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What Is a Street? 10 Cities Explored Through Street Films

"streets as the basic unit of a city or urban experience, whether by foot or in a vehicle"

Accra Global Street Design Guide Video Screenshot

A series of short films developed as part of the launch of the Global Street Design Guide have us going back to the drawing board, exploring past projects, articles and thoughts around the very definition of a street.


What is a street? More than just a path or route for vehicles and goods, and a piece of infrastructure potentially for pedestrians and cyclists and other non-motorised forms of transport,  a street can play diverse roles in different cities and communities. More so, in Cape Town, where spatial segregation and under-investment in streets in large parts of the city has resulted in vastly different neighbourhood and street conditions, the human experience often demands little more than basic safety. Some would go as far as describing streets as the basic unit of a city or urban experience, whether by foot or in a vehicle.

Milan Global Street Design Guide Screenshot


When comparing our experience of walking the streets of BT in Khayelitsha on a week day field trip, where residents often live in fear walking to or from work, to the more pedestrian friendly streets and street culture of Du Noon on a Saturday afternoon, to the market areas around Gatesville, to the poor lighting of many suburban streets leading to train stations,  there are extreme challenges but also immense opportunities where the transformation of streets has the potential to revive communities.

And we are already seeing signs of what our future streets can be through the work of firms like Jakupa architects, who have delivered improved streets and spaces in Bosduif, the Liesbeek Parkway and along parts of Spine Road. In Johannesburg the work of Studio X Johannesburg, interrogated the underlying misconceptions about Bree Street in the city through conducting a spatial analysis, and described by the Director, Mpho Matsipa as being as serving as a "microcosm of inner-city spatial politics… a setting for 'becoming' for many migrant women, and as a contested site for large-scale urban redevelopment and illegalised street trade"

Chennai Global Street Design Guide Video Screenshot


More recently Project for Public Spaces describes streets we walk alongside each day as "the product of hundreds of decisions and actions, some big and some small, which have taken place over many years". Through their Streets as Places programme, they have shared resources and developed "key ingredients" for creating streets that function as quality public places that draw people in more than just routes to move through.

Like few other places, streets are a public stage where life unfolds – PPS

From the cosy streets of Sienna, to the pedestrian dominated avenues of Madrid, to the bustling activity and sounds of streets in Accra, the design of streets(or lack thereof), sense of local ownership and other factors  can either enhance or detract from human activity, safety, health, and the economic livelihood of residents. There can also be no single street design template that if deployed globally can deliver a "perfect street", but there are definitely values, and criteria which can set the base for dialogue and improved performance of streets for people and economies. What might seem like chaos for some, would be the norm for others, and what might be safe and clean streets in one city, could be seen as boring and lifeless in another.

How to reimagine the streets of the future

Initiatives like Open Streets Cape Town, which has travelled from Langa to the CBD to Bellville, the launch of the largest parklet in South Africa on a vibrant high street in Sea Point, to the growing movements shaping streets in Helsinki, Medellin and beyond. (Also read : Better streets for Cape Town. How? )

And in 2015 as part of the development and promotion of the soon-to-be-launched Global Street Design Guide, the series of short films below explore street conditions in various cities to provide a better sense of space, speed, and sensorial experience of various streets contexts. The Global Street Design Guide is described as a "timely resource that will set a global baseline for designing streets and public spaces while redefining the role of streets in a rapidly urbanizing world". The Guide will broaden how to measure the success of urban streets to include access, safety and mobility for all users, environmental quality, economic benefit, public health and overall quality of life.

Accra, Ghana

Bandung, Indonesia

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Fortaleza, Brazil

Chennai, India

Mumbia, India

New Delhi, India

Melbourne, Australia

Auckland, New Zealand

Sydney, Australia

Read more


  1. Global Design Cities Initiative (GDCI) :
  2. Film Credits: Skye Duncan at GDCI