Friday, June 26, 2009

Profiles: Shared Space Institute (Netherlands)

Sharing Knowledge on Shared Space

- Sabine Lutz, Shared Space Institute, Drachten the Netherlands

On June 23 a stunning article was posted on World Streets, by Paul Barter, of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the University of Singapore. He refers to experiments with shared space or ‘naked streets’ which have drawn considerable public attention in recent years. Indeed they have. From 2004 – 2008 seven European partners from five countries have been sharing knowledge on Shared Space.

It takes shared space to create shared understanding

In the Netherlands, since February 2009 the Shared Space Institute is operational, as one of the project’s tangible results. On June 10th 2009 the Institute had its official opening. The institute is dedicated to further exploring and applying the Shared Space principles. What do they teach us about the ins and outs of successful public spaces, and what changes need to be made to maintain them? And perhaps even more important: what does the Shared Space concept teach us about wealth and health of the people living there?

What does ‘Shared Space’ mean, and why do we think it’s needed?

Over the past decades, traffic objectives and traffic legislation have determined the way in which public spaces were designed. This was meant to improve traffic flows and traffic safety. But it was at the cost of the quality of the public spaces and the living environment of people. And it was also at the cost of the personal conduct in public, and the professional capacities of those who are responsible for public spaces.

In contrast to current practice, Shared Space strives to combine rather than separate the various functions of public spaces. By doing so, the quality of public spaces will be improved, and responsible behaviour will be evoked. So, when designing spaces, Shared Space relies on information from the surroundings to guide road users' conduct, instead of forcing them to strictly obey to traffic rules and signs. When there is a primary school, we don’t want to hide it behind fences and sign posts. Instead, we extend the school yard out into the street. We think that car drivers are not stupid. If they can see children playing in the streets, they will reduce speed and drive as careful they possibly could.

We need space for traffic and space for people

Of course, this does not mean that rules will be entirely superfluous. Without rules of the road, some well meaning drivers would drive slowly, others would drive quickly, believing correctly that they were doing so safely, and still others would drive quickly but not as safe as they thought they were. Therefore, Shared Space makes a clear distinction between traffic areas and those spaces, which should serve as people space and thus must invite to behave socially. In his article from Tuesday, June 23, 2009 on, Paul Barter very clearly pointed out the characteristics of these areas.

Both of them, roads and motor ways on the one hand and streets on the other, are depending on one another. Only if there is a suitable network for fast traffic, we can design all the other public space for the purposes it’s meant for: all those surprising and interesting things people want to share with each other.

We need to change our minds

But that’s not all. We learned that Shared Space does not only change our thinking about how to handle traffic and how to design our roads and public spaces. It also points out how to tackle the overwhelming power of rules and legislation in politics and in our daily lives. Shared Space gave way to the search for new ways to achieve key improvements in the interrelated areas of road safety, spatial quality, economic prosperity, governance, community capacity and confidence. It stimulates the capacity of communities to be more creative in the way they tackle a broad range of issues. And it also assists politicians, decision-makers, city staff and citizens to 'think outside the box' when looking for ways to address public issues.

Who is working at Shared Space Institute?

We are ten professionals in the Netherlands, experienced in various working fields, such as traffic engineers, urban planning, psychology, process management and geography. We are and connected to a worldwide network of researchers, practitioners and citizens. We all share the mission to develop a new way of thinking about public domains.

However, the quality of public space is not a goal in itself. We think it’s important to create ‘people spaces’, places where people can meet, engage and communicate. Space only has quality if it contributes to the quality of life. So, public space is about people and their living environment. And it is also about the quality and justice of society. As a consequence, society itself should be organised in a way that people can act as responsible members of that society.

Shared Research Program

Shared Space Institute is an international knowledge institute, dedicated to knowledge creation, knowledge transfer and knowledge implementation in the field of Shared Space. It is our starting point that public space is the heart of society. Through its quality, public space supports people in their humaneness.

Research and knowledge creation on these aspects are at the heart of our activities. Our approach is integral and cross-sector. This means that:
• research should always be carried out in partnerships with stakeholders in society, to make sure that it is based on the demands of society
• various disciplines should participate and that research should always be related to every day practice in the working fields
• our aim is not to gather theoretical information. Research never should be an aim on itself. If we say ‘research’, we always start from concrete projects
• these projects deliver research questions to be answered. The answers on their turn deliver knowledge to be applied in the projects.

Please find more background information about the Shared Space Institute’s research activities on:

Needless to say, that our staff is ready to support authorities, professionals and interest groups in development and innovation processes. You’re always welcome for a lecture or a field trip to interesting Shared Space locations. For more details about Shared Space – schemes in the Netherlands please refer to

Next steps?

At the moment, we are busy on working out the Shared Space – research program. Our main research question is centered at the cross roads of the knowledge domains as illustrated in the figure on the right. How are these domains connected to each other, and how do they influence each other? If you improve one of them, what changes does it cause to the others?

Of course, our research will further plunge into projects addressing safety issues, solving community severance, tackling congestion and enhancing economic vitality in streets and public spaces. Our main interest is at developing innovative approaches to the process of planning, designing and decision-making towards new structures for municipal organization and public engagement.

European collaboration

Perhaps interesting to mention: we would like to apply for European funding to build a partnership in the North Sea Region countries working on new strategies towards balancing rules and ethics to facilitate healthy social and economic organisms. We believe new alliances of public and private stakeholders can provide a better quality of life through a new sense of civility.

Our central result will be to deliver a proved strategy which allows to delegate responsibilities to where they belong. Partners will demonstrate this through sharing management and governance, and forming new alliances between authorities, agencies, networks and individuals. Our target groups are: public authorities, business clusters, research institutes, universities, public support agencies in urban and rural areas, and citizens' organisations. All those who are interested to join the partnership are invited to contact us.
To know more:
Shared Space Institute
Lavendelheide 21 NL 9202 PD Drachten
Sabine Lutz - s.lutz
P: +31 88 0200 475 M: +31 6 83 20 90 78
Editor's note:
Remember this? - The unexpected interview in Groningen: Homage to Hans Monderman

* Click here for 90 second video

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  1. Simon Norton, Cambridge UKFriday, 26 June, 2009

    I would say that in the UK road traffic is an exception to the "safety culture"
    that has stifled many other amenities in our lives. In other words, risks are allowed on the roads that would be prohibited in other areas.

    I think we need to "level up" safety for road users and "level down" safety in other areas -- especially where restrictions hamper the development of alternatives to driving. "Level up" measures might include the routine use of driving bans for conduct which endangers others; a requirement for all cars to be designed to minimise risk to pedestrians and cyclists; regulation of driving hours for motorists as well as bus and commercial vehicle drivers; as well as the usual things like speed reduction (whether through speed limits, traffic calming or shared space -- the last might be called "traffic calming by people").

    To the extent that the hypersafety culture in other areas has been due to fears of litigation, maybe we need some kind of tort reform. This term has been used in the US to refer to laws that absolve large corporations from the damage they cause, but is there any reason why we can't have laws that protect ordinary people and small organisations as long as they don't do anything grossly negligent ?

    On a different point, the article on shared streets said that "only if there is a suitable network for fast traffic can we design all the other public space for the purposes it's meant for". Is this really true ? I think it's a dangerous thing to say as it could encourage our planners to drive superhighways through our cities. In London and elsewhere too many of our local shopping centres are surrounded by fast ring roads that cut them off from their hinterland for pedestrians and cyclists.

    Simon Norton, Cambridge UK

  2. A notable exception to the debate so far is the challenge of creating shared spaces that also fit with the pressing need to include our aging population and especially those with physical, cognitive or sensory impairments.

    In the UK and across the world, new agenda planners are coming into conflict with groups representing the needs of differently able people especially in respect of shared use areas or paths and people with visual and hearing impairments. The arguments are frustrating for all sides as on the face of it the planners want to reduce threat but want to use a psychology which feels counter intuitive to the threatened.

    There is no dissent from the view that car-oriented city design is a negative way to approach the public realm but the characteristic lack of segregation in a naked street provides little if any tactile definition which some people need to feel confident. Add to this the growth of cycling in dense cities which is to be welcomed but accelerating in some places beyond the ability or will of traffic planners to accommodate it and you see antisocial bikers riding sidewalks and through stop signals that while statistically still benign scares the wits out of the less steady on their feet. The net result we are told is that you may have apparently successful shared spaces but only full of able-bodied users while others would be excluded.

    The real worry is that as popularity grows for the ideal without resolving the practical, the two camps are retrenching. The Royal National Institute for the Blind in the UK suggest that while not opposed in principle to the ideals of shared spaces it is the designers job to ensure the spaces do not discriminate. Designers argue that you can't have your cake and eat it - liberal self-policing shared spaces and 'safe' regulated/segregated spaces are basically opposing briefs. The issue of what want our cities must be a democratic debate with tangible evidence.

    It will therefore be very interesting to follow projects such as the naked district proposals in Bendigo in Australia to see if quality of life indicators respond in a car-dependent society as well as they appear to in the shared space homeland of northern Europe. Brave decisions like this may be the only way to inform the debate and demonstrate that new mobility isn't a minority dream but a collaborative, inclusive and achievable ambition.

    Adrian Bell MSc BEng
    Project Director
    Applied Information Group North America Inc.
    1530 Hatton Avenue
    British Columbia

  3. Todd Edelman, Berlin, GermanySaturday, 27 June, 2009

    Regarding having your cake and eating it, too... it feels to me that the Shared/naked vs. reg/seg space issue again points to the solution of more totally carfree spaces BUT also some bikefree spaces. This just feels like the logical outcome.

    To come to that conclusion it perhaps can help to de-construct how we identify all of this road stuff we have come up with: "Car", a supposed solution (a concoction of marketing, need, sex, desire, urban design, privacy-fetishism, energy-entitlement, "safety"....) is not the same thing as an "automobile", which is a type of road vehicle, and sometimes quite useful: Taxis and carshare cars (both more accurately "individual automobile-based public transportation"... in fact isn't the driver the main difference here?) have - in my humble opinion - a place as transitional vehicles in conurbations (til urban design, logistics, perhaps some new technological solutions for mobility-challenged persons and obviously pricing policies are changed enough to make them undesirable or useless or impossible) and for rural use.

    So then, I argue that Shared Streets are a car-preservation technology. Reduced, perhaps but perhaps not as part if the requirement is faster spaces for them. Safer, maybe... but is a world of shared space cities, which allow cars, sustainable? The answer seems obvious.

    Zebras/crosswalks are also useful to look at as a car, rather than a pedestrian, preservation technology: Without them on faster, wider streets, anger towards cars just builds and builds, but with them everyone calms down a bit, yet still these cars dominate the roads and the world, with the overwhelmingly majority part of the movement part of a street being theirs, a de-facto mono-user space. Even in the Netherlands, etc where a pedestrian has more rights (and protection) INSIDE the zebra.

    As Adrian says, in some cases (my neighbourhood, too) cyclists can scare or at least annoy pedestrians, but provided with more of their own space (or to share with trams and buses) in the former space of cars how much of this will be solved? A lot, I think, but not enough. Still, its never enough as there are always risks is getting out of bed, for everyone. But still we need to know exactly why these cyclists are acting the way they do. (In parts of my neighbourhood which has very wide pavements/sidewalks on traffic-calmed streets, I think this bad behaviour of cyclists has something to do with wanting to be close to or in-between.... lovely and also soft people sitting or walking on the sides... instead of in between the hard and sometimes ugly cars, even in a slowed space.)

    Though it might get me in trouble to say so, I would definitely be interested in more research into cycling-licenses (fully paid for by driving licenses, including necessary training), with a requirement for those trying to get both to be temporarily-blinded or hearing-reduced for a day or longer whilst negotiating their local streets on foot. If you desire a more holistic form of sharing, especially where cars and automobiles are still allowed, it probably helps to "see" from the other side.

    Todd Edelman, Berlin, Germany

  4. Simon Norton, Canbridge, UKSunday, 28 June, 2009

    Larry Shaeffer asks what might be the arguments against a system where vehicle
    speeds were limited externally. My answer is that politicians would believe that
    it would cost them votes. This may or may not be true, but I am absolutely
    certain that if we were living with such a system and any politician proposed to
    disband it, at least within living memory of the present system, he/she would
    get lynched.

    Regarding the conflict between safety through shared streets and safety through
    rules, I don't see that there is a conflict. Pedestrians and cyclists would not
    be subject to rules; motorists would. Those motorists who can't cope with the
    simultaneous constraints of rules and shared streets -- let them get off the

    Simon Norton, Canbridge, UK

  5. Zvi Lee, Montreal CanadaSunday, 28 June, 2009

    I am not a fan of excessive rules, but I do think that there are a few golden rules which should apply to EVERYONE - "common sense" and "respect". These rules are more social norms which should be expected of everyone, not formal laws which need to be defined and enforced.

    Don't forget that different people use a street for different purposes. Residential streets also function as social spaces which support activities not necessarily related to 'transit'. Kids playing in the street is a legitimate activity, but the kids should get out of the way if a car wants to pass. By your logic they can just continue playing (since no "rules" apply to them) and tell the car to "piss off".

    Of course I am exaggerating, but the idea that certain classes of people are not "subject to rules" is a slippery slope. Certain people (the "rich" and the "powerful") already feel that many rules do not apply to them. Are you suggesting that we just change the class of people who are in the "no rules" category, or that we abolish that category completely? I expect the latter....


    Zvi Lee, Montreal Canada

  6. John Mayson, Austin, Texas, USATuesday, 30 June, 2009

    On Sun, 28 Jun 2009, Zvi Leve wrote:

    > Simon,
    > I am not a fan of excessive rules, but I do think that there are a few golden rules which should apply to EVERYONE - "common sense" and "respect". These rules are more social norms which should be expected of everyone, not
    formal laws which need to be defined and enforced.

    I think you hit the nail on the head!

    I hear from so many motorists how they're sick of all the laws and proposed laws. I know people in law enforcement who say they can't possibly enforce all of the laws the various law making bodies hand down every session. How did we get to this point? It's simple, people have given up on common sense and have no respect for anyone including themselves.

    Since we as a society have lost the ability to police ourselves, more and more we're inviting the police to do it for us. The only problem is the cops can't be everywhere all the time. If people would use their brains and realize using a cell phone in heavy traffic isn't a good idea we wouldn't need cell phone laws. And texting laws? It's a very sad commentary on our society that we would even need a law banning that.

    What's next? Laws mandating that we breathe so we don't die?

    John Mayson, Austin, Texas, USA

  7. Simon Norton, Cambridge UKThursday, 02 July, 2009

    I don't think motorists ever did have any respect for the needs of society. Right since the dawn of motoring, many of them have had the attitude that it's OK to do anything they can get away with, from illegal parking to speeding, from unnecessary sounding of horns to air pollution and climate change.

    I suspect that some of them see their cars as a means of freedom from restraint, and as long as they have that recourse they are prepared to put up with other forms of restraint. Of course, because of the unique scale of the problems caused by motoring, it is motorists who need restraint more than any other group. And the result of this is that people without cars then get the restraint without the compensating freedom.

    The theory behind shared streets is that if one relaxes rules on road users they are more likely to behave responsibly. That wasn't how motorists behaved before the rules were imposed. Though they may well live up to this if there is a culture of respect.

    As for the idea that suggesting that children playing in the street might prevent a car from proceeding, what is to stop them from doing that now ? With sensible speed limits for a residential area a car will be able to stop in time to avoid hitting them, and it can hardly continue and run them over deliberately. Again, under a shared streets regime what's to stop children playing in the street ? This is surely no more fanciful than Monderman's dream that it would be safe to cross the road walking backwards.

    On another point, surely many disabled people already have "badges" ? Those who can't walk have wheelchairs, those who can't see have white sticks or guide dogs.

    Simon Norton, Cambridge UK

  8. Simon Norton, Cambridge UKTuesday, 07 July, 2009

    I think there would be a moral objection if those pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users belong to these categories because they can't afford a car were required to compensate motorists for giving up their right to use a car for some journeys.

    I'm not sure that the neo-classical argument is correct anyway. I think it would be generally agreed that slavery is an inefficient system of allocating workers to jobs that need to be done. Jane Jacobs said somewhere that economic growth was inhibited by the existence of slavery, I seem to remember. If slaves and slave owners are a small minority of the population then the Government would be able to compensate the latter for loss of their free labour resource, and this actually happened in some countries. But what if almost everyone was either a slave or a slave owner ? Then where would the money come from for such compensation ? I think that this is closer to the situation with regard to transport.

    Simon Norton, Cambridge UK

  9. Richard Layman, Washington DC, USAWednesday, 08 July, 2009

    driving is a privilege, not a right. But maybe in the UK, automobile users pay for most of the cost of providing the road infrastructure, because the gas excise tax is so much higher. In the U.S., only about 50% of the cost of roads is covered by taxes, tolls, and fees.

    Richard Layman, Washington DC, USA

  10. Zvi Leve, Montreal CanadaWednesday, 08 July, 2009


    I like that analogy: we are slaves to our cars! I have been reading Ivan Illich's Energy and Equity lately. He makes some very interesting points about transport speed and how the need for high speed travel creates various equity issues. It is not only high-speed private vehicle travel which creates dependencies, but high-speed travel in general.

    Zvi Leve, Montreal Canada

  11. Andrew Curry, London UKWednesday, 08 July, 2009

    Even in the UK the money raised from fuel duty and vehicle tax falls short of covering the full (year to year) costs of motoring (including infrastructure, health impacts, etc). Obviously the shortfall increases when one also factors in carbon impacts etc

    The notion that the richer part of the population, who have made choices (whether legal or not) which adversely impact both present and future generations, and have been privileged through this choice, should be rewarded by society for making a better choice (which i think is Aaron's argument) tells us more about the failings of economics as a discipline than about possible transport policies.

    Andrew Curry, London UK

  12. The moral case for transport that predictably kills people is nearly impossible. Economics is no guide there. But people made legally sanctioned decisions to invest for a car and carbon world. Finding the transition pathways that could involve transfers and compensations seems also moral.

    Aaron Thomas

  13. Let me add: the idea I raised is that a transition to carfree/car-few may be more possible by (a) considering the main obstacles (groups invested in the car system), and then (b) considering whether the more efficient transportation arrangements (of carfree/few) would create savings/earnings (e.g. healthcare, space efficiency, etc.) that enable transfers/compensations to those invested groups.

    The counter-arguments here haven't really been fair to that idea, I feel. I am not saying -- as Andrew speculated -- that drivers and other car-invested groups "should" be rewarded for better choices, as though there were a moral obligation to do so, or no practical problem in (later) rewarding people for taking up and then quitting destructive behaviours. Nor am I saying that drivers are already paying the actual costs of their transport choices, or that the car system is not heavily unjust. And I am certainly not saying that "the pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users belong to these categories because they can't afford" the car should or would be the ones paying those car-invested groups. Society as a whole would arrange the transfer, available through the savings and increased earnings of the more efficient option.

    Practically speaking, this could mean things like share-price guarantees (for car-oriented companies) and paying people to shift away from driving for the first periods.

    Aaron Thomas

  14. The moral case for transport that predictably kills people is nearly impossible. Economics is no guide there. But people made legally sanctioned decisions to invest for a car and carbon world. Finding the
    transition pathways that could involve transfers and compensations seems also moral.

    Aaron Thomas


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