In 2007, the Whole Foods supermarket chain built one of their largest stores on New York City’s storied Lower East Side, occupying an entire block of East Houston Street from the Bowery to Chrystie Street. For the well-off, the abundant availability of high-quality organic foods was a welcome addition, but for the majority of locals, many of whom had roots going back generations to New York’s immigrant beginnings, the scale of the new store, selling wares that few of them could easily afford, was a symbolic affront to the traditions of this part of the city.
Behavioural effects of city street design have been reported before. In 2006, the Danish urbanist Jan Gehl observed that people walk more quickly in front of blank façades; compared with an open, active façade, people are less likely to pause or even turn their heads in such locations. They simply bear down and try to get through the unpleasant monotony of the street until they emerge on the other side, hopefully to find something more interesting.
For planners concerned with making city streets more amenable and pedestrian-friendly, findings such as these have enormous implications: by simply changing the appearance and physical structure of a building’s bottom three metres, they can exert a dramatic impact on the manner in which a city is used. Not only are people more likely to walk around in cityscapes with open and lively façades, but the kinds of things that they do in such places actually change
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