Many progressive U.S. cities, Minneapolis included, spend a bit extra to spruce up intersections, medians or sidewalks through detailed brick treatments. I am talking about ADA crosswalks that are brick-laid as opposed to a pre-formed single plastic piece. Cycling intersections that have different concrete treatments to signal an intersection. Medians or shoulders with brick landscaping (assuming they are too narrow to grow anything meaningful). Where many communities resort to paint or nothing at all in such situations, Minneapolis and other communities dress things up.
However lavish these treatments might be, however, these places have nothing relative to the world’s most bicycle and pedestrian friendly communities. The best places use an endless array of brick treatments to signal even the most mundane of street elements. Different colored bricks delineate parking spaces. Slightly angled bricks signal intersections. Altered bricks mark rights-of-ways for modes. Using all three techniques define important crossing areas or thoroughfares.
Paint on asphalt has its advantages (e.g., it is cheap and can be easily erased). Brick streets (rather than asphalt or concrete) are harder on the wheeled fleet that uses it. They are more costly to build and maintain (Last year, I cycled every day on the brutal–but beautiful–stoned streets of Bologna which, owing to the economic crisis, were being “patched” using blacktop in a blasphemous kind of way). Don’t get the snowplow operators started talking about brick treatments.
But signaling bicycle and pedestrian treatments with brick adds both permanence and class. Notwithstanding its drawbacks, more creative use of brick plays an underestimated role in fostering a sense of place. I take to the streets of the Nijmegen, the Netherlands, to show the variety of uses of bricks and how a simple block of concrete (or clay bearing soil) vibrantly contributes to the city’s appeal.