Woonerfs translate as “living streets,” but more exactly the name means “living yard.” In many places where private outdoor space is limited—as is the case in Charlotte—the street acts as another option. For residents of a woonerf the reclaimed public space is a place to play, socialize, and engage in their community. That has certainly become the case at The Towers as neighbors can often been seen holding neighborhood events (Block Parties) or just communicating across to each other (especially from their balconies down to the streets).
The concept of the woonerf was created in the late 1960s in the city of Delft, Netherlands. The general concept is a residential street in which the living environment takes precedent over vehicular. The street is shared among pedestrians, bicyclists, and motor vehicles; however, pedestrians have priority over cars. There are 4-primary signifiers for a woonerf, including:
- Distinctly marked entrance(s)
- The street is designed without a clear division between pedestrian and auto space (i.e., no continuous curb)
- Using physical barriers, such as curves, to slow vehicular traffic
- The use of landscaping and street furniture (Seating should be included to encourage people to use and stay in the street for other activities. Seating areas can be protected from cars by using bollards or other physical barriers.)
Benefits of a Woonerf
The woonerf can have a positive effects on the street environment as well as on residents’ lives by:
- Reducing driving speeds and increasing levels of safety
- Creating more efficient use of space: The street design balances the need of street space for vehicles with the provision of street space for other users and activities. Since the street does not make distinction between travel lanes, children play across the whole width of the environment, turning the streets into a valued public space, and not just a channel for vehicular mobility.
- Increasing socialization and activities: It has been observed that people stay for longer periods of time in the streets and also engage in more verbal communication (especially from their balconies at The Towers).
- Creating a more attractive street.
- Increasing natural surveillance, which deters casual crime.
- Creating better access and mobility for the elderly and persons with disabilities.
- Increasing the demand for urban living by improving the environmental quality of urban streets which has been shown to increase property values.
Examples of Woonerfs in America
Most of the examples of woonerven are in the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom, however, the concept has spread through Europe as well as Japan, Australia, Israel and the United States. Most examples in the United States are shared streets in commercial areas like:
- Wall Street in Asheville, NC
- Linden Street in San Francisco, CA
- and Palmer & Winthrop Street in Cambridge, MA
Besides (Living Way & Mattie Rose Ln) The Towers there are a handful of known residential examples including The Cottages and Bridgewalk in Boulder, CO.
Appleton Street in Boston was converted into a woonerf in the 1980s where the street and house typology are very similar to a European street. The design includes a raised entrance, traffic calming measures, and angled and parallel on-street parking. It also incorporates the use of different pavement materials.
Borderline Neighborhood Shared Streets Project in Santa Monica might be the most prominent woonerf in America. The project redesigned four connected streets into a community front yard that promotes walkability, adds sustainable landscaping, and provides community gathering space. The project elevated the roadbed to eliminate vertical curbs and used decorative pavers to delineate walking, driving, and socializing spaces. It also incorporates sustainable features such as urban runoff retention elements, permeable concrete and pavers, and solar lighting.