If you drew a picture of the street where you live, how much detail would you include? A scribbled box for your house and vague lines for the road? Would you bother with trees, or your neighbours? Do you think grabbing a coffee would feature?
The intricacy of your picture might all depend on the amount of motorised traffic there is. While we’re now all confirming a myriad of friends on Facebook, in 1981, having friends was directly proportional to how much motorised traffic appeared on your street, and it probably still is.
According to Professor Donald Appleyard’s Liveable Streets study, light or heavy traffic could define residents’ social and recreational experiences—from how many friends they have to how they visually depict their street. This was “the first academic study research to document the social harm that is done by traffic”.
40-years on, New York’s Streetfilms, advocates of people being the heart of streetlife, has reanimated Appleyard’s findings for the more visual reader, reiterating the impact the automobile has on liveability.
No longer are cars on inhabited avenues just the reason for pedestrian death, they are the reason for their success or failure. Having surveyed residents of three San Franciscan streets—similar in their appearance but for the levels of traffic—Appleyard drew up charts, using lines to symbolise connectedness between residents and dots to show where they gathered. The more traffic on the streets, the less connective lines and groups of dots were present.
Things have only got worse since then and all of this points to the “invisible harm” done by traffic every day. So much so that heavy traffic even invades residents’ ideas of their “home territory”.
Closer to home, judging by the heinous amount of loonies guffawing between slurps of latte, sitting on plastic chairs less than a metre away from umpteen heavily traffic roads in Auckland, we are oblivious to the need for neighbourly cohesion. Such has the car infected our streetlife experience that rather than unliveable streets being ones we want to escape from, they are the ones we flock to.
A new edition of Liveable Streets will be available next year.