Natural Right-of-Ways

What is possible by allowing nature to retake public right of ways

What would Seattle look like if we allowed streets to be recaptured by nature?

In 1985 Seattle designated and mapped its first Green Street into policy guidelines that marked the beginning of what could become an epic transformation in the way cities and nature interact and coexist. More than any other public space in Seattle, and pretty much every city in America, public streets account for the largest total area of public space. The function of most roads are extremely important to making sure a city is operating smoothly, yet there are many streets that could be replaced by permeable surfaces where plants can take root while still maintain their primary function. Just imagine continuous vegetation from yard to yard, where mosses, shrubs, and new trees could take root. Neighborhood streets could be extensions of gardens, with gravel pathways replacing sidewalk and little bridges over swales that help manage the cities storm water, placing it where is naturally belongs – in the water table. Granted, the cost of maintaining streets in Seattle is lower than in cities with fluctuating temperatures that freeze and thaw water, expanding small cracks into cavernous pot hole, but there are potential cost savings to not having to replace old streets.

These natural streets could be a place for opportunistic residents with green thumbs to take charge and express their gardening skills. The city has already been nudged to take advantage of the surplus of public space that is the street to make it a place for sitting, eating, drinking, and hanging out.  With legislation supporting pilot program like streeteries and parklets, there is an established interest in doing more with this public good. Some may argue that there is a maintenance issue with letting nature take back the streets, but letting nature do its thing is exactly what makes these street so interesting and biophilic. Imagine a city with trails instead of sidewalks, and gravel/grass instead of asphalt, where trees could grow healthier because of better root networks and fauna had routes to get around. Who knows, perhaps our future could be to live in both the city and the forest.

Image photoshoped by author to show possibility.

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About mcj2030

Corbin’s professional passion resides in the impact that good design has on people, communities, and ultimately, cities. He is an dual architecture and real estate masters student at the University of Washington, driven by the notion that thoughtful architecture and development have a profound impact on our ability to be stewards of the environment while creating a framework for economic and social vibrancy in future communities.

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