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A Renaissance in the Streets

August 17, 2006 Books, Planning & Design 1 Comment

To a midwesterner like myself I think of NYC as a great pedestrian experience with millions literally getting around by foot, bike and mass transit on a daily basis. The experience is far different from our own. Yet, to New Yorkers, it can always be better.

A group known as The New York City Streets Renaissance is doing a great job explaining problems and offering solutions. Like St. Louis, NYC’s transportation planners focus on the car while other planners simply don’t have the time to get into the details of neighborhood level pedestrian crossings. These active citizens are helping improve their community by being engaged and pushing the bureaucracy to change old habits.

New York City’s streets are the soul of its neighborhoods and the pathways to some of the world’s most in-demand destinations. For generations, New Yorkers and visitors have strolled, shopped and socialized on sidewalks and street corners. Pedestrian friendly streets are the city’s most fundamental assets.

Unfortunately, we aren’t making the most of these assets. Instead, our streets are being managed almost entirely for traffic flow, with neighborhoods and business districts buckling under increasing amounts of dangerous car and truck traffic. If we continue planning our streets for cars and traffic, we will get more cars and traffic; conversely, if we start planning our cities for people and places, we will get more people and places.

Their beautifully designed website is a model for clarity on improving streetscapes for pedestrians. The focus is on making places habitable for people and illustrating how sometimes simple changes to crossings can make a huge difference to the area. They have been very effective in communicating this message with a series of short documentary films ranging from 30 seconds to 14 minutes in length. You can see these Quicktime movies in their video gallery. The videos are all excellent and for different reasons. The short ones make some great points in only a couple of minutes whereas some of the long pieces (Lessons from…) are able to take an in-depth look at history, problems and solutions. Check them out and share in the comments below which you liked best and perhaps what you’d like to see get attention via video in the St. Louis region.

As I transition into the masters program in urban planning at Saint Louis University look for me to show you more of what citizens in other cities are doing to reclaim their streets from the auto. I also am investigating doing some St. Louis-related videos along the lines of these from NYC.

I truly believe we can transform our city. We can once again become a major, thriving urban center. It will take change, but we can do it:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

– Steve


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