Streets are public spaces, and as such, they have contributed to define the cultural, social, economic and political functions of cities. They were – and continue to be – the first element to mark a change in the status of a place, from a village to a town, from a town to a city or from a commercial centre to a capital city. Streets define the very nature of cities and contribute to giving form and function to urban spaces, from neighborhood and community levels to the city as a whole and its surrounding region.
Streets as public space are often overlooked. When planning the city, the multiple functions of streets are poorly integrated and, in the worst cases, are neglected. Citizens are, today, reclaiming their streets as public spaces in many corners of the world. The planning and design of streets should take into consideration the needs of all users: age groups, gender, economic status and modal means.
In recent years streets have been recognized as an integral factor in the achievement of sustainable urban development. The “livable streets” movement emphasizes streets as the fabric of social and urban life. Safety, security, social interactions are among the key components of livable streets. The notion of inclusiveness encompassed in “complete streets” is present in various projects around the world that advocate the planning and design of streets that take into consideration the needs of all users (ages, gender, economic status, modal means, etc.).
This publication establishes that, for a city to be prosperous, it must have prosperous streets. A prosperous street must promote infrastructure development, enhance environmental sustainability, support high productivity, and promote quality of life, equity and social inclusion. All this is possible in an environment where streets receive their just recognition for their multi-functionality as public spaces.
Cities with a weak City Prosperity Index are those that perform poorly in almost all components of the index. Much remains to be done in terms of city planning, quality of life, infrastructure and environment. Production of goods and services is still too low, a reflection of underdevelopment. Historic structural problems, poor urban planning, chronic inequality of opportunities, widespread poverty, and inadequate capital investment in public goods are critical factors contributing to such low levels of prosperity.
Published by: UN-Habitat Headquarters
Date published: November 2013
Publication type: Publication – Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Urban Prosperity (PDF)