We remember cities mostly by their streets. A high street or a major commerce corridor imparts to us our lasting impressions of a city. So there is Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Picadilly Circus in London, Times Square in New York, Tsim Sha Tsui in Hongkong.
Streets are the largest publicly owned spaces in any city and also take up the majority of land use. Typically 30-35% of a city's land area is devoted to streets.
Streets are the lifeblood of any city and convey commerce and people from home to office to factory. Streets are also the infrastructure web that defines a city -that connects districts and functions and serves as wayfinding. More than buildings or monuments, streets carry what Kevin Lynch calls the image of the city.
Streets, like cities, also persist. Unless interrupted by war or catastrophe or bad urban planning, a city will retain the fabric of its streets through the centuries. Rome has kept its fabric -so has Jericho and Jerusalem -so has Istanbul and Cairo.
Streets that serve cities well serve many functions -and conveying car traffic is just one of them. Streets move people -on foot, on bikes, in cars, in buses. Streets provide public storage for private goods (parking). Streets are exchanges -where people can meet, sell goods, explore the city. Streets are environmental channels - generating pollution or moving rain and stormwater - or providing trees. Streets are free public event spaces for fairs, concerts of mass demonstrations.
Which is why it concerns me that the MMDA, as part of its home city improvement bent, is undertaking a road improvement program. (Starting with Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City.) -I'm not sure whether it's 7 or 9 (older reports say 9) but here's the gist of what they want to do:
"MMDA's "Seven Major Roads" program, an integrated infrastructure development program focusing government resources in the improvement of seven major transport corridors, namely ; Commonwealth Ave., R10, C5, EDSA, Quezon Ave., and Marcos Highway.
Improvement of these seven major roads includes road widening, geometric improvements, sidewalk rehabilitation and various street furniture."
I'm not complaining about the effort -i'm complaining about the bias for roads vs. streets.
Roads are for cars. Streets are for people (including people in cars).
The logic of Metro Manila's streets has, for far too long, been dominated by auto-chauvinism. Motorized transport -particularly cars, are seen as the primary use of streets. Sidewalks have been sacrificed to the roadway (road widening) and then pedestrians are derided for spilling onto the road. Pedestrians are forced to accomodate cars - by corraling the sidewalk with fences and using overhead crosswalks instead of at-grade crossings.
This is not surprising seeing that the opinion leaders are probably all car owners/users. Also because our public transport system is built on motorized transport (and driven by weird logic of the boundary system).
If we are to recover our metropolis, if we are to make it livable, we must begin by reclaiming the lost functions of our street.
(more on this to follow)