On my daily walk to the train station, my route includes two pedestrian only portions.
The second path follows the Salem tourist trail, a red painted line inspired by Boston’s Freedom Trail that leads me up Artists’ Row, around the Old Town Hall, and down Essex Street. Salem prides itself on its pedestrian friendly streets; many residents cite the city’s walkability as a significant factor as to why they live in Witch City.
The first pedestrian way I follow, however, is off the tourist circuit. It is a fragmented asphalt hill that connects Dodge Street to Washington Street. Impossible to traverse in the wrong footwear, it is a small short cut is taken by many. It is not a friendly pedestrian way – it is a Street Interrupted.
Its significant use value for the many that do use it prompted a small project to inquire into how the path may better serve its users. We asked two simple questions to understand how people use the path, and how they would like to see it improved.
A little down Dodge Street, the yellow line marks the spot and draws attention to the imposing dead end that is in fact used by many pedestrians. Some comments plead for the path to be “plowed” and others use the chalk outside the box – this is inspiration for a much grander installation!
It is surprising how many people use this unfriendly path. Families with their children scale the asphalt, others rush by on their pedestrian commute, some simply explore. For such a little sliver of space, this sure boasts plenty of use value – just think of how many people would use it if it were actually inviting – and safe!
Unfortunately, this short cut will soon disappear altogether – it will be part of a new development. This useful path has been sold and it will be absorbed into the development, integrated as a superblock – a block much larger than the surrounding blocks that impedes fluid traffic flow, in this case, pedestrian.
Superblocks were recently bemoaned in The Point Neighborhood Visioning Plan funded by the federal Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant, which was awarded to the City of Salem by the Metro Boston Consortium for Sustainable Communities. The plan relates the negative impact of “oversized street blocks that are not human scale and difficult to navigate on foot.” (page 27 of the Point Visioning Plan) Why then, does the proposed development ignore the findings that refer to superblocks less than a quarter mile away? (The negative impact of superblocks is well documented throughout urban analysis and research.)
One of the most successful private development and public space projects of the Twentieth Century is the Rockefeller Center in New York City. The scale is much grander in all respects than the little path that connects Dodge Street Court to Washington Street; the concept is the same: design for fluid traffic flow to integrate a project with its context. The development donated public space to the city, including the new street “Rockefeller Center Plaza.” In the case of the Rockefeller Center, the plan actually added to the already porous and pedestrian friendly grid.
Although ours is a private parcel, a small path would be useful and appreciated by the public, especially during the winter months when the snow piles high and even the most avid short-cut takers are deterred off their course.