Today, it’s the rule to be blasé about the street. People pass through it unthinkingly, hurrying on to the next destination, unaware of the sanctity of the ground upon which they tread.

Is the street just a forgettable strip to dash on through? Actually, it would be more accurate to say: The street is the crucible of our civilization.

Since the dawn of civilization the street* has been the dwelling place of communal life.

Here, there was dance…

The Wedding Dance (c.1566) by Bruegel The Elder

The Wedding Dance” (c.1566) by Bruegel The Elder

Ceremony…

"Procession of the True Cross in Piazza San Marco" (1496) by Gentile Bellini

Procession of the True Cross in Piazza San Marco” (1496) by Gentile Bellini

Play (sometimes raucous)…

"Children's Games" (1560), by Bruegel The Elder

Children’s Games” (1560), by Bruegel The Elder

… And feasting, debate, governance, and socializing.

The importance of the street cannot be overstated. It is the platform where society is formed, a place accessible to everybody, where trust and cooperation – the DNA of society – are created. The more people, and the more time spent, in the street the healthier society is. All problems in society can at least be partially addressed by providing a common platform – the street – for people to unite.

For these simple reasons, we must give our highest respect to the street. We should give our deepest care in maintaining its historical role and our greatest efforts to reclaim streets and restore them as the crucible of our civilization. Every citizen and every leader must unite in this cause.

And what kind of respect are we paying the street today? About this much:

denman_jan_2013

A place of danger, pollution, isolation, and despair. This is what our sacred ground has become.

In the twentieth century, with the advent of mass mobility humanity tossed millennia of culture in the garbage. We forgot the street as the fundamental platform of civilization. The street become life-threatening to step into. The equality of all people has been replaced with hierarchy; those with a motor vehicle are worth more than those without. It’s a loss that has taken many people and governments decades to understand. Turning back in the right direction is only just beginning…

Even today, it’s impossible to untangle the problems of society from the desecration of the street. Loneliness, drug use, crime, psychological and physical illness; these are all certainly exacerbated by the destruction of the street as a platform for human connection.

Many people feel there is fundamentally something wrong with how we live today. Many are calling for revolution. But if revolution happens, it cannot happen without restoring streets as civic places for everyone.

So how we can reclaim streets for people? This will be an unfolding answer told in many different ways on this blog. Keep reading…


* For the purpose of brevity and because most towns and cities today are dominated by streets, this article uses the word street to mean all types of public space located where people live and work, including plazas, village commons, and pedestrian malls.