“One of the bright spots of the last year has been cities’ willingness to swiftly transform the public realm into open-air spaces that can be used by people to safely gather, exercise and dine with social distancing.” Now, it will take more political will to keep the beneficial changes. Maintaining the changes will require “consistent public funding for maintenance and ongoing community engagement and partnership in order to make them successful.”
“Sure, it was a pretty easy decision to cordon off some streets and parking spaces in the first months of the pandemic, when many businesses were shuttered, commercial districts looked like ghost towns and people were stuck at home, trying to flatten the curve. But now, as life returns to some semblance of normality with traffic and commerce on the rise, too many cities are planning to revert to the old car-centric way of managing public spaces.”
A Boston University survey of 130 mayors showed that few of them intended to make the changes in their city permanent, despite indications that more people will continue to walk and bike after the pandemic.
“Even before the pandemic, there was a growing recognition that public spaces are too oriented toward cars, and that’s created a vicious cycle. It hurts the quality of life in neighborhoods by making residents feel unsafe and uninspired to walk, bicycle or take transit. It discourages people from getting out of their cars, which makes it harder to cut the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.”
We would be missing a huge opportunity by ignoring the possibilities that pandemic streets opened up, the editorial argues. “Let’s not roll back progress toward safer, healthier cities.”