In his preface, Rudofsky states, "In sum, they [Americans] do not give a hoot for streets, and see no reason why they should" (p. 15). Perhaps this observation still holds today. While Rudofsky wrote during the period when cities were under all-out attack, today attempts by urban planners (Bunnell 2002) advocate pretty street details but fail to grasp the underlying social aspect of the street. Often, modern urbanism is a sterile enviornment that does not bring life to a city.
A good illustration of the city life that Rudofsky admires is the daily ritual of strolling in Italy (pp. 106-110). The function of this ritual is not just to move from one point to another, but to socialize, exercise, display oneself, and to engage in chance meetings of friends and other people. In contrast, American culture does not embrace walking (p. 110) but instead has looked to the street as a place for pigs and trash (p. 43).
In the context of this social function of a street, Rudofsky looks at specific features: canopies, bridges, stairs, mazes, pavements, and fountains. His chapter, "The care and feeding of the pedestrian" (p. 307) covers how to look at the street in a way that supports social relationships and a mindset of enjoyment.
The significance of this book is that it stands in stark contrast with the rationalism depicted in Ideal Cities and in consonance with the human-oriented fantasies of Ecotopia. What Rudofsky observes are not theories, guesses, fantasies, or the rationalistic edicts of an elite, but street features and social practices that have a track record--extending in some cases back thousands of years--of how to make streets appealing for people and supportive of positive community relationships.