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Streets on the Steppe

Streets on the Steppe

From late May until early September, the weather warms and the light of the day seems endless in Astana (presently, the sun graces the sky until nearly 10 pm). During these halcyon months fishermen, swimmers, and boaters dot the Esil River and families and young couples alike delight in strolls about the city’s parklands. However,

From late May until early September, the weather warms and the light of the day seems endless in Astana (presently, the sun graces the sky until nearly 10 pm). During these halcyon months fishermen, swimmers, and boaters dot the Esil River and families and young couples alike delight in strolls about the city's parklands. However, this summertime vibrancy is noticeably absent from Astana's thoroughfares.

Although generally well laid-out, Astana's streets lack those elements of design that create boulevards to see and be seen on, or “Great Streets” as urbanist Allan B. Jacobs calls these promenades. These include but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Enclosure, which creates an intimate but not claustrophobic space, shields unsightly views, and protects pedestrians;
  • Ample, inviting lighting, which improves pedestrian safety and creates an ambient atmosphere at dusk;
  • Sights that engage the eye, including street-facing, pedestrian-level windows and displays, pocket parks and playgrounds, and street vendors. 

These features create a pleasant ambiance and cultivate participation – people-watching, outdoor dining, window shopping – thereby creating a communal space. 

With this in mind, let's examine one of Astana's thoroughfares: Turan Avenue. This well-lit, tree and shrub–lined pedestrian path is nestled between four high-speed interior lanes and a local avenue. Shopping and entertainment complexes line the local traffic lane. On the opposite side, restaurants of cartoonish proportions form “Restaurant Row,” and a row of densely-planted trees divides the avenue from the restaurants' front parking lots.

Turan Avenue

Turan Avenue adequately accommodates pedestrian traffic, but front lots and sizable setbacks (from the pedestrian path) create a void between the path and Turan Avenues businesses. No sights catch the eye, commercial activity is segregated from the street, and pedestrians do not linger. Turan Avenue is a transit route that bustles with multi-modal transportation, but it is not a civic space. 

Restaurant Row 

Regrettably, this design oversight prevents Turan Avenue, (and other similar streets) from becoming communal spaces. What is to be done? Weather permitting, Turan Avenue's businesses should, on occasion, transform their lots into outdoor extensions of the shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues inside. To see how this might work, check out Caribana in Toronto or Jam on Walnut in Pittsburgh.

Has your community found an innovative use for front lots and other vacant spaces? How might communities work with private businesses to energize these spaces? Comment here or on Twitter! Share on Facebook!

Credits: Images by Sunny Menozzi. Data linked to sources.

Intern photo

Sunny Menozzi's military duties have taken her to diverse and exciting places, from Singapore to Arizona, South Korea to Afghanistan, and North Carolina to Hawaii. Sunny's travels inspired her interest in cities, especially how they function, the imp...

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