets that serve all modes equally. It covers guidance on traffic calming, transit amenities, bikeways, pedestrian access and intersection design.
Louisville Complete Streets Manual
The Louisville Complete Streets Manual provides comprehensive complete streets design guidance.
The Complete Streets website is a clearinghouse of information on policy, advocacy and design options.
Walking and Bicycling Info
The Walking and Bicycling Info sites provide information related to the “5 E’s” of improving conditions for pedestrians and cyclists: Engineering, Encouragement, Education, Enforcement and Evaluation. They also cover issues such as policies and funding.