Last June, Janette Sadik Khan, the former transportation commissioner for New York, tweeted: “A smart street can speak for itself anywhere. No translation needed.” Accompanying her tweet were before and after photos of a street in Addis Ababa. In the after image, low-cost interventions — traffic cones, paint, and chalk — extend the sidewalks. Pedestrians no longer look like an afterthought on streets, as they do in most big cities in the United States. They seem to be in perfect harmony, if not seen dominating the space, with ongoing traffic of cars and buses.
It was in this spirit of creating smart urban spaces, one street at a time, that 15 teams participated in the Rice Design Alliance charrette organized by rdAGENTS. The program titled “X-Change: EaDo Crossroads” was to challenge the participants — a mix of professional architects, landscape designers, urban planners, and students — to transform part of East Downtown into a multi-modal community.