Book Review

Completing Our Streets

Barbara McCann

There are times when a book covering a narrow issue raises wider concerns and points at significant weaknesses in the urban design scene. This is such a book. The book is well structured, clearly written, driven by a passionate belief in its message, a message that McCann explained in UD 125.

Completing Our Streets is a handbook and polemic seeking to promote the doctrine that streets should be more than efficient surfaces for motor vehicles. Unfortunately it seems that in spite of being aware of our journal, Barbara McMann has never heard of European experience that stretches back to the 70s. In the days of Google Search, it is sad that our American colleagues are so unaware of the ‘reclaiming our streets’ movement here. Such an omission is a failure of both sides, ours for failing to promote our experience and theirs for apparently believing their experience is unique. We must do better.

To end this rant I note that Completing Our Streets is praised by Gabe Klein, Chicago’s Commissioner for Transport. This is the city that sold street parking rights to Morgan Stanley, blocking any hopes of introducing bicycle lanes along the city’s main routes. Bicycle lanes are an integral element of McCann’s complete streets.

The book has good intentions and contains a guide to ways of changing institutional attitudes which is at the heart of McCann’s message. She claims not to promote design solutions, but by showing examples of success she cannot avoid appearing to endorse particular solutions. To this European mind, the illustrations do raise concerns. I fear that by promoting separate routes for cars, bikes and people, the Complete Streets movement will be missing the point that movement systems should be available to all, and that we should be aiming for safe shared surfaces. Separation of modes just divides different users, until they must inevitably meet, more than likely at a junction which is one of the most dangerous parts of any route. If only the Complete Streets movement had looked across the Atlantic they might have avoided falling into this trap.

Completing Our Streets, is however, a useful book for guideline and handbook writers. There is much good sense. It is clearly written and economically laid out. Interestingly, there is evidence that traders on complete streets note an increase in business, much the same message that followed early pedestrianisation schemes in the UK. Plus ça change!

URBAN DESIGN 135 Summer 2015 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 135 Summer 2015

Want to read more like this? If you're not already an Urban Design Group member, why don't you consider joining?

Completing Our Streets Publication Urban Design Group
Island Press
Reviewed By
Richard Cole, architect and planner, formerly Director of Planning and Architecture of the Commission for New Towns