Low-income People Need Public Spaces the Most | On the Commons

Ramona Park in Long Beach, CA. From flickr.com.

In this post, Jay Walljasper of the Project for Public Spaces argues for the progressive nature of public spaces. he cites Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, Columbia, saying that the rich have “big homes, backyards, private clubs and country houses,” while the poor rely on public spaces—streets, parks, libraries, etc. He argues that they are just as important as hospitals and schools. Walljasper also emphasizes the importance of public spaces in emerging democracies, from Eastern Europe of the 1980s and 90s, to post-apartheid South Africa, to the squares of the Arab Spring. He warns about the dangers of cars and highways as status symbols for individuals and governments in the developing world. We in the West have gone down that path and are just beginning to see our mistakes; let’s hope that the nations still developing will skip that hazard.


Citiwire.net » The Fall and Rise of Great Public Spaces

Strøget, the main pedestrian street in Copenhagen. From kottke.org.

This post from Citiwire is an urban design power post—written by Jay Walljasper from the Project for Public Spaces and featuring Jan Gehl. Walljasper compares the activities along Strøget to the conventions happening in Tampa and Charlotte. While Copenhagen’s public and democratic life happens in its streets, ours happens in semi-private auditoriums. At one time, Copenhagen was on the same track as the US, giving space over to cars and watching its cities decline. They just decided to do something about it and created great public, pedestrian-oriented places. The US’ cities and particularly their public spaces have been in decline for years. Danes go to the pedestrian areas of Copenhagen to people watch, but there are few places in America with enough people to make that a worthwhile activity. Why would you drive to the mall to watch people walk? Why not just live in a nice place with a lot of people, where you can watch it from your front door, or participate by walking to a local park or market? Gehl lists some cities, including Portland, Oregon, that have put work into their public spaces and benefited from it. He says there are twelve things a city needs to have good public spaces:

  1. Protection from traffic
  2. Protection from crime
  3. Protection from the elements
  4. A place to walk
  5. A place to stop and stand
  6. A place to sit
  7. Things to see
  8. Opportunities for conversations
  9. Opportunities for play
  10. Human-scale
  11. Opportunities to enjoy good weather
  12. Aesthetic quality

A Week of Biking Joyously

This article was posted on Planetizen by Jay Walljasper, author of The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Placemaking, which I have just started reading and am very much enjoying so far.  In the article, Walljasper describes a recent trip to the Netherlands and what he learned about biking there.  The Dutch do have a few advantages relative to the US when it comes to biking (flat land and a long tradition of doing so), but for the most part people there own cars like we do, they just don’t choose to use them whenever they go out.  The Dutch also have a habit of combining transit trips with bike trips, something that many American systems (Philadelphia’s in particular) are not very well suited to.

One thing that they found that set the Netherlands apart by a long shot was that 95% of kids ages 10-12 ride their bike to school, compared to only 15% in the US.  Dutch kids have bike safety classes, almost like driver’s ed, from a young age.  And at age 11, the kids can take a biking safety course and get a certificate of completion, like a sort of non-binding driver’s license that gets hung on the wall by proud parents.  Not only do the classes help the kids become better bikers, it also helps them be more aware of cyclists even if they choose to drive in the future.

Another issue is safety.  60% of Americans said that they would be more willing to bike if they felt safer doing so.  In the Hague, city officials have worked to make separate, colored bike paths, and where that isn’t possible, create “bike boulevards” where bikes have priority over motorized traffic.  But people aren’t just worried about their safety while riding; they want to make sure that their bike can be safely parked and locked when they get to their destination.  And not only that, but many residences don’t have a safe place to park the bike, and many cyclists feel obligated to take their bikes indoors for their safety.  Officials in the Hague are also working on secure bike parking in residences and commercial locations, some of them attended by staff like at a car parking garage.  Bike racks and sheds are becoming available in some high-density neighborhoods, sometimes using one car parking space to fit ten bikes.

A great example of a bike-centric development in the Netherlands is Amsterdam’s Java Island.

The development is bike, pedestrian, transit and even boat friendly, and still has room for cars, but they are relegated to a very few roads and underground parking garages while other modes have free reign of the parks, bridges and docks all around the island without having to deal with cars.  The Dutch call this type of development “Auto Luw,” which translates to “car light” or “car sparse.”  These developments are now the official policy of the city of Amsterdam.

I will finish this post with a most hopeful video from filmmaker Michael W. Bauch.  He and his family exchanged houses with a family in Amsterdam, and when they came back to the States, they couldn’t give up the bikes.  Enjoy.

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