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Visualize Space

Our culture greatly values ‘space.’ We nest in our remodeled homes on our porches and decks, relax in our landscaped gardens, and work in our organized offices.  We enjoy public spaces too ­– parks, promenades, squares, stadiums, beaches. Our National Parks are cultural treasures. We care about these ‘spaces’ and take pride in their condition and appearance.

But when it comes to our street spaces ­– where we all spend so much of our time ­– we share a collective blind spot. Our aesthetics break down completely. Why do we settle for ugly, car-impacted streets as our means to get from our well-tended homes to our well-tended offices?  Every time we drive into town and park our car (SUV or Prius) on the street, we are perpetuating a situation that one would think we would all find intolerable. Why does this persist?

Here are some of the usual explanations:

  • Most modern cities were designed and laid out to serve the needs of cars, not people.
  • Gas and parking are cheap.
  • Our love for convenience trumps all else.
  • Many of us are stuck without other options.
  • We are creatures of habit and changing behavior is painful.

What can get us to think and behave differently?
We posted the photo above on Facebook and it generated a lot of feedback. We’d like more. To keep the conversation going, we’re soliciting more comments and offering a $100 merchandise credit for the best response. You are welcome to respond either on Facebook or on our blog.

Elect Visionary Leaders
One way to get us to think and behave differently is to elect visionary leaders in our cities who have the courage to oppose short sighted urban developments.  Mayors have been shown to have significant effect on public space, both here and abroad.  Our heroes range from Enrique Peñalosa (Bogota) to Kramer Mikkelsen (Copenhagen) and Joe Riley (Charleston). We send a special shout out to former San Francisco mayor, Art Agnos who opposed the rebuilding of the Embarcadero Freeway in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake.  Thus our popular Ferry Plaza and waterfront were reborn, and Agnos lost his re-election bid at least in part for his courage.

Public space is the one place where all members of society are welcome and equal. It is the essence of democracy. Below are a few “street space” shots taken from a recent trip to Cartagena, Colombia. The city was built before the advent of the car and is now preserved by UNESCO decree. The life of the city is all in the streets – day and night – and it feels right.  There is some space for cars, but always subordinated to humans.


4 Responses to “Visualize Space”

  1. Anna Says:

    An army of ants can build a cathedral..

  2. Andy G Says:

    I totally support your urban vision, but that photo should also have 60 people who live close enough to walk to work. In my 9 years as a working professional, I’ve biked, walked and taken public transit to work, but for the majority of those years I’ve walked. You never get stuck in traffic (except around powell st station), and you get a nice low impact workout.

  3. Jon King Says:

    America I believe, is still stuck in it’s post war consumer mode. Unlike those in Europe we have not had to contend with our borders and been forced to better utilize the space and resources we have. This combined with efforts from the government to induce commerce and fund the highway system, just keep/kept spreading out. We have been independent from the start and spreading out perpetuates that spirit. Therefore have yet to embrace the gains gleamed from history and traditions that living with our relatives offer, the rewarding experiences of community exposure and sharing by biking to the store. I have a neighbor who moved from her current home which had a detached garage to one with a detached garage. When I asked her how it was going this is the first thing she brought up…that with the attached garage she is no longer presented opportunities where she can scream hello across the street to the neighbors. The poster above and images are those that reflect a more social society both by force and by choice.

  4. Duncan Says:

    That is a very, very powerful image of the public space there.

    James Howard Kunstler says that approximately 80% of all the stuff ever built in America was created after 1945 to the present, and considers it the greatest mis-allocation of resources in the history of the human race. There is a LOT of junk out there.

    JHK considers the National Highway System to be so deeply embedded in American culture, that it is considered as sacrosanct as the American flag & the 4th of July, which unfortunately makes for unpleasant conversation with a plethora of the political spectrum when attempting to discuss alternative ways of doing things. It doesn’t matte whether it’s a Republican in the sun belt in a suburban “no-place”, or a Democrat living in a more urban environment.

    It reminds me of Dick Cheney on Meet the Press, saying the “American way of life is non negotiable”, which also sickeningly reminds me why we just had a proxy war in Libya to remove Gadhafi, since he proclaimed his light sweet crude oil was going to China & two other countries but not United States.

    Jon hits on a good point, that there has been many government incentives to create sprawl, which filters down to local building ordinances which mandate idiotic, single use zoning laws, further perpetuating dependency on cheap energy sources such as imported petroleum. I imagine this was done to keep the building industries placated & hey we all want to boost the gdp right?

    Those images need to go viral.

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