Narrow streets and the polar vortex

It’s been cold in the United States the past few weeks. Really cold, with really bad wind chills. It’s been the days of the Son of the Polar Vortex and it was colder during the first one. That time a friend in Chicago was offered a ride to work even though he normally walks to takes public transportation because it was so cold he could have suffered nerve damage. I myself was bundled up in three layers and in parts of Canada it was colder than Mars.

While there’s a great deal of literature out there on the urban heat island effect, where cities are warmer than suburbs or rural areas because of the greater concentrations of waste heat (this also means city residents save more energy because they don’t need to have the heat on as high) and there’s so literature about the effects of skyscrapers on wind and darkness, streets and land use patterns have largely been ignored. They don’t effect the weather like the other things do, but they do effect our enjoyment of the weather.

The wide open spaces and smooth glass or concrete walls of contemporary American architecture ignore nature, as if it were something to conquered and destroyed. The result is that there is no shelter from the elements, which I’m sure is fine if your life involves going from a hermetically sealed house to a hermetically sealed car and parking it in a hermetically sealed parking garage with access to the climate controlled office building you work in. But that doesn’t describe anybody and so the situation is actually disastrous.

The great, great advantage of the traditional city of very narrow streets and buildings side by side and right up to the street is that elemental protection. The bulk of buildings will at least lessen the wind and the narrowness of the streets could prevent strong winds from becoming problematic while the crooked streets would make sure that there were lees in every direction. Snow removal would be simpler because without cars there would be no adverse environmental effects from dumping the snow in a river or stream.

Another major advantage is that with everything so close together in the city, you have to do less walking in the cold.

Here in America, one interesting possibility would be to make like the Medieval Bolognese and narrow streets by building loggias or porticoes over them, as Charlie Gardner has written about. This would increase rentable areas, narrow the streets and provide spaces that would remain largely free of rain and snow, while providing valuable shade in the summer heat.

It’s not bologna, it’s Bologna!

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