Streetscapes and the Public Realm

Making up more than a quarter of the land area within New York City, streetscapes do not only consist of roadbeds where vehicles drive and park. They also consist of the sidewalks and plazas where people walk and socialize. Moreover, streetscapes are made of the bike lanes, the street furniture (including benches, lampposts, and bike racks) and the trees planted along the streets. Streetscapes ensure that people can move around the city and connect with one another. They help to make the city more resilient and sustainable by managing stormwater with bioswales and by limiting the negative effects of heat waves with shade provided by street trees. Streetscapes promote healthy lives and wellness by allowing people to exercise and come together. Most importantly, streetscapes are the places were community thrives and where people can express their right to protest and assemble. Finally, streetscapes are part of the public good: they belong to everyone.


Designing New York: Streetscapes for Wellness

Live capture illustration from December 2, 2020 Streetscapes for Wellness event by Zara Fina Stasi, Good for the Bees.

Designing New York: Streetscapes for Wellness is a collaboration of the New York City Public Design Commission, The Fine Arts Federation of New York, the New York Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, and a larger interagency working group.

Streetscapes have proven to be a critical player in the wellbeing and quality of life of the neighborhoods they inhabit and connect. At a moment when the public realm is being significantly altered to address issues of public health and security, social, racial, and climate justice, this initiative will culminate in a publication that will serve as both a point of reference and a source of inspiration and guidance to creating and advocating on behalf of quality public design.

Streetscape design encompasses a vast number of elements on the street—from benches and bus shelters to wayfinding signage, Wi-Fi kiosks, and electric vehicle charging stations—many of which are redundant, obsolete, or serve only a single purpose. Now, our streets are also filled with outdoor dining, retail, and learning spaces. As such, all of these elements compete for space in our public realm and can create clutter and confusion and substantially impact environmental health and quality of life. A holistic and integrated approach for a safer public realm should not only comply with public health and security concerns, but also improve aesthetics, usability, and public perception to support an inclusive and thriving urban environment and public life that is allowed the flexibility to shift and adapt in conjunction with the city.

The forthcoming publication will provide guiding principles for the quality design of public streetscapes and adjacent open spaces, with a particular focus on the urban response to holistic wellness and public health since the beginning of the pandemic, as well as to growing security concerns and rapidly-shifting technologies within the public realm.

Video coverage of the Streetscapes for Wellness virtual launch event on December 2, 2020, can be found here.

A list of shared resources can be found here.


Streetscapes of New York

Download Streetscapes of New York, a pocket zine created by the NYC Public Design Commission, in collaboration with the NYC Department of City Planning's Urban Design Office for WE Walk: Streets for Connection, a 2020 PARK(ing) Day event:

Community engagement at WE Walk: Streets for Connection event, photos by PDC Staff.


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