August 15th, 2011

What urban morphologies would result if we designed cities for cycling?

Although Utopian diagrams of ideal urban models are frightfully daggy these days, they can nonetheless throw big ideas into focus. Thus I posit for your learned consideration, an urban form diagram built on a cyclescape (far right) beside one giving primacy to a landscape (far left) and one proceeding from a notion called "townscape", that we attribute to Gordon Cullen's sketches of the early nineteen sixties. In the model on the left—Le Corsusier's Plan Voisin, as you well know—the pedestrian experience on the ground is to be of a landscape, or continuous park, with slender white towers going unnoticed above. The pedestrian experience in the kind of town shown in the middle image (loosely based on diagrams I remember Leon Krier used to draw), the pedestrian experience is of streets framed by buildings, to give the impression each is some kind of room.

The pedestrian experience of my archetypal cycle-space city (right) gets no consideration at all. People can walk there, but there is no message from my mind to the minds of pedestrians. I'm thinking purely of cyclists, who will find an undulating ground plane between rounded buildings, forming valleys where I want them to go fast, and mounds where I want them to roll to a stop or slow down. Of course buildings don't need to be circular (how boring if they all were!), but it would help sight lines if they were at least rounded. They will be big, because financiers of projects these days are huge, and seek economies of scale to increase their profits. To activate the street they will have commercial and public facilities at the ground floor, then 10 or more levels of apartments above, arranged in spiraling forms with wide access balconies around the outside. Yes, people will ride to their apartments, and buildings will not require lifts, or even fire stairs. Pretty neat hu!    

Post-script: in response to comments, I have drawn a few variants. I'm about to accept I don't have a clue, and don't believe either in "ideal" solutions.