As some of you may have noticed there’s been a bit of snow about in the last few days. Apart form looking rather nice, and being able to have snowball fights in it also loosens everyone up a bit. A man helped me push my car out of the road and I made a rather witty remark about another man’s dog being a bit like a husky. These events couldn’t have happened without the medium of snow, I don’t generally see life as being environmentally determined but…
As I was strolling about yesterday I saw some views like the one above. The snow can change the way we see things, indeed it can hide boundaries. The above photo shows how it is hard to differentiate the road from the pavement. This reminded me of the work of Hans Monderman the Dutch traffic safety officer who invented the idea of the ‘naked street’ and ‘shared spaces’.
These are counterintuitive approaches to road and pedestrian safety. Instead of using signs and barriers Monderman removed them, kerbs and traffic lights from certain areas of urban centres. His belief is that if people aren’t told exactly what to do in a slightly dangerous situation they act more cautiously, are more observant and rely on mutual respect. Drivers and pedestrians then act in a more aware way; their behaviour is reflexive and self-determined rather than impinged on them by the state.
This has been tried out at inner city junctions which carry 20,000 cars a day, speeds are generally slower, and accidents have dropped where Monderman’s designs are used. He boasted that there had never been a fatality in one of his shared spaces. As an example of how safe his theories were he would often hold his hands behind him and walk backwards into a busy street, the cars and bikes would just start moving around him with no screeching of brakes or irate road ragers!
These ideas have been used across Europe now, Kensington High Street is now a shared space and more are planned in Britain. Hans Monderman died last year but helped lots of others carrying on living and has made people rethink their ideas on safety/rationality and use of urban landscapes.
Philosophy of European Shared Space – http://www.shared-space.org/
Hans Monderman Obituary – http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article3167372.ece
Life on the Open Road – http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2006/apr/12/communities.guardiansocietysupplement