Woonerf (pronounced VONE-erf; and roughly translated as “living streets”) is the Dutch term for a special kind of street (or group of streets) that functions as shared public space — for pedestrians, cyclists, children and, in some cases, slow-moving, cautiously driven cars as well. It is intended to function without traffic lights, stop signs, lane dividers or even sidewalks. Indeed, the whole point is to encourage human interaction, and those who use the space are forced to be aware of both others and the environment around them (i.e. – making eye contact and engaging in person-to-person interactions). People have recognized that many residential streets are unattractive to live on, as well as unsafe for children to play in, because they are designed for little more than motor vehicle access and parking. Along with “complete streets”, urban design is trending towards these types of considerations to make the pedestrian environment more welcoming. In the appropriate location, these are great places for artisans, co-working, retail and food!
Some common design elements include: shared and paved space that is intended for all street users; use of physical barriers, like curves, to maintain slow vehicular speeds; accommodation of landscaping and street furniture. At BCT we see opportunities to study incorporation of programmatic elements like retail, residential dwellings, creative / artisan uses, and public/private open spaces so as to make these types of urban design elements more engaging for both users and visitors alike.