Architecture for Strolling Babies

March 5, 2006

One of my favorite pit stops is Howard Kunstler’s Eyesore of the Month. Every month, he calls out a building somewhere for offending his sensibilities. More often than not, the crimes are transgressions of function, like this bike lane that funnels riders into a sewer grate.

Many of his peeves are on behalf of children: the schools-as-penitentiary design, the play structure that shall not be played upon, the playground you can only access by car.

One of the motifs to which he often returns is the failure of public spaces in America: the way our communties are designed with a total disregard for pedestrian pleasure. “Is there any doubt that we are living in a National Automobile Slum?” he asks. Little value is given to inviting, human-scale places where people of all ages may stroll and linger and meet up. Instead, the norm is an utter lack of design or character where buildings meet the street.  

The built landscape of many cities would change dramatically if it were designed with the baby stroller brigade in mind–the army of women that blankets the streets every day, circling blocks and heading for parks. Berkeley is a throwback to an earlier time, when cities were dotted with parks, benches, and verdant enclaves. It is a dying model.