By their sidewalks shall ye know them
By their sidewalks shall ye know them

text: Mikołaj Białasik,
student Wydziału Architektury na Politechnice Krakowskiej
grahpic: Dominika Strzałka,
absolwentka Wydziału Architektury na Politechnice Krakowskiej
dr inż. arch. SARP IARP Marta A. Urbańska

oryginal version of the text : PL
translation: kreatura team
reading time: about 11 min

Walking the streets of our cities, moving between different areas on our daily route, we often do not pay enough attention to the surroundings. We are getting caught up in our thoughts, so we are not able to observe and absorb all the information, ideas and weaknesses of the surrounding space. The environment suddenly ceases to be important for us. Such a lack of involvement of us - its users, is harmful not only for itself but also for us as those for whom it exists. Lack of attention to it also causes the average person's depletion of knowledge about the society in which he or she lives. Common and public spaces, street space are a point of reference of our mutual relations.


This article will address the quality of public space, but first, let's clarify what will become its main representative. Throughout Europe, in recent years, we have been witnessing that the city government is being focused on adjusting public spaces to the needs of pedestrians. It is why the pavement will become the main subject and reference point in this article, as a most accessible and widespread element of a pedestrian space since the dawn of history. Despite its changes and evolution throughout the history or the attempts to transform it, it still retains its function. Moreover, it slowly becomes the dominant element of present urban spaces, so it is worth realizing how important the sidewalk is, and how much it affects our everyday life.
However, before anything is written, I need to define the purposes of this article and what I believe is a pavement. If we would like to limit ourselves to the legal definition of the road traffic regulations, we will find out that the pavement is "part of the road intended for pedestrians". Focusing only on that aspect is the sense of this article would be leveled to considerations about the technical conditions of Polish streets, and its overtone would be melancholic.

// Therefore, let us assume that the pavement is not defined by its physicality but by a series of relations with the neighboring spaces.

However, this does not mean, that this article will only focus on the realm of sociology without commenting on reality. These two subjects are inextricably connected and the violation of one of them can strongly affect the other. The issue of defining a pavement through its relationship with the neighboring space and its influence on the most mundane features, as relevance and accessibility are the main topics that are usually addressed in this context. These are also the main things that have been subject to such dramatic changes in the past decades regarding the pavement. Probably the best example which highlighted relations between the pavement and the relations in which it is located with space were the ideas of modernism and Le Corbusier itself. The postulates of functional separation, until now interconnected into a common space, showed how important to the pavement is the context in which it finds itself. Modernism clearly showed that the pavement’s function cannot be limited only to communication, but also how much the sidewalk does not want and cannot be subordinated to the imposed urban planning, forced by the designer looking at his project from the bird's eye. Modernist idea of separation of the pavement from other elements, brought the whole pedestrian space to the level of the paved surface after on which somebody might walk. To top it all, a physical break of relations was caused by the use of footbridges and underpasses, which in many cases made walking difficult because it was organized in a cumbersome way. Admittedly, these are accusations mainly toward the elapsed time of 20th century, but today's problems have their origins exactly in those times. While looking for causes of today's problems in recent decades, one has to also consider origins of our attitude to public spaces in those past times. However, there is nothing to impose on the average user because one didn’t have other models, and education is in no way adapted to touch issues like public spaces.

Suggested literature:

1. Jane Jacobs, Lidfe and death of great american cities, published by Random House, New York, 1961

2. Jan Gehl, Life Between Buildings : Using Public Space , published by Island Press, Washington, 2011

3. Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow, Streetfight : Handbook for an Urban Revolution, published by Penguin Putnam Inc, New York, 2017

Pavement as a element of life

Since one of the first arrangements to today's sidewalks was to limit their role to the function of communication, it should be noted that this is not done in a way that could be considered compatible with common sense. This is especially noticeable when walking along any sidewalk, a desire path suddenly appears, which often questions the legitimacy of the officially marked route. It clearly shows how much the pavement is also the result of the ordinary everyday needs of a man, who in the habit of choosing the most convenient route for him, creates his own path. Such examples are a perfect illustration of the difference between planning and designing.
One should also ask about the pavement as an organized system that fills the city space, creates it and connects it as the only element connecting individual parts of the city in such a valuable way. One could refer here to the famous Jane Jacobs and her idea that the street as the most important link in city life. This analogy seems more justified when we pay attention to today's tendencies to stretch pedestrian spaces across entire street widths. Therefore, knowing the problem for half a century and knowing that such relationships and dependencies between space and its users occur, we are not able to use it in practice. This is not the specificity of the pavements of Polish cities, but a common problem in misunderstanding what it is used for and what it gives in return a well-designed thing. If properly treated may become the basis for building a fully-fledged urban fabric. The good space of an urban pavement is a basic scene for the life of the community and society.

// This brings us to the most important part regarding the pavement, that is, treating it as a doorstep, a space that allows us to identify with ourselves, which becomes more than just a shapeless public space under our windows.

It allows us to become its "informal" owner which is probably the most desirable thing that in the relationship between man and space created for him can be because there is nothing worse than no man's space. Today, unfortunately, the majority of urban space is nobody's, which certainly does not help to maintain it, and certainly is profitable to anyone. The general lack of identity is also the final proof of the dependence of the quality and value of the pavement on the relationship with its spatial and social environment.


A cost-effective pavement?

The argument of sociological nature is unfortunately insufficient in this matter, because in trying to draw the attention to the average person to about this problem, it may turn out that it is waste one’s breath. for the careful and good design of the pavement space, the most important is the question of finances. Because taking care of pedestrian space is not just an abstract concept, it's best to show examples that can be used as a model and proof for the rightness of the ideas. In recent years, many cities have reoriented their approach to the design of pedestrian space. The most well-known and perhaps best-documented case is New York and its transport commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who carried out a real ideological urban revolution in the approach to pedestrian and public spaces. The scope of her activities was very wide and included not only giving up space in the city for pedestrians but also expanding the public transport system, the cycle path network. This became a model example of how this type of interference into the city space streamline can improve the quality of life in the city. The whole project was also widely consulted and supported by professor Jan Gehl, a well-known venturer, and propagator of solutions that help to adapt cities to human needs. Both Jan Gehl and his team of associates were an irreplaceable source of knowledge and intellectual-sociological know-how in this type of project. Although the initial goal of these activities was to improve traffic in the city and improve road safety, especially for pedestrians, the range of their impact had an unexpected extent.
The authorities of New York quickly noticed the disproportions that prevail between individual street users and the parts intended for their use. A good example was one of the most well-known symbols of NY - Times Square, where 82% of traffic was on foot, yet the proportions of a part of the street devoted to pedestrian traffic were much smaller than those intended for car traffic. It is Sadik-Khan and her team who are responsible for giving Times Square to the pedestrians and improving their safety. During the entire term of office, the same team has carried out many such projects both on a municipal and local scale, which not only improved the accessibility of New York streets, pedestrian safety on its roads, but what is particularly interesting, also positively influenced the local small businesses. As each activity was always carefully examined in terms of data collection on the changes carried out, the relationship between the release and adaptation of pedestrian space and the development of local trade was very quickly noted. The local trade profit increased by 49%, and the number of empty service premises fell by 47%, all by creating appropriate relations between the buildings and the space that leads them to their clients, i.e. pedestrians. This is proof that investing in pedestrian spaces is not only a figment of sociologists pointing to the relationship between the quality of these spaces and our well-being but real investment that is profitable, mainly for the users themselves. The data collected in New York is not just a proof of the rightness of the thesis, but an argument in the recent heated discussion that has fomented in Polish cities about limiting access for cars. Showing the financial profitability of introduced changes and promoting pedestrian communication in the city, that is, de facto privileging the pavement on the city street is the best answer to the repeated argument that limiting car traffic kills the local business. The point is not to prove to your right but to note that something more or less pays off and generates a measurable profit, and this is a good investment.
If the pavement can generate profit and, besides, positively affect the life of the urban community, why do not we still pay enough attention to it and we do not fight for it? Since it can provide us with real profit and income, why are we able to give up so often for the illusory feeling that direct access to the store by car at the expense of pedestrian space will affect this store positively.


Can we afford it?

It would be reasonable to ask how to change the perception of the sidewalk space, its impact on our everyday life and how our cities function. It is not a surprise that the basic tool to improve the quality of our common space is to educate its creators and users. The basics of raising spatial awareness are education, learning how to pay attention to the problems that the vast majority of people do not consider important or do not notice. Sensitizing people to the problems of the quality of public space, especially the one with which we adjoin, allows us to find a field for discussion. It is very important for each of us because eventually, we will all use this space to a greater or lesser extent. In the end, it depends only on us how high we will suspend the quality bar for the urban space.

// There is also a different way of realizing the problems that troubleshoot our space. It is a comparison of experiences, or - simply a slight change of approach to space and reality in which we move. Confronting different perspectives, observations and experiences is simply the result of changing the way of using space.

The way we are looking at modern problems of quality and design of shared spaces is changed by the combined idea of forced movement and recreational use of the urban space. The clash of perspectives and needs is a fundamental and most valuable part of the process of becoming aware of the essence of the problem. The goal of the conclusions drawn in this way is not only to criticize the quality of the Polish pavement and street space in general but to reveal how important it is to pay attention and how fundamental is their impact on us.
The fact of the imperceptible relationship between the pavement and the people who create these spaces is constantly underlined. It is worth asking yourself how much the relations of these two entities are two-sided, whether the pavement space can affect us as much as we do on the pavement. The question is crucial to us because if the answer is negative, it means that not paying attention to this issue harms us as much as we harm the space. So does it mean that we hurt ourselves?
Finally, an appeal, for each of us to use our common space in a way that will allow us to see a new perspective and other values than before. In the end, as we all know, circumstances alter cases, so it is worth to make some effort and changing your approach to problems to see new possibilities.