Tag Archives: Canada

Small Streets Around the World: Québec City, Canada

Because small streets are the hallmark of places designed around people who travel by foot, in nearly every country, if you go to the centers of the oldest cities and towns, you will find a core of small streets.

Eight years ago in Québec City, I experienced a car-free place of small streets for the first time. Also having French-Canadian ancestry, the place holds a special place in my heart. J.H. Crawford, author of Carfree Cities, produced this beautiful video of Petit Champlain, the car-free district in Québec City. He writes,

North America has exactly one decent example of a carfree district: Petit Champlain in Quebec City’s Lower Town. This is the oldest urban area on the continent and provides an example of just how pleasant it is to spend time in places without cars. It’s also a model for a more sustainable world. Spend five minutes finding out what it is, how it works, and why it’s a model for the future.

The Piscataquis Village Project, located a four-hour drive from Québec City in Central Maine, is largely based on this model of placemaking. Learn more at piscataquisvillage.org.

Small Streets and Single-Family Houses Go Together, Too

Not everyone likes rowhouses, and that’s OK with us. Maybe you love living in a single-family detached house, but love small streets. You look around your environment and fear you’re doomed to live your life on a suburban street that’s far too wide. Well, you’re in luck because small streets and detached houses CAN work together!

Toronto Island

The streets of Ward’s Island, one of the Toronto Islands in Canada, really are this narrow—and this beautiful. More than 200 residences are located on the Toronto Islands, but that’s not nearly enough to meet the demand. According to a 2009 article from the Torontoist, the current wait for a house on the Islands is around 35 years.

It’s our best guess that the actual streets on the Islands are around 8 feet wide, and a little Google Maps measuring indicates that it’s around 30 feet between the houses. That fits our definition for a small street.

Toronto Island

Doesn’t life look peaceful here? Look at all the outdoor furniture. You can tell that people who live here spend a lot of time outside. And this house is at an intersection! Think about how your perception of an intersection would change if there weren’t any cars around, and the streets were scaled for people. You wouldn’t run a red light and crash into a car, you’d run into a friend and start a conversation. 

Toronto Island

People always ask about access for emergency vehicles, especially fire trucks. Emergency access is not a problem for small streets. It’s easy to find simple solutions, like using smaller trucks. That’s exactly what the City of Toronto decided to do. The Mini Pumper is 94 inches wide, which works for the small streets, and it meets National Fire Protection Association standards in the USA.

Toronto Island Fire Truck

Because the Islands’ houses are made of wood, residents take precautions, but they haven’t lost a building on one of the fire truck-accessible islands since 1939. Most urban small streets’ rowhouses are constructed of brick, so the fire dangers there are much lower. Urban small streets in the United States are also substantially wider than the streets of the Toronto Islands, so fire response is even less of an issue in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, or other cities.