Urban planning is a discipline which attempts to order both life and infrastructure in urban settings. However, it is not urban planning that makes a city. Rather, it is the interaction between the infrastructure and the inhabitants. The infrastructure is operationally defined in this essay to include the buildings, sidewalks, street lights, roads, and railroads among other features of a built environment. The inhabitants, on the other hand, include the people who live in and utilize the urban setting and they include the residents, the business owners, and the strangers. While the inhabitants may be attached to the urban setting by ancestry, the business owners and visitors will be in the urban setting for reasons other than ancestry. Such factors are the main concern for this essay which focuses on the analysis of two streets in Tucson. These streets include 4th Avenue between University and 9th Street in Tucson and 4th Avenue between 29th Street and 36th Street in South Tucson. These areas are business districts with a degree of mixed use, density, and street life. The analysis does not seek to paint one street as better than the other. Instead, the analysis uses a descriptive approach to provide insights on why different the two streets may have differences in the flow of people, as will be demonstrated in some of the images provided in the analysis.
The two streets are in the same urban setting. However, an evening stroll on the two streets at approximately the same time reveals core differences in street life. On one street the street lights are on, there are many cars on driving on both sides of the street. Additionally, this street appears lively and bubbly with businesses up and running at the time of the visit. On the second street, it would suffice to indicate that it appears like a ghost town where the only cars are those parked on the sides of the streets. Hardly can one find a business that was open at the time of the visit, and only very few people were on the street at the time of the visit. Being only a few blocks from each other, it would be important to determine why life in the two streets was so different at exactly at the same time though on different days.
Gehl on life between buildings indicated street life depended on only three types of activities. These activities include the necessary activities, optional activities, and the social activities. The necessary activities include compulsory activities such as going to school and going to work. The optional activities are those that are to one’s desire such as jogging on the streets, sunbathing and the like. The social activities depend on social setting of the street.
The two streets in the analysis were greatly influenced by the three types of activities according to Gehl. The first street has a railroad while the second street does not have a railroad. Every person that has to use the railroad to engage in the necessary activities has to go to this street. The street is also appears to have a main road passing through it, explaining the density of motor vehicle traffic on this street. The necessary activities of travelling to and from work, from school, and from other necessary engagements thus gives more life to this street than to the second street.
The first street is also characterized by many businesses that are still open at the time of the visit while the second street has few to no businesses open at the time of the visit. In fact, the second street has the lights dimmed in almost all buildings, the buildings facing the street are short and lack the fancy decorations on the first street. The differences in lighting link to the type of activities according to Gehl in that a street that has people travelling for necessary activities also attracts many users who in turn attract business persons. In other words, when a street is used for necessary activities it attracts more people who in turn attract business interests because many businesses seek visibility. It is on the same streets that social activities such nightlife social activities are likely to happen.
The second street will most attract inhabitants for optional activities such as cycling and jogging for fun because the streets are clear with little to no obstructions, the pavements are clear and wide, and there are not many people on the streets. These characteristics make it appropriate for such activities. Additionally, the street is most likely to have more inhabitants than strangers and business persons. These properties make it fundamentally different from the first street.
Jane Jacobs averred that pavements, buildings, roads, and such other infrastructures by themselves mean nothing. It is the interaction between these infrastructures as well as the interaction with the inhabitants that gives life to the streets. The interaction between and among the infrastructures and the environment attracts people and people attract other features to the urban setting. For instance, the first street appears to have a dense population only because the interaction between the features and the infrastructures on the street support the interaction. For instance, the bicycle stands, interact well with the pavements and riding lanes, the sitting spaces interact well with the fact that the street is a major route in Tucson while the many vehicles interact well with the business environment or rather the many businesses on the street. These interactions together make the urban life in the streets and mark the differences in the street life.
Jacobs noted that street life may vary based on time. There are streets that will be busy during the day and less busy during the night and this is a characteristic of the second street. At night when security questions arise, density on the street may boost security. Being an evening view, the first street may be viewed as more secure and safe especially for visitors or strangers and more so because of the apparent busy life. A stranger would be more wary in the second street which appears to have few people in the evening. These characteristics push people to the busier street.
In summary, from the perspective of the two streets in the analysis a street’s density appears to be influenced by two main factors that include the type of interactions between and among infrastructures as posited by Jacobs and the types of activities it attracts. This is the reason where the walls are well-maintained, there are businesses, a railroad, and a busy road, the density of people, bicycles, and motor vehicles is high. The street with less of these factors experiences less bubbly life but it also attracts inhabitants for optional activities such as cycling and jogging as evident in the two streets.