I've been in New York now for about three weeks. Walking a ton, of course. Amidst the pedestrian and vehicular chaos I've thought a bit about street level friction. Friction between a person and their environment; an environment riddled with obstacles (objects, cars, buildings, posts) and concepts (noise, advertising, signs).
A recent article peeking into the world of traffic management (seemingly a dull endeavor) brought this to life brilliantly, showing how friction can be a good thing. Here's an excerpt.
Mental Speed Bumps
Slower traffic can make for a friendlier city. But slowing traffic can be done in harsh ways: Speed bumps, traffic circles and the intentional bottlenecks known as chokers are auto-hostile tactics that do little for pedestrians. Gentler measures include tweaking the timing of traffic signals, or using what David Engwicht, an Australian traffic expert, calls “mental speed bumps”— street-side social activities that slow drivers without their knowing the foot is on the brake.
A community project called Ninth Avenue Renaissance, for example, proposes the use of on-street parking spaces on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan for barbecues and the like, adding a dose of intrigue to the street scene that will lead motorists to become curious, and slow down. “New York has these sorts of mental speed bumps,” said Mr. Kent, of the Project for Public Spaces, “but we’ve slowly degraded them by designing a more and more frictionless city for fast walkers and fast drivers.” But street-level friction, he said, is actually good.
I'm curious to hear what a connections planner's reaction is to this metaphor. What if connections planning was always done with this ethic in mind?
How would creative approaches in crowded environments be different if the brief was about mental speed bumps?