As Kuala Lumpur’s famous shopping strip along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman (Jalan TAR) embraces weekend pedestrianisation, we examine what makes some of the world’s most successful urban pedestrian streets so popular.
Classy İstiklal Avenue - Istanbul
Previously known as the Grand Avenue during its Ottoman heyday, İstiklal Avenue (“Independence Avenue”) is a shopping haven in the historic Beyoğlu neighbourhood of Istanbul.
Starting from the medieval Genoese neighbourhood around Galata Tower and climbing up to Taksim Square, İstiklal stretches over 1.4 km.
The wide, comfortable thoroughfare is lined with late Ottoman-era buildings of varying styles - Neo-Classical, Neo-Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Beaux-Arts, Art Nouveau and First Turkish National Architecture – alongside Art Deco constructions from the early years of the Turkish Republic, and more recent modern buildings.
Pedestrianisation of İstiklal Avenue started in the 1980s when the quaint tram system was reinstalled, kickstarting a reinvigoration of what had become a rundown and seedy area.
Although businesses were initially sceptical about pedestrianisation, fears have proven to be unfounded, with millions flocking to the avenue at weekends to spend money in the boutiques, music stores, bookstores, art galleries, cinemas, theatres, libraries, pubs, and nightclubs, while enjoying a myriad of food offerings from street vendors, lively cafés, famous restaurants and delicate pâtissiers.
Hipster haven of Cat Street, Tokyo
Arguably the trendiest pedestrianised street in the world, Tokyo’s Cat Street connects two of the city’s biggest shopping districts, Harajuku and Shibuya, and also links up with the sophisticated neighbourhood of Omotesando.
Just off the main pedestrianised Takeshita Street in Harajuku, Cat Street is less kawaii. It is also far cooler than mainstream Shibuya and less snooty than upmarket Omotesando. Cosier than all three rival areas, creativity rules on Cat Street, and there are no cars to interrupt the view.
People watching is unbeatable on this public catwalk as young fashionistas strut their stuff along this 1.25km back street amidst public sculptures, colourful graffiti, edgy boutiques, fun cafes, experimental bistros and vintage shops, as well as some high-end international brands that have managed to muscle in.
Constructed in 1964 on the bed of a stream that was diverted underground as part of the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, the street’s real name is Kyu-Shibuya-gawa Yuhodoro ("Old Shibuya River Pedestrian Lane"), often shortened to "Yuhodo".
Part of the Olympic village can still be found in the form of a stylish apartment block called Co-Op Olympia, at the top of Omotesando Boulevard.
The ancient city of York
Looking like a location from Game of Thrones, the quaint old town centre of York is a collection of meandering lanes bounded by ancient city walls, and dominated by the second largest Gothic cathedral in Europe, the York Minster.
Urban areas from the Middles Ages have proven particularly suitable for pedestrianisation. Besides York, Rue Mouffetard in Paris, Belgium’s Ghent and the many warren-like streets of Venice are some particularly charming examples.
Due to their origins as Medieval market streets, the roads are much smaller compared to those in North America or much of Asia, thus naturally limiting the amount of car traffic able to comfortably traverse the windy lanes.
Now one of the largest pedestrian zones in Europe, York’s “footstreets” have been gradually pedestrianised since the 1990s.
The most well-known section, known as the Shambles, is so picturesque it regularly wins plaudits including from the inaugural Google Street View awards.
The atmospheric street is elegantly cobbled and lined with wooden-framed buildings, some as old as 600 years, that house a variety of shops selling traditional goods or converted to fancy restaurants and branded boutiques.
The Shamble is so narrow, the roofs of these old buildings lean forward to the point of almost touching.
Millions of tourists come to York to experience the pleasure of getting lost in the old city, happily sampling freshly-made local fudge while gazing at the world’s largest expanse of medieval stained glass, blazing from the East Window of the Minster.
Photo credit: The Cat Street, Tokyo