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The future of human-susatainable design

If you've spent 35 minutes driving three-quarters of a mile along Bridge Street in Syracuse the past 18 months, you've probably found yourself just putting your car in park on a 4-lane road to save yourself the over $4-a-gallon gas. From what I understand, it really has been a bad scene over there. I say "from what I understand," because, despite its convenience to work, I just won't take that route unless I'm certain there's no traffic.

One of the things I have noticed going in as part of that larger project is sidewalks. And I just can't be mad at any project that adds sidewalks to a commercial area, especially a commercial area near residential areas, and especially a commercial area with lots of parking lots.

Sidewalks mean that if you live nearby, you can walk safely, rather than on the shoulder of a 45-mph road. They also mean that if you want to drop your car off at the tire shop and then walk to the jewelry store, you don't risk your life walking on the street or across parking lots.

But sidewalks are just one small step in the race for sustainability and human-centric design. If you hate sprawl and the headache of traffic and the inability to get good sunlight in your apartment and can't believe we're going to fit the population of the U.S. into one small city in China, watch this:

There are some really cool things in there. Foldable cars? Holy hotness. There are also some things that start to feel a little dystopic to me. Those moving-wall, re-configurable apartments? Where do the people who live in those places keep their guitar? Or the title to their car? Or a few extra rolls of toilet paper?

The bigger thing to me, though, is the concept of the walkable village. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know it's a big thing for me. It hit home when Joel Kidder was killed leaving a bookstore in December 2009. Seriously? We can't find a way to let people cross busy streets safely so they can have a sandwich and then go to the bookstore?

Unless gas hits $5 a gallon and it's a gorgeous day, I probably won't ever walk to work – it's only about 3.5 miles, but there are almost no sidewalks. Good morning, sir, would you like an impact with an SUV going 40 miles per hour with your coffee and morning walk?

I have a grocery store about a mile away. It's in a commercial area called Towne Center, named, I'm guessing, because it was meant to mimic a town center, where you could go and get anything you want. There's the grocery store, a department store, a variety of restaurants, a jewelry store, a coffee shop, a bank, a drug store, a liquor store, a video game store, a furniture store, a crafts store, and a YMCA, and that's just off the top of my head.

What it's missing from the town center feel is a feeling of park-and-walk safety.

First, like I said, this place is less than a mile from my house; the safest walk has me going through some woods, which surround some wetlands, which means that after times of heavy rain or most of the winter, it's not a passable route. The other walk is along the narrow shoulder of a 4-lane, 45-mph road with turn lanes. It's primarily terrifying.

Once you're there, though, the shops are clustered. So you can safely get from the grocery store to a couple of the restaurants, the department store and a few other shops, but be careful trying to get to the drug store or bank, because you're pretty much on your own running across the parking lot. Yep, been there, done that, too.

I just don't get why we don't take non-vehicle traffic into consideration. When are we going to stop designing for businesses, and start designing for the humans who might patronize them?

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