Turning Urban Streets from Infrastructures into Living Places Early Research Outcomes of a Case Study in Prato, Tuscany

Gabriele Paolinelli, Lorenza Fortuna

In the second half of the twentieth century urban landscapes were affected by heavy infrastructural development. With regard to streets, managing the growing fluidity and speed of motor vehicle flows has been a priority for most designers. Nowadays there are multiple driving forces behind a transition that could accommodate different uses within the streets, primarily the cultural, social and economic exchanges that streets faciliated in the past but that have been lost over time. In the spreading practice called “shared street” most signage and traffic lights can be removed to permit the self-regulated and spontaneous circulation of all users and vehicles. This paradigm is discussed with regard to its potential to strengthen urban landscape identity, ensuring accessibility, redefining uses and practices within the street, reducing injuries and misbehaviour, and offering real and perceived safety to all users. “Back to the street” is an ongoing design research project dealing with integration strategies for different kinds of urban streetscapes. Which design features are necessary to encourage a change in attitude, speed and hierarchy for street users? How can these features positively affect urban landscapes in general and the liveability of streets first and foremost? The research attempts to answer these questions by considering street design as a means of triggering the effective enhancement of urban public spaces. The paper is based on the case study of Via San Paolo in Prato (Tuscany) and presents a set of quality requirements for street design such as plant integration, water drainage, and comfortable paths for both cyclists and pedestrians. As the design for separate flows cannot fulfill all the quality features in Via San Paolo, mostly due to its varying width, it is assumed that the “shared street” can replace it in order to enhance community life within the streets while promoting local sustainable mobility. The research examines two options: sharing the street in narrow stretches or along its whole length. A preliminary comparison is proposed to discuss the earlier research outcomes.


Landscape design; Urban streets; Shared streets; Accessibility; Liveability


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