Anna Jones, a contributor to the Orton Family Foundation’s blog called “Cornerstones,” has written about something we talk about almost every day. The streets in our cities help us get around, but they also add identity to neighborhoods. Street widths and lane uses control vehicle speeds and traffic volumes. However, cafes, bike racks, sidewalks and even different pavement styles can transform streets into thriving places for people. As we become less dependent on our cars, we need to start doing more to turn our roads into viable parts of our communities. Read Anna’s article after the jump or here on the Orton Family Foundation blog.
Remember when you were a kid walking along a narrow, weedy sidewalk next to a busy street or a wide asphalt swath of surface parking and you knew, just knew, that this was not a gentle condition—that, in fact, it was a very threatening condition?
As you got a little older, you started to accept this as the American way of life: that cars rule and little you, on your feet or on your bike, were fair game to the motorized world; that curbs were meant to be cut; that strips of stores were meant to be lined up behind acres of asphalt; that melting snow (no longer white) was supposed to be swooshed on your new yellow seersucker bell bottoms (because it’s 1974) that you had to beg your mother for.
Luckily for all of us, the clouds have parted and the idea that streets are in fact part of the public realm and should be subjected to a little multi-modal democracy has arrived. The former Mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Penalosa, says really great things to illustrate a really simple idea: that living streets are good, and we, as promoters of the urban realm, should work hard to create them everywhere at every opportunity. Here are a couple of compelling Penalosa quotes:
“Public place is for living, doing business, kissing and playing. Its value can’t be measured with economics or mathematics; it must be felt with the soul,” and “If only children had as much public space as cars, most cities in the world would become marvelous.”
And so it is. We are finally starting to get it. Streets are for all of us—on our feet, on our bikes, in our wheel chairs, in our strollers, on our way to the bus and in our cars. Streets are for life, hence the term “Living Streets.”
The fascinating thing about all of this is the bottom line: Living Streets provide quantifiable economic benefits. What we know intuitively seems to be true—that pedestrian, mixed-use, transit rich environments provide economic benefits through increased property values and sales tax, reduced health costs that can be associated with inactivity and exposure to pollutants, and reduced costs related to roadway maintenance. Other benefits of Living Streets can include better physical health, a stronger sense of community, reduced traffic accidents, and a better place for kids all the way around.
Progressive Urban Management Associates (P.U.M.A.) worked with the City of Denver’s Departments of Public Works and Community Planning and Development to help quantify economic impacts of Living Streets. We discovered case study after case study illustrating the increased value of properties located in walkable and bikeable areas, healthier kids, and a whole slew of very compelling illustrations reinforcing the bankability of living streets. The full P.U.M.A. report and many other invaluable resources are available at the City of Denver’s Living Streets website: http://www.denverlivingstreets.org/resources.htm
While economic value is an easily quantifiable measurement, building stronger communities and reinforcing sustainable behavior and improved quality of life are, of course, harder to measure, but invaluable to all of us and worth fighting for.