For decades now the game has been to build to street alignments with perimeter blocks, then activate streets with commerce, and to make cities that feel secure for pedestrians. Plonking tall towers in parks leads to indefensible space, or so we are told. But Jane Jacobs wrote that life changing book, outlining the urban ideal of the low-rise big-footprinted development, before cars could take off so quickly from corners, and at a time (the 1960s) when large percentages of people weren’t riding bicycles. But what if half or more of the population were riding everywhere?
On bicycles, you just don’t feel insecure crossing vast places with no surveillance. That crazy guy muttering to himself, can’t start muttering in your ear. Muggers don’t usually pick moving targets. Riding into Stuyvesant Town on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, came as such a shock for me, on my recent excursion. I was expecting a ghetto. Not people sunbathing in verdant bliss. Ground floor units, cookie-cutter planning, no ground floor commercial… there hasn’t been an architect in decades who would even contemplate designing high density housing like this. Yet, riding around on my bike, I thought it was lovely. It created what I’m going to start calling a campus condition: cars kept to the edge, buildings in the round, and a system of winding paths inviting of leisurely cycling.