Adaptive Streets: Strategies for Transforming the Urban Right-of-Way


Mike Schwindeller, Student ASLA; Jordan Lewis, Student ASLA | Graduate | Faculty Advisor: Nancy Rottle, ASLA | University of Washington | Seattle, WA


Adaptive Streets: Strategies for Transforming the Urban Right-of-Way is an illustrated handbook to inspire and guide citizens, planners and officials to re-imagine how our streets can be adapted to increase utility and delight as well as enhance human and environmental health. The book presents a collection of strategies, demonstrating how they can be implemented in prototypical streets. Adaptive Streets can be used as a community empowerment tool to create new visions to transform the right-of-way.



The objective of Adaptive Streets is to motivate and empower communities and decision makers to transform the right-of-way for a multitude of functions and activities. The handbook aims to catalyze resident, business and government support for adapting streets into better places for people to gather, socialize and play. It builds upon the growing Complete Streets movement and introduces it to new audiences. The handbook demonstrates a range of interventions and visions, from small grassroots projects to large-scale street improvements, to inspire people to become agents of change in their own communities.


This handbook is highly accessible to a wide range of audiences, including both citizens and design professionals. For citizens who want to improve their neighborhoods it shows what is possible. This guide also provides city officials and planning professionals with a convenient resource showing implementation strategies to transform streets to improve human and environmental health.


Adaptive Streets presents new goals and visions for our urban right-of-ways: to strengthen neighborhood interaction, to encourage active transportation and safe streets, to activate streets for new uses and play and to foster human and ecological health. The handbook identifies the key components and incremental approaches to transform underutilized portions of the right-of-way into multifunctional public space. The first chapter, Remix Your Street, reviews a selection of urban design strategies and organizes them into three spatial categories where they are typically located: ‘parking space,’ ‘street space’ and ‘residual space.’ Interventions such as ‘parklet,’ ‘street park,’ and ‘triangle plaza’ are examples in each of these categories. Several strategies identified integrate green stormwater infrastructure elements to generate greater ecosystem services and environmental health. Tools to enliven a street are explained in the next chapter, Activate Your Space. Interactive play opportunities, wayfinding, plantings, furnishings, lighting, bicycle facilities and surface treatments are part of a menu of physical tools, accompanied by activity programming and temporary interventions. The handbook culminates with axonometric diagrams and collages to showcase combinations of the strategies in five prototypical urban conditions.

Impact and Effectiveness

Photographs, diagrams and vignettes are used to visually capture the imagination of the widest possible audience. Lessons gleaned from around the globe are integrated into the presentation of strategies. The handbook includes many examples from the U.S. and Denmark, where the student duo interviewed various urban design professionals as part of their research for the publication.

There is keen enthusiasm from the local Department of Transportation to utilize the book as a resource for its new Public Space Management Program, and the Department offered advice and insights during the project's development to ensure that the suggested strategies are practical and implementable. The strategies, lessons and examples in this handbook can be used by cities and engaged citizens everywhere who are looking for inspiration and resources on innovative approaches to transform their streets.

Distribution Method / Circulation

An initial run of 300 copies is being distributed to local city planners, government officials, and community groups and hard copies will available by request through the sponsoring university department. In addition, digital copies of the handbook will be available for download from the university department's website. The students also plan to present their project in numerous contexts, such as at local ASLA and APA chapter conferences and community events.

"Smart and very nicely done. Clear demonstration of the issues for the public. This is very useful, well designed, and accessible."

- 2014 Awards Jury



University of Washington (UW) Green Futures Research and Design Lab
Urban Quality Consultants: Allison Dutoit, Associate, Architect MAA, Gehl Architects
Urban Design Studio: Louise Grassov, Partner, Architect MAA, Schulze + Grassov
Seattle Department of Transportation: Jennifer Wieland, Program Development Lead, Public Space Management Program