The best way to explore heritage close up is, of course, on foot. Heritage explorers typically spend more time looking up at the buildings, sites and features around them than looking down at the ground, but a new site recently launched in the US, and featured on the architectural design newsletter Curbed, is encouraging us to consider the history which our feet are padding across.
“Plan of the City of Toronto,” 1909, using color and hatching to show different types of pavement. (Toronto Reference Library)
Historic Pavement, developed by Robin B. Williams, Ph.D., Chairman, Architectural History department, Savannah College of Art and Design is setting out to document the remarkable diversity of historic street and sidewalk pavement design in America. It’s quirky and great – and in the About section, I am particularly thrilled that a fellow heritage fanatic was inspired by oddities when young. (I should admit that I spent hours, aged 6 or 7, creating a primary school project on the varied design of lamp-posts in my home town).
Here in the UK, Historic England (then English Heritage) ran a campaign over a decade ago, entitled Streets for All, which looked on a regional level at the management of streets holistically to make the most of the historic features and design which ‘modern’ highway management often made a mess of. Pavement design and materials were considered in this work, along with wider street furniture (benches, signs, barriers) – and it is interesting or depressing (depending on your point of view) to see which bits of advice and guidance have been followed or ignored in the period since.
The formalities of street design and management is all well and good (see the English Government’s current Department for Transport guidance), but aesthetics of the places we spend time wandering along are important – this is reflected in the more recent guidance produced to support Listing criteria, on Street Furniture.
I am reminded again, therefore, to spend time looking up and down.