I suspect most of us take the designs of our cities and streets for granted, at least when they’re working the way we want them to. We notice the lack of bike lanes when we’re on our bikes, or perhaps the narrowness of sidewalks when a prank collective adds a “Tourist Lane,” but otherwise, we board our buses and walk the pavement without thinking much about it. That’s the beauty of urban planning: when it’s done right, you barely notice it.
Yet obviously a ton of thought goes into it. Planning a single street requires myriad decisions: how wide to make the sidewalks, whether to include a separate turn lane, where to place the bus stops, how to separate the bike lane from the cars, what kind of flowers should be used on the dividers. A nifty new web app called Streetmix, made by the current fellows of Code for America, lets you think about and play around with all these choices.
The site is just what it sounds like: a chance to remix the street. So there are driving lanes and bus lanes and streetlights and informational signs, and it’s up to you to figure out where they should appear, if they should appear at all, as well as how much space they should get. It’s incredibly simple yet fairly ingenious, encouraging visitors to think about how streets tend to be built — and from there, different ways in which they could be built. I made my own without deviating much from the standard starting layout (see above), but looking at a blog post on the Code for America site, I realized how very uncreative I had been. Probably because I’m not used to thinking about streets as malleable — something Streetmix may hopefully help me change.