LIVING STREETS: Designing Radically Pedestrian-Centric Environments for Human Health
HOK

With more people than ever moving into urbanized areas, our cities are growing, but our health in them is declining. The advent of the car forever changed our world. We began to pave the planet transforming the urban realm with smog, heat sinks and noise, water and light pollution - ultimately degrading our bodies and our minds.  In order to thrive, we need to maximize the value of our built environment and leverage it to solve multiple problems at once.   Innovations in Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology could inspire a greener, safer and radically pedestrian-centric streetscape.
 
Urbanized nations spend massive amounts on healthcare and hospitalization.  At best, this increasingly GDP dominant investment affects only a small percentage of our health outcomes which being torpedoed by chronic disease. These diseases are influenced our access to healthy lifestyles in our built environment. Therefore, building a healthier world will largely hinge on what we do outside the healthcare system and our ability to build more equitable cities, active communities and healthier places. 
 
We propose a re-dedication of our rights-of-way back to the human: a complete public realm transformation for better environmental health and human well-being.  The efficiencies of AVs could provide opportunities to reclaim and repurpose city streets, creating open space to improve mental and physical health and opportunities for commerce, fitness, and relaxation. 
 
Our new “sense” of place focuses on designing streets for the 5 senses: hearing, sight, smell, touch/feel, and taste.  This approach has the capacity to address our healthcare crisis, build communities and catalyze commerce.  Today cars take upwards of 75% of our urban street environments.  AVs will be able to operate in as little as 25%, returning up to 50% of the street to human and environmental activity.  We are looking at the potential of a whole new public realm, which cars just happen to move through, and a re-focus on ‘place’.  This is the gift of the autonomous vehicle - silent, clean and safe. 
 
This redesign posits environments that re-orient to our natural rhythms, where overhead street lights, signage and traffic lights disappear making way for a circadian city.  It imagines a new urban soundscape in the 45-50 Db range of a park or quiet courtyard.  It creates places with less pavement and more trees, landscape, infiltration capacity and clean conveyance of stormwater to nurture healthy streams, rivers, and lakes.  It is a place for birds, bikes, babies and bees.   It allows our most vulnerable members of society a place to thrive, kids to play freely and creatively with minimal supervision. It extends an invitation for restaurants, workspace, retail, fitness and other ground level activity to spill out further from the building.  In short, human powered mobility, walking and biking, is front and center. The ability to fully occupy our urban outdoors again has powerful implications for health and well-being, mentally and physically.  It positions urban centers as the forefront of addressing our national health crisis via a robust salutogenic approach to the planning and design of our streets.
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