Woonerf Living Street Concept

Vehicles play an essential role in today’s cities and growing nations.

For most urban cities, vehicles are an indication of a progressive economy. Cars, trucks and buses provide access to businesses through people and product transport. However, the drawback is that these same city streets have become grey places where vehicles are prioritized over people in the way we design cities.

While busy roadways deliver unmistakable benefits, they don’t entirely enhance citizen welfare and overall human wellness within an urban landscape. Cars require significant space to drive and park – space that significantly reduces the opportunities for residents to walk freely, appreciate nature and enjoy outdoor activities. This is without even mentioning traffic, pollution and safety issues.

The revolutionary Woonerf design solves this problem by transforming trees found within urban environments into shared green spaces where pedestrians and vehicles can actually co-exist in an optimal balance.

Through it, you can improve the local community’s quality of living and heighten road safety in the city.

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What is a “Woonerf”?

A Dutch term meaning “living street” or “shared space,” refers to a design concept aimed at creating a safer, more interactive, and pedestrian-friendly environment within urban areas.

In a woonerf, vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists share the same space, with an emphasis on reducing vehicle traffic and creating a safer atmosphere by encouraging social interaction, enhancing walkability, and promoting a sense of community while prioritizing the well-being and safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

This street design modelled around shared space, low-speed limits and traffic calming was first implemented in the Netherlands and Belgium.

A Woonerf design places emphasis on the overall quality of life, rather than the speed of it. Traffic calming strategies such as street furniture, increased trees and plants, bollards, limited sight distance and narrow paths of travel are utilised to lessen car traffic, offering residents a greater sense of ease, safety and comfort when walking city streets.

Woonerf Visual Woonerf Citygreen

By using Woonerf techniques, urban streets are transformed to a social space where pedestrians are encouraged to make use of the entire roadway, move freely from one point to another and participate in recreational activities and increase patronage to businesses.

A Woonerf-designed street creates no division between vehicles and people. Hence, it is referred to as a “shared space” that is open for cars but is also catered to giving citizens a pedestrian-friendly and welcoming environment.

One characteristic feature of Woonerf is landscaping. Through community gardens, plant boxes and thriving city trees, people have a better city experience due to the calming and inviting natural elements that create a more pleasant ambiance, encourage pedestrian interaction, and prioritize the well-being of individuals over vehicular traffic when travelling through their local city streets.

Let’s demonstrate this with a practical example.

A Real Woonerf case-study: John Hirsch Place in Winnipeg, Canada

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Before the City of Winnipeg decided to revamp John Hirsch Place, it was simply a one-way road with sidewalks on either side and parking spaces along the edge of the street.

With the path hindered by garbage bins, fences and trees, John Hirsch Place was not very welcoming and accessible for citizens. The vehicle-centric road also didn’t feature pedestrian amenities that encouraged residents to the street.

Fortunately, the City of Winnipeg’s Transportation Master Plan addressed these concerns by enhancing the downtown’s street to become safer, greener and most importantly, accessible and equitable to all road users – including pedestrians.

The Woonerf model was then implemented at John Hirsch Place to reduce traffic on the residential road, increase road safety and position the idea of the street as a public open space where people could move freely from connected pathways, parking lots and buildings.

Today, the new roadway hosts a new layout without the traditional curb, sidewalk and boulevard set-up, but instead, with installed bollards to guide car traffic and give residents enough protection against vehicles – allowing them to co-exist safely in the city street. Another part of the Woonerf design you can see at John Hirsch Place is the significant lighting that encourages pedestrian activity even in the evening.

How to Plant Trees in a Woonerf Designed Street

For the landscaping aspect of this Woonerf approach, Citygreen’s soil vault system is the ideal choice. It facilitates the healthy growth of trees and shrubs at John Hirsch Place by offering a structural strength matrix as a sub-base for the roadway.

Citygreen’s Stratavault soil vault system helps trees grow in densely built urban areas, similar to a Woonerf approach. It achieves this by providing a large volume of soil to the trees through a structural matrix installed beneath the pavement or road, allowing their roots to thrive when compared to traditional tree planting methods.

The key advantage of a soil vault system is its ability to support the weight of the pavement or road above, while also ensuring ample space for the tree roots to grow.

Additionally, by containing the roots within the vault, the system prevents any pavement lift on city infrastructure due to tree roots, thereby avoiding any dangers to pedestrians and insurance liability to cities.

stratavault pit accepting stormwater

Moreover, the soil vault system can effectively integrate stormwater management principles into its design. The key way the stratavault soil vault system can improve stormwater management principles include:

Stormwater Storage: By capturing rainwater at the source, these vaults prevent excessive water from overwhelming drainage systems and reduce the risk of flooding during heavy rainfall events.

Stormwater Filtration: As stormwater filtrates into the vault, pollutants and sediments get filtered out by the tree roots and high quality soil. This process improves the water quality of the excess stormwater and reduces the negative impact of runoff on downstream ecosystems.

Peak Flow Reduction: During intense rain events, the peak flow of stormwater can put a strain on existing stormwater infrastructure and exacerbate flooding issues. Soil vaults help mitigate this problem by attenuating the flow rate. By slowing down the release of water, the system eases the burden on downstream drainage systems and helps prevent erosion.

As you can see the implications of this integrated stormwater management approach are immense. By capturing and managing stormwater at its source, the soil vault system contributes to flood prevention, reducing the strain on existing drainage systems during heavy rainfall events.

Download our free PDF Stratavault Tech Sheet to learn how to plant trees in a woonerf type street.

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The Role of Citygreen’s Soil Vault Solution in a Woonerf Design

The City of Winnipeg decided to utilise Citygreen’s soil cell solution due to the space constraints found within this particular urban environment. This soil retention system enables trees and shrubs in this Woonerf case study to have sufficient soil volume for their growth and development while maximising the available right-of-way for all road users.

The system also provides a stormwater management advantage for John Hirsch Place. Since Downtown Winnipeg is composed of old, combined sewer systems that already required maintenance, repair or replacement, the soil cell system was used to reduce the flow and loading within the aging combined sewer network.

The application of Citygreen’s soil vault solution for the Woonerf model utilised at John Hirsch Place has already supported the growth of approximately 600 perennials and 20 new and mature trees. This has led to an improved public right of way that has also cultivated a greener shared urban space for both vehicles and residents.

The Woonerf approach to city planning is blazing new trails in improving the quality of life in residential streets all across the world.

Citygreen, with its cutting-edge technology and urban landscape solutions, can help take the Woonerf model to a new level. Through innovative soil vault systems, improving pedestrian environments, addressing concerns about vehicle movements and enhancing streetscape can be achieved with a greener and more cost-effective way.

Read more about how we are leading Urban Tree Planting.