PAUL RITTER was born in 1925 and now lives in Nottingham where he practices as a planning consultant and lectures at the School of Architecture. He and his wife Jean wrote The Free Family, and his children wrote Everybody Silly Sometimes. He organised the“Child’s eye View” exhibition and the much-travelled “Man and Motor” exhibition. His newly published book Man and Motor is an essential companion volume to the Buchanan report.
THE NOTION THAT MOTORS AND MEN SHOULD MOVE along separate lines came surprisingly slowly to the descendent’s of those who witnessed the strict separation of the railways. And they were less busy and less dangerous than roads. Clarence Stein, Lewis Mumford and others thought logically on the subject as long ago as the mid-twenties, when the traffic problems in the U.S.A. were approximately those that face us now, here in Britain. Radburn was the first town projected, with a system of paths quite separate from its roads, and both leading to each house but on opposite sides. Radburn has given its name to the system of traffic segregation that relies on horizontal separation. In central areas and expensive sites it is often logical to segregate vertically, placing one or other traffic above.
Although safety seems the most dramatic advantage of walking and driving well apart, this is a negative outlook. The positive advantages of a walk-way system, with its clean air, lack of loud noise, its proper human scale, enclosure and social amenities, connecting directly to schools, shops, pubs, parks, stations, etc., quite apart from safety, make it the only rational way of planning. From the driver’s point of view, there is more efficiency and greater pleasure in driving. Studies have shown that, economically, this system compares favourably with the most economic other types of layout; that sociologically, more friendliness and co-operation is found along paths; and, aesthetically, architects and planners can practice the true, fine art of the profession; when building to a proper scale in the realm of the car, and more important. in the areas where man is supreme. It is impossible to design successfully to one scale only and that dominated by the demands of the vehicle.
In describing the various applications of the basic idea to Nottingham, it will be useful to look individually at (a) new housing, (b) interwar housing in need of regeneration, (c) urban renewal in terms of the city as a whole, (d) and the city centre itself.
(a) New Housing
It is likely that any new housing planned by the City of Nottingham will be of the Radburn type. Indeed a small scheme of that nature was planned for Basford in 1961, not too early, considering the fact that Nottingham has been a study and propaganda centre of the idea since 1952. Not only little bits but every area of new housing must have traffic segregation at its roots. The stark, bitter tragedy of the Clifton estate may be modified, even now, but this sort of thing must never be repeated, not even in tiny schemes. Beeston has shown the way, not only to Nottingham, but the world. It became the first council to pass a resolution that all its future housing should be of this nature. One only hopes that this ruling is enforced on the private developer as well as on the council estates. The spectacular advantages of such a layout, with a properly inserted under-pass for pedestrians, linking all people to the shops and to the recreation grounds without the need to cross a single road, and conveniently, are shown in the scheme for the Ilkeston Road Estate, where 500 houses are to be laid out in that manner. Architects in Nottingham have been in the forefront in persuading private developers to experiment with traffic segregation. Accidents at Clifton and their publicity have made the people of Nottingham as ready as any to welcome the overdue introduction of ideas that lead to a better, safer, more beautiful environment, and, what is more, with economy.
(b) Regeneration of Housing built between the Wars
Such housing will be structurally sound for a long time. It is important not to neglect these areas and indeed research has shown how comparatively cheap and easy it is to do something about them. The missing amenities are: play spaces, particularly for the young, as the older ones can ride their bicycles to the nearest recreation ground; garages and parking spaces; old people’s dwellings (at the moment old people, shrunken families, have to leave the area they have lived in so long or have many empty rooms, as too many dwellings are three bedroom houses); and smaller gardens, particularly in some places, where the traditional lay-out has left immense areas to the embarrassment of many a tenant. On top of these felt and recognised needs which can be derived from any survey, there are those subtle but great improvements which the fine art of town planning can bring: the delightful small scale environment of a separate footpath system to bus stops and shops and schools or just for a walk. Many through roads, which are dangerous can be made into cul-de-sacs without harm or inconvenience.
All this sort of thing has been illustrated on a design study of Aspley estate. It is important to stress that, with the scarcity and high price of land, it is a great asset to find sites for two extra dwellings an acre and one garage for every ten houses and play spaces, from existing road space and gardens which are too large. These assets must be balanced against the cost of providing the extra lighting and surfacing to the paths. The alternative way of providing garages for example, which the City of Nottingham has chosen, i.e. spoiling the few bits of open ground left in such estates, is leading to a piece-meal, uneconomic way of dealing with the problem as a whole.
(c) Urban Renewal in General
Exceptionally dense housing clustered around a very concentrated town centre will have to be replaced within the next few years. A bad start has been made at Sneinton and in the Alfreton Road-Ilkeston Road wedge. The shops and the pedestrians should have been taken out of such nerve-racking death traps as Alfreton Road and St. Ann’s Well Road. This can be done effectively when whole wedges are comprehensively developed, as is the rule in most cities now. Taking a wedge between two roads, the shops and path system are planned within it, and the service and motor traffic on the outside. The footpaths then form an effective and attractive way of getting into town, which is the accepted way for many workers in the city. Indeed some schemes for Nottingham do already hint at this type of development but it is essential that it should become a general principle so that a path system throughout the whole town is created. In Nottingham we are fortunate that the bones of such a system already exist, much of it as a ring which would link the path spines of the wedges. Underpasses become worthwhile and essential once large pedestrian flow is directed into attractive, convenient channels. Most urgent is perhaps the one at the north-west comer of the Forest; here a very large comprehensive development is scheduled with a pedestrian interior, a path system linking schools, shops and all the inhabitants to the Forest adjoining this area comer to comer. But there is no underpass planned at that point, a monstrous omission, a fiendishly designed trap to catch the children impatiently running to their play and to stop those whose mothers are worried about getting across Gregory Boulevard safely. If the municipality does not propose this underpass then there is no better point of application for the Nottingham Civic Society than to press for this measure or even collect money towards it.
A comprehensive footpath network ought to be part of the development plan of ever town. In Nottingham the Tunnel from the Park to Derby Road is an immensely valuable asset, now totally ignored but of vital importance once the Park is comprehensively developed, as it surely must be, taking as an example the Calthorpe Estate redevelopment at Birmingham. In other words private developers, if they wish to avoid being taken over by the compulsory purchase orders of land hungry cities such as Birmingham or Nottingham, will have to develop comprehensively themselves.
We must avoid such stupid situations as the one at present concerning the Arboretum: The Nottingham Girls High School has an exit to the Arboretum and via a Victorian and excellent underpass this leads on one side, almost directly to Mansfield Road, and on the other, to Waverley Street, or Goldsmith Street and Town. However, in the winter darkness, lack of lamps in the park and lack of protection makes this route a forbidden one, leaving the children to the more frequent but less publicised danger of motor traffic.
To summarise, urban renewal means amongst other things the
gradual establishment of a city-wide footpath network. What happens to the footpath system when it gets into the centre is the next point.
(d) Central Development and Renewal
Several ways of segregating traffic in the centre of Nottingham are applicable, both ultimately, and in sequence, as the stages of re-development proceed. The simplest and obvious first step, already taken by many towns in Germany and some in Scandinavia, and resulting in better trade, is to close to motor traffic some of the streets for a few hours of the day, say from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., delivery and servicing taking place during the remaining hours. This change cost nothing at all. As parking is usually forbidden in such streets neither the motorist shopper, nor the shopkeeper have anything to lose as they walk from a parking space to the shop. Clumber Street and Pelham Street are such roads in Nottingham: their intimacy and delight would once again be appreciated if one could walk in the middle of the road, stroll along, looking first right then left into all the shops; cross without danger and even take children along without fear and without the incessant clinging to hands and skirts which now makes shopping a doubtful pleasure (or sheer misery, for the mother. This idea could, should, and I hope will, be tried tomorrow.
The second technique of making the city centre a welcoming, relaxing, gay place is to close some streets permanently to traffic and resurface and furnish them so that, although the fire brigade, etc., can drive in for any emergency, the black asphalt is replaced by paving and patterns, right for the eye and the scale of the pedestrian. In such cases it is essential to provide adequate service access at the back of the shops. A pedestrian dominated space would make the vehicle take care, as in for example, the Arboretum at the moment. Again, shopkeepers who for years have thought this sort of thing would make their sales drop have realised from foreign examples that the reverse takes place. In Gothenburg the authorities were embarrassed in that neighbouring streets of shops asked to be closed to traffic after the first example was an overwhelming success. And in Gothenburg no extra parking was provided. If in Nottingham the extra provision of parking went hand in hand with the closing to traffic of streets (and the smoother flow of traffic and public transport besides) then shopkeepers have much to gain.
The third way of developing the centre in a rational way is to use space at a number of levels. It has been found in Chester for centuries that shopping on two levels can pay. But the attempt to introduce this in Coventry failed to some extent. Research has shown that people will use upper level shopping if they are led naturally and gradually onto it. Taking Parliament Street as a starting point, Nottingham provides a fine opportunity to channel people onto an upper shopping deck on the North side of the Old Market Square by starting such paths along Market Street and Queen Street. In that manner extra “frontage” is gained for no land costs and with very low constructional costs. From the other side, Wheeler Gate and St. Peter’s Walk, the lower level can be exploited and the entire Old Market Square could once again fulfil a “market” function on a level slightly lower than its present one, leaving an open square above to fulfil the need for an open space. Planned or not planned, the city changes radically. We have learned a little about the skills of city planning and must obviously guide the developments of the next 50 or 100 years, realising how much more rapid and drastic changes are likely to be.
Can we plan so far ahead when things are changing at this rate? The question is answered by the constancy of certain values in human life. Just as privacy will always be a need, so indeed is getting together. It has been shown that getting together is most efficient and pleasant on foot, as indeed shopping is one way of getting together. Similarly, wheel plus motor, are inventions that we are not likely ever to give up, except perhaps to hover over similar surfaces now used by wheels. Thus the need for segregation, whatever motor or propulsion, remains a constant need. On the other hand the use of cars, particularly in countries outside the USA, is growing rapidly. The provision of parking in town centres and of car provision in residential areas has to increase, and with it the use of public transport. It is quite impracticable and inadvisable, except for small new towns, to attempt a provision for 100% car usage of all inhabitants in the centre. It is silly to use private cars to go the same distance day in day out. Better public transport is the obvious answer.
Town planners are slowly learning that in each old town, sooner or later a value judgment will have to be made: how many private cars do we allow? There is no other way. (Even if that decision is not made explicitly it is still made implicitly as there just is not the space to provide roads for the cars that all people would like to bring into the centre.) The pedestrian system with its square and precincts and alleys, then achieves the human scale, the pulsating system in the centre, free of traffic. If the human scale is right, there is no danger that life and bustle will disappear with the cars. One visit to the Central Market or Sneinton Market will convince anyone in a twinkle that here is life.
WALKER’S MAIN SPINE PATH
MAIN ROAD UNDERPASS MAIN ROADS NO WALKING
SERVICE ROAD WITH PARKING
TO TOWN CENTRE
“Taking a wedge between two
roads, the shops and path sys-
tem are planned within it, and
the service and motor traffic
on the outside. The footpaths
then form an effective and
attractive way of getting into
town, which is the accepted
way for many workers in the
by, but free from,