I learned this wonderful new word today, borrowed from the Dutch.
A woonerf is a passageway or space designed to give equal emphasis to multiple modalities of transport: pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters, groups standing around talking, dog walkers, and, incidentally, cars, as long as they travel at a walking pace.
Concepts closely related to or inspired by the woonerf include “living street,” “home zone” (in the UK), “shared zone” (Australia and New Zealand), and “complete street” (US).
Here’s an article on the ways the woonerf has seeped into the language and the thinking of architects and urban planners across the Twin Cities. The author notes that in her St. Paul neighborhood, the shared alley behind her block has evolved into a kind of accidental woonerf.
I came across the word in a long article outlining impressively ambitious plans to create an urban innovation district, spanning two neighborhoods across the border of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The generative idea for this plan is to base it on shared infrastructure, district-wide: stormwater management, hot and cold water delivery, parking, public realms, and energy.
The public-private partnership is on a scale never before attempted in the Twin Cities (or perhaps anywhere), and could end up becoming a model for city building nationwide.
The resulting neighborhood is envisioned as clusters of life science and IT startups intermixed among housing and University of Minnesota facilities, a “living laboratory for urban development, a catalytic city within a city where people want to live, work and just be all the time.” The clusters would be interconnected, of course, by woonerfs.