Basics of Street Design


There is no one way of designing the streets. It is an extreme case-specific design problem. But, certain points should be considered, to achieve an efficient street section.

A sidewalk is like a canvas that can become a playground for street designers, for introducing various activities to the streets, bring nature to streets and even become great public spaces to hang out.

Let’s, look into five basic aspects of street design.


1. Human Scale


The human scale is the base of every street design. How the street will be perceived depends on the proportion of the width of the street and the height of building facades facing the streets to the human eye level. It also forms the perceived notion of whether the street is designed for humans or automobiles.

After achieving a street proportion that is comfortable to human scale, it is important to add visual and physical orders to the streets, to help humans identify. A blank wall proves to be a depressing and unsafe niche for humans. Hence, the façade can be designed by adding architectural elements like arches, windows, balconies, parapets, weather sheds, etc. and aesthetic elements like painted walls, planters, alignment of slab lines across buildings, same height and built-to-line restrictions, etc.

Rue Denoyez in Paris © Myrabella on WikiCommons


2. Mix of uses


Mixing up uses to create a variety in planning is always beneficial. Additionally, ground floor cafes, shops, businesses, and markets attract people, thereby making the streets active. A variety of uses can be distributed along a street with criteria of different operational timings like weekdays, weekends, seasonal and mornings, evenings, or midnight to ensure a lively and safe street throughout the day and year around.

3. Storefronts


Storefronts add the necessary drama to streets with wide window displays, allowing people to window-shop, without using a penny. They also give people reason to visit the street to access the store. Having storefronts allows for routine visitors to the street, thereby making people identify the street as an extension of their life.


Ste-Catherine Street, Montreal © Benjamin Shingler for CBC


4. Wide sidewalks


Wide sidewalks have always been the most important criteria for street design. Deciding the width of a sidewalk depends on the function of the street, is it an arterial street or a local street. A Street meant for connecting important areas of the city can have smaller sidewalks compared to vehicle lanes. On the other hand, a street meant for movement within a locality should and must have wider sidewalks compared to vehicle lanes as people are more likely to prefer active mobility to move around. A sidewalk is like a canvas that can become a playground for street designers, for introducing various activities to the streets, bring nature to streets, and even become great public spaces to hang out.

Streets in a Portugal town © Patricia Almeida on Flicker


5. Signage and lightings


It is extremely important for people to not feel lost in the streets. Apart from design decisions, proper use of signage is the key to help people navigate. Street lights play a vital role in helping a street become a safe environment.


Cities around the world are now realizing that there is more to streets than cars. Streets should accommodate all kinds of users for better performance and lifestyle. Knowing the basics of street design is the first step to achieve a healthy environment.

Forum Shah

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