Compare and contrast Buchanan and Mondermans approaches to the production of order in public spaces

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Before the use of cars dramatically increased, the main source of transport available to people was either by horse or by foot. Thus, UK towns were designed to accommodate these movements. However, from the 1960’s onwards, the number of people who owned and used cars increased significantly and towns were adapted to accommodate these changes. This led to structures being built, such as roads and bridges, to separate the movements of pedestrians and vehicles.

Silva (2009) suggests that, ‘a number of government initiatives at national and local levels have sought to plan, design and implement road systems following different philosophies about the benefits of segregation of pedestrians and motor vehicles’ (Making Social Lives, p. 325). This essay will examine two different approaches to the production of order in public spaces. The first approach is that of Colin Buchanan. The Buchanan Report, published in 1963, highlighted the need to segregate vehicles and pedestrians and was very compelling.

The second approach relates to that of Dutch engineer, Hans Monderman. His work promotes the idea of ‘shared space’, and his notion of the ‘naked street’ has gained credibility in the early twenty-first century. Table 1 shows us that the number of cars on UK roads between the second world war and 1969 has quadrupled since 1949, when there were 46. 5 billion vehicle-kilometres. The government realised that this would cause major traffic problems between vehicles and pedestrians. They became aware that towns desperately needed new layouts to cope with the increase in vehicles.

This was necessary to enable pedestrians and vehicles to live together and maintain some sort of social order. Due to this dramatic rise in the usage of motor vehicles and the predicted problems it would cause, the government commissioned Colin Buchanan to start work on the report Traffic in Towns to try to resolve the issues. Silva (2009) suggests that ‘a future of choking road congestion was feared unless the rapid rise in demand for car travel was matched by an increased supply of roads’ (Making Social Lives, p. 327). However, Buchanan’s Traffic in Towns report aimed to do more than just increase the number of roads.

He created a new design for towns that would enable vehicles and pedestrians to live together satisfactorily. The main idea was to ‘isolate ‘rooms’ for working, shopping and leisure from the ‘corridors’ where traffic would move’ (Silva 2009, Making Social Lives, p. 328). Buchanan argued that due to the dramatic increase in vehicle usage, it would be necessary to either significantly reduce the use of cars or significantly redesign towns in order to cope with the higher demand. He argued this was necessary to maintain social order in public spaces.

Thus, after the mid 1960’s, towns were redesigned to accommodate the growing number of vehicles. However, they were built with the key principle of segregation; segregating the pedestrians from the vehicles. As Silva (2009) points out, ‘driving and walking were seen as incompatible: you either walked in the segregated areas or drove – were driven – in the traffic corridors’ (Making Social Lives, p. 329). Yet, the sometimes radical segregation, imposed on towns, began to cause problems in itself. Some houses became extremely difficult and inconvenient to reach and towns such as Hulme in Manchester became completely isolated.

The Buchanan Report regards traffic as a serious danger that essentially needs to be segregated to maintain safety in public spaces. Priority was given to road traffic and as Silva (2009) suggest, ‘traffic-led thinking became a dominant influence on the design and use of public spaces’ (Making Social Lives, p. 331). However, not everyone shares Buchanan’s ideas about how public spaces should be ordered. New ideas have emerged that argue people should not have to go far to find what they want. Thus, suggesting a new proposition for social order in public spaces.

After the Buchanan Report, there was a dramatic increase in material infrastructure, such as traffic lights, kerbs and railings, all designed to segregate pedestrians from vehicles. However, a more recent approach has contested the concept of segregation. This new approach is known as ‘shared space’, and has highlighted new ideas with regards to the movement of pedestrians and vehicles in UK towns. Monderman, as cited in McNichol (2004), embraces this new approach and states, ‘the trouble with traffic engineers is that when there’s a problem with a road, they always try to add something.

To my mind, it’s much better to remove things’ (Making Social Lives, p. 333). Monderman’s work suggests that roadside markings and warnings are not necessary to ensure road safety. On the contrary, his approach promotes what is called ‘psychological traffic calming’ (Making Social Lives, p. 333). This involves removing safety infrastructure such as barriers and kerbs and changing the colour of the tarmac. The purpose of this is to, ‘create the need for motorists and pedestrians to negotiate with each other the use of the road’ (Silva 2009, Making Social Lives, p. 333).

Monderman believes that if you give motorists more responsibility for their actions rather than forcing strict regulations upon them, it would have a better effect. Furthermore, Monderman came up with the idea of the ‘naked street’. It promotes the concept that pedestrians and motorists will naturally know how to communicate with one another and that this achieves greater social order in public spaces than segregation. In an experiment carried out in the Netherlands in 1982, Monderman removed all barriers and road signs in the village of Qudeshaske. The result? Motorists reduced their speed by 40 percent whilst travelling through the village.

Why did this happen? The removal of all infrastructure meant that motorists became more aware of the environment around them and took responsibility for their actions. This concept of ‘shared space’ was repeated in other areas, ‘increasingly combining engineering with psychology and demonstrating an appreciation of a place as a contextual situation, and of how people would read it’ (Silva 2009, Making Social Lives, p. 333). Monderman’s approach was also put to the test in what is known as ‘The Drachten Experiment’. In the town of Drachten, in the Netherlands, traffic lights were causing a major problem.

People had to wait unnecessary long periods of time to cross roads and there were a large number of casualties each year. Thus Monderman set about removing the lights. He argued that if motorists are forced to constantly follow instructions they become like robots and stop thinking for themselves, which consequently results in more accidents. Furthermore, his work suggests that the best way to improve road safety is by psychologically calming traffic. By this he means removing all barriers and safety warnings and replacing them with features such as trees, flowers and fountains.

He believed this would psychologically deter motorists from speeding as they become more aware of their surroundings. His idea of ‘shared space’ promotes the view that ‘traffic should become an equal, not a dominant partner’ (Silva 2009, Making Social Lives, p. 336). In conclusion then, it can be observed that there are some radical differences between the two approaches. Buchannan argues that material infrastructure are necessary to ensure road safety and believes the only way to do this is by completely segregating vehicles and pedestrians, sometimes to the point of physical isolation.

Monderman, on the other hand, disagrees with this theory. He argues that humans and vehicles need to take responsibility for negotiating public spaces themselves and believes that removing material infrastructure is a good way to encourage this. Thus individuals are responsible for looking after themselves as opposed to Buchanan’s view that individuals should be looked after by the government. Yet, if you scratch the surface of these two approaches, they have more in common that it would first appear.

Both approaches aimed to improve social life through the ordering of public spaces and both wanted their designs to increase security. In addition to this both Buchanan and Monderman used the idea of ‘street furniture’ to achieve their goals, albeit different types of ‘street furniture’. Buchanan favoured material infrastructure such as barriers and traffic lights, while Monderman went for more psychologically calming features such as trees, flowers and fountains. However, their goals remained the same, this ‘street furniture’ was created to make the roads a safer place to be.

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