A Tale of Two Streets: Comparative Experiences on Streets in the East and West

By Vikas Mehta.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Streets hold a special place in the literature on public space and are both literally and metaphorically the most fitting symbol of the public realm. Historically, the street has been one of the most significant public spaces in both occidental and oriental cultures. Yet, currently, the use and meaning of the street differs drastically between the East and West. The Western street is characterized by order and is a rationalized, regulated and commodified space whereas the oriental street is distinctive of an environment of complexity and contradictions, a diversity of use with an apparent disorder, and a place of over-stimulated sensory experience. In trying to enliven the street and to infuse it with vitality, the occidental cultures seek multiplicity, informality, ambiguity in form and use, and a heightened sensory experience. The orient, on the contrary, looks for ways to bring order to its seemingly chaotic milieu to appreciate the experience. What can the two cultures learn from each other? How can design inform the production and modification of spaces that allow the exchange without importing meaningless or acontextual forms? In this paper, I study streets in both cultures and explore the significance of the street as a meaningful place for meeting, interaction and human-human contacts, and a place for haptic experiences and body-object contacts. The comparison reveals the missing qualities in each context that prevent the street from realizing its full potential as a public space in both cultures. The paper concludes with suggestions that may be interpreted and materialized contextually in the East and West to make the street an active and meaningful public space in present time.

Keywords: Urban Public Space, Culture, Diversity, Social Space, Urban Design

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 5, pp.231-242. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 3.497MB).

Dr. Vikas Mehta

Assistant Professor, School of Architecture and Community Design, College of The Arts, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA

Vikas Mehta is interested in the social and sensorial dimensions of architecture and urban design. Dr. Mehta’s research explores the design of the built environment with an emphasis on aspects of human behavior and perceptions, especially as they relate to the design of public spaces and public buildings. Dr. Mehta’s scholarship addresses various issues of urbanity including urban vitality and regeneration, urban morphology, and environmental sustainability through urbanism. His current research investigates the phenomenological sense of place in everyday spaces, strategies to revitalize and repair historic districts in cities, the design of neighborhoods to foster community, and the connection between the built environment, social activity and walking behavior. Dr. Mehta’s work has been published in the Journal of Urban Design, the Journal of Planning Education and Research, the Journal of Urbanism, and forthcoming in Environment and Behavior and Journal of Architectural and Planning Research. Dr. Mehta’s work has advanced the existing methods to study human behavior in public spaces and has developed measures of sociability of public spaces that are useful to urban designers, architects, and urban planners.


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