Streetscapes: Dead or Alive

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs relates the important lessons taught by her Greenwich Village neighborhood. She noted that a diversity of uses and tightly spaced stoops, shops and windows hugging the street create a lively, visually interesting community. Similarly, streets at the waterfront should encourage mixed uses with front doors, retail shops, cafes and restaurants that provide for a “lively streetscape.”  With ground floor retail and a public park, the waterfront becomes a destination and gathering place.

Conversely, blank walls with few front doors or windows deaden a streetscape. Ground floor parking, or worse – multi-story parking garages abutting sidewalks — is a sure-fire means of killing street life. Eliminating on-street parking and traffic and setting buildings too far back from the street line further detract from the life and vitality of urban streets. At Hoboken’s waterfront, parking is at the interior of the block, either below ground or surrounded by commercial and residential units. An even better plan would be the construction of satellite garages at the perimeter of town, away from the waterfront.

Of course, speeding, multi-lane traffic along the water – as seen in sections of Hoboken’s Sinatra Drive – does not provide for a lively streetscape, and in fact tends to cut a community off from its waterfront.  Hoboken’s street grid, however, offers good examples of ways to slow traffic, with stop signs, traffic lights, cobblestones and parking on both sides of the street. Additionally, traffic moves at a slower, safer pace along the narrow portions of Sinatra Drive at Hoboken’s north and south waterfronts.

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Jersey City waterfront critiqued in The New Yorker (December 2002)

dead streetscape

Parking garages at River Street and Third in Hoboken deaden the streetscape.

Streets at the waterfront should encourage mixed uses with front doors, retail shops, cafes and restaurants that provide for a “lively streetscape. With ground floor retail and a public park, the waterfront becomes a destination and gathering place.”