Victor Dover, of Dover, Kohl & Partners, was at Rollins College last night to give a lecture on his new book, Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns, which he co-wrote with John Massengale. Mr. Dover’s firm redesigned Park Avenue in the mid-1990s and, a decade later, designed the Rollins College Gates. Victor is an excellent and approachable speaker and knows Central Florida well!

Victor’s lecture, as reflected in the book, incorporated many great visuals, including before-and-afters, which are quite persuasive. He contends that visuals are important to sell any idea to people. As he explained, and I love this, “People are hard-wired against growth and change because they’ve seen so much of it in their lifetime, and it wasn’t good.”

While the topic of street design may seem mundane to many, because we are conditioned to only see these as thoroughfares – a way to get where we’re going, we miss some incredible opportunities. This is how we went wrong over the last century. Think of your some of your favorite cities, and chances are your list is dominated by historical cities whose fabric is a network of quaint, narrow and walkable streets.

Not only do we miss out on incredible opportunities to make our streets pleasant and livable through our overzealous transportation policies, but we also sometimes overdo our attempts to fix what we’ve missed. For example, while we’re seeing bike lanes more and more, and cyclists are certainly staking claim on their streets, our efforts at creating bike lanes have so far been sub par. And we really need to raise the bar. Victor even nudged the Complete Streets Initiative. “If it’s not beautiful, it’s not a really a complete street.”

Victor showed a video taken in a town outside of Amsterdam where a quaint narrow way was extremely busy with cyclists, scooters, pedestrians, and even a vehicle or two. It looked like chaos compared to our very compartmentalized standards, but no one seemed inconvenienced or afraid of being mobile there. What do I mean by “compartmentalized”? We separate and prioritize our modes of transportation. In fact, where traffic engineers lump walking and cycling into alternative modes of transportation behind the vehicle of course, it is possible for all modes to equally share a street with less bright paint and bollards if the street was designed to organize and accommodate these comfortably.

I agree with Victor that there will always be some high speed roads, such as interstates, and that there will always be suburbs and people that prefer the suburbs. However, regarding the suburbs, and retrofitting these large swaths we’ve already procured, “We have to get better at filling things in and completing the canvas.” He showed many great examples of retrofitting streets that have been blighted and left behind. To see some cities thinking in this manner, gives me much hope.

As you compare your favorite streets with some that you give no thought to, what makes them different? What makes you want to be there or simply pass through as quickly as possible? In the spectrum where both will exist, what makes a street more about access rather mobility?

Author: Tory