Having grown up in places where houses, apartment buildings, shops, and all other buildings are entered straight from the street, I never cease to be mystified by the peculiar design of entrances in suburban (and pseudo-urban) areas of the US. The perpetration and perpetuation of dysfunctional design really struck me the other day when I drove down a local thoroughfare where a wasteland of derelict structures had been torn down and the entire area rebuilt to look like an urban street lined with shops, complete with sidewalks. Forget about the fact that everything is one story, with no living spaces above the shops. It still looks like a huge improvement over the used car lots and abandoned K-Mart that were there before.
At least I thought it was an improvement until I realized that there were no visible entrances to any of the shops! Further investigation revealed that, indeed, the structures that looked like they might be doors were not. There were no entrances at all from the street side, just fake facades that looked as if there should be entrances. Unless the whole thing is a completely fake façade like the ones that were painted or built in Northern Ireland to hide economically depressed areas before the 2013 G8 summit, all of the entrances to these buildings must be acessed from a strip-mall type parking lot on the other side. Why build a sidewalk and storefronts if they’re not meant to be functional?
The question of why there are no street-side doors is especially relevant because there appears to be a good bit of foot traffic in the area. There’s a bus stop on the corner, and in the few minutes I stood on the other side of the street taking pictures, a bus stopped to load and unload passengers, and a number of pedestrians walked up and down the street. Granted, maybe dentists, stockbroker’s offices, and mobile phone retailers are not prime candidates for drop-in customers and impulse buys, but most of the strip is occupied by restaurants, hairdressers, snack shops, and such. I would be willing to bet that if there were an attractive, inviting entrance from the street, these shops’ business would double.
Architects and planners need to move past the unfortunate 20th-century notion that everything has to be designed for automobile traffic, a notion that has probably resulted in more urban and suburban blight and destruction of the natural environment than anything else in history. It has certainly made much of the US an ugly, depressing and dysfunctional place to live. If as much thought, energy, and resources went into making communities truly human-friendly as goes into creating the appearance of doing so, this would be a better place to live.
[All photos are mine]