Tag Archives: Europe

Small Streets Around the World: Ballyshannon, Ireland

It’s been a mighty long time since I’ve last posted here on the Small Streets Blog. I spent my last semester of my graduate program writing a history of a small street in Baltimore. While I plan to share some of that work on the blog in the future, for now I would like to think more globally. 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 can find a core of small streets.

In our first post of a series that will look at small streets in countries around the world, we’ll travel to the town of Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland. With archaeological sites dating back as far as the Neolithic period, Ballyshannon lays claim to being the oldest town in Ireland. Today it’s home to 2,500 people.

Ballyshannon, Ireland


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Castle Street, around 30 feet wide, has a mixture of houses and businesses. The brightly-colored Dicey Reilly’s Pub makes clear to passers-by that if you want a Guinness, it’s the place to go. Rowhouses are the primary form of housing here. Though the architecture shares a common aesthetic, the details of the buildings vary enough that this would be an interesting place to walk and explore. Castle Street opens up to a large, inviting square.


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The street known as The Mall, just off the Main Street, is slightly narrower. In order to make space for cars, the space for people has unfortunately been reduced to only a couple of feet on either side. It’s just enough for someone to open the front door.


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West Port is one of the town’s narrowest streets at approximately 20 to 25 feet wide. It looks like a quiet residential street. Though the street is shaded at this time of day, the houses’ gabled roofs help to balance living space and sun exposure.

I encourage you to explore more of the town!

Let’s Sample Life Among the Small Streets and Squares

The Old City of Copenhagen is my favorite place in the whole world. There’s something about the way the small streets, colorful buildings, and great public spaces work together that’s unlike any other place I’ve visited. How about we take a little trip there? Google Maps is no substitute for the real thing, but it can give us a taste.

Here’s a pretty normal street in the Old City. It’s about 30 feet wide. Cars are allowed here. In typical Danish fashion, there are a bunch of bikes parked on the corner.


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Let’s take a right at the record store. We’re on a narrower street now—less than 25 feet wide. See how the streetlights hang from the buildings over the middle of the street? That way, fewer poles need to be stuck in the street. Pretty cool, huh? I know the way the street curves in the distance makes you want to go explore, but stick with me. Let’s turn left at that yellow building.


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See that little blue sign with the parent and child? It says that this is a shared street. Driving is allowed, but mopeds and motorcycles are forbidden. The street is paved with Belgian block now, which is a hint to drivers that they need to share the whole space. The restaurant on the corner is named Eros, after the Greek god of love. This sure would be a great place to spend time with someone you love. Let’s stroll down this street over to those trees.


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Look where we’ve arrived! Our small street has opened up into a square. Look to our right at all of the people sitting outside, enjoying a meal and watching the people walk by. That’s some serious cafe seating—5 tables deep! It’s almost as if someone was expecting us. On the left there are even more café tables. That fountain ahead of us sure looks fun. And a stage is being set up for a concert! The delivery trucks don’t have a problem getting here. They move slowly and don’t bother anyone too much. The cars and trucks are here to serve the people who enjoy this space. This square is spacious at 1/2 acre, but there are people in the suburbs whose yards are larger than this space. How about we walk over to that big tree in the middle of the square.


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What a tree! And it’s surrounded with benches—how thoughtful. Everyone likes to sit under a big tree. What do you want to look at? The cafés, the shops? The stage, the fountain? The pastel-colored buildings? I’ll leave you here. Stay a while and enjoy!


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Let’s Visit a Car-Free Village, Built from Scratch

Nestled between the cities of Malmö and Lund in southern Sweden lies a unique place called Jakriborg. In the 1980s two brothers, Jan Berggren and Krister Berggren, founded a company to build a new community next to the town of Hjärup. With the help of two architects, they created a plan for a village based on the medieval villages of the Lund plains and the Hanseatic towns on the coast of the Baltic and North Sea. I had the pleasure of visiting it in 2009.

Jakriborg

Notice the lack of cars? With basic amenities within walking distance and major towns just a 4 to 10 minute train ride away, it’s not necessary for a Jakriborg resident to own a car. Those who do park them at the edge of the community. The result is a safe and peaceful environment where children can run around and play freely. Looks like the kids have left their mark in the next photo.

Jakriborg

The first residents moved into their homes in 1999, and since then the population has expanded to over 500 families. It costs around $700 to rent a 500 square foot apartment in Jakriborg, which is relatively affordable for the area. The village hosts a number of businesses including a grocery, cafe, gym, hairdresser, furniture store, and candle maker.

Jakriborg Satellite

JakriborgNotice how the community is centered on a public square, and the merchants street extends out of the square. When you get off the train and look through the village entrance, you see a street that welcomes you in and asks you to explore around the bend. As a matter of principle, the streets are neither long nor straight. Jakriborg is a place made for people walking. Even bicycles are unnecessary to get around and enjoy the space.

Now look back at the village as seen from above, and notice that aside from the main square and the merchants street, all of the streets are quite narrow. If you lived here, this is the kind of small street you would be able to enjoy as you strolled, sauntered, or skipped home. Car-free. You could stop to have a chat with your neighbor, or set up a table and chairs outside to enjoy a dinner with friends, and you’d never have to move out of the way for a car.

Jakriborg

You might even access your rear garden by a lane even narrower! Notice the beautiful details made possible (and visible!) when streets and lanes are small and uncluttered with vehicles.

Jakriborg

While Jakriborg has enough space to grow to 10 times its current size, the Berggren brothers believe that growth should happen more organically. Jakriborg will grow slowly with time.

There’s really no good reason why we in the United States shouldn’t have communities like this, based on age-old urban principles and designed around the pedestrian. We never built towns in this style, but it’s not an issue of style! It’s a matter of the plan. We could apply the architectural styles of early New England, the Mid-Atlantic, or the Florida peninsula to time-tested village patterns and create beautiful car-free places for Americans to live.

Jakriborg Field