Humans have evolved to scan their surroundings to scout for threats and opportunities. In the modern city, a speeding bus rather than a sprinting animal, may pose the threat while an inviting fruit stand may present the opportunity. And while we have cleverly devised ways to build upward, humans did not fundamentally evolve to look upward. Despite the detailed aerial imagery so common in architecture and urban design, we do not see, interact with, or experience spaces from a bird’s eye perspective. We commute, commune, eat, shop, share, and play amidst buildings and at ground level. Doing so, we are immersed in the first 20 feet of the vertical space around us. So why aren’t we designing it better?
This streetscape—this urban savannah—is our ecosystem, where we interact with our city environment, its cycles and its flow.
We have all shopped at a street-side store and sat at a sidewalk café, and these uses, done well, are absolutely the fundamentals of active edges. But the key to the vigor of any ecosystem is diversity.
It is time to expand and diversify the idea of active use. To expand the notion of mixed use to perhaps one of mixed-up use: The more mixed up, the more dynamic with retail, residential, common space, open space, micro space, maker space, and light industrial not only existing side by side, but within the very same places.