NYC Bike Share Raves and Rants

June 7th, 2013

The launch of bike share in New York City, aka CitiBike, is probably the most significant transportation development in the city – and perhaps the country – in decades. Six thousand bikes, 33 stations, and 15,000 bike trips in its first day of operations. Credit Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner of the New York City Department of… Read more »

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The launch of bike share in New York City, aka CitiBike, is probably the most significant transportation development in the city – and perhaps the country – in decades. Six thousand bikes, 33 stations, and 15,000 bike trips in its first day of operations. Credit Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan and numerous NYC groups for a program will have far reaching implications.

Everyday it seems there is another news article across all media with rants and raves. Thankfully the New Yorker brought a sense of humor and poignancy with its cover illustration.  There is not much we can add to the discussion that has not already been said. But we wanted to share some links and to alert you to the fact that Janette Sadik Khan will be in San Francisco next week. She is giving a keynote address at the San Francisco Bike Coalition (SFBC) Golden Wheels event. Here is a chance to meet one of the most influential and articulate leaders in modern transportation thinking and planning on the planet.

I had the good fortune to meet and interview her two years ago for this post titled “The First Lady of Livable Cities”. We are super fortunate to have her here in San Francisco. If you are local don’t pass up this opportunity to hear her and meet her.  All proceeds go to support the SFBC who work tirelessly to make San Francisco a smarter and more livable city for all of us.

Some summary notes and links on the New York CitiBike program.

The program is off to a phenomenal start. Check out the stats here.

New York City’s leaders took best practices from around the world where bike share has been already implemented in hundreds of cities.

Complaints about bike share are predictable, but over time reasoned arguments generally prevail, as summarized in Business Insider’s article “New York’s Bike Share Is Brilliant, And Every Complaint About It Is Bogus”.

The joyful optimism perfectly captured by New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham here.

The wildest curmudgeon rant we have seen comes from Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Member Dorothy Rabinowitz who may be taking up where Michele Bachman is leaving off.  “Death by Bicycle” is the title for this diatribe.

Our friends at Pentagram Design have been active in this program. See here.

The largest bike share program is in Hangzhou, China, which is 10 times the size of New York City’s program. Here are Bike Sharing Maps from 29 cities around the world.

Credit Mayor Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Kahn  for a program that will have far reaching implications.  It will do for NYC and the US what the phenomenal Velib program did for Paris and France launched in 2007.

We look forward to watching other cities in the US playing catch up.  Hello San Francisco.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s annual Golden Wheels event on Thursday, June 20.

 

Italian Women

May 14th, 2013

We were touring Italy last month checking out the urban biking scene in a range of cities. This makes for some interesting comparisons to the United States and leads us to this quiz: What is the biggest difference in urban biking in Italy compared with the US? 1. Many Italian cities have retrofitted separate bike… Read more »

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We were touring Italy last month checking out the urban biking scene in a range of cities. This makes for some interesting comparisons to the United States and leads us to this quiz:

What is the biggest difference in urban biking in Italy compared with the US?

1. Many Italian cities have retrofitted separate bike lanes in their cities.

2. Bicyclists can ride in bus lanes and on sidewalks without irritating pedestrians.

3. Bicyclists are not intimidated by cobblestone streets, streetcar tracks or rush hour traffic.

4. There are more older people than younger people riding bikes.

5. Helmets are rarely seen except on tourists.

6. Taxis, busses, trucks, and trams all seem to respect cyclists.

7. Bike Share programs are common even in smaller cities.

8. Lycra is not the prevalent dress code.

9. E-bikes are everywhere, and some are quite elegant.

10. There are more nuns riding bikes.

Ok, that was a fake quiz. All of the above are true. The biggest difference is that you see a lot more women riding than men. Mothers texting while riding, older women with groceries, younger women headed to work. They all seem to ride confidently making left hand turns in traffic and riding over rail lines, without looking stressed out. Perhaps this is what accounts for the seeming lack of road rage, the lower levels of testosterone on the streets?

What makes this all the more interesting is that the Italians love their cars (and speed) like almost no other nation on Earth. They have an illustrious tradition that ranges from common Fiats and Alfa Romeos to fancy Ferraris, Maseratis, Bugattis, and many other iconic cars. Car ownership per capita is much higher than any other major European country, despite the fact that they pay more for gas than any other European country (~ $10 a gallon). But they seem to get along on their city roads. Italians taught us to respect and enjoy pizza and pasta. Perhaps they can teach us how to respect and enjoy each other on the streets?

Can Humor Reduce Road Rage?

March 26th, 2013

Clet Abraham Clet Abraham Puppy by Jeff Koons Untitled (donkey) by Paola Pivi I was walking through a small town in Tuscany recently and did a double take on this road sign that someone had modified into a witty graphic statement. Two things struck me about it beyond its cleverness. First, that the town was… Read more »

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Clet Abraham

Clet Abraham
Clet Abraham

Puppy by Jeff Koons
Puppy by Jeff Koons

unknown artist
Untitled (donkey) by Paola Pivi

I was walking through a small town in Tuscany recently and did a double take on this road sign that someone had modified into a witty graphic statement. Two things struck me about it beyond its cleverness. First, that the town was comfortable leaving this road sign in place, rather than freaking out about its mildly subversive nature. Secondly, that humor, while essential to our psychic well-being is rarely designed into our human-made world. Try to find examples of humor in any form of design, products, architecture, landscape, etc. and this becomes obvious.  You might find a witty bumper sticker or billboard, but examples of humor on our streets are quite rare.

This is only logical. When it comes to the design of streets and public spaces in general we must first concern ourselves with issues of safety, no laughing matter. And we sometimes use design to make the urban environment friendlier by lining freeways or streets with trees, creating parks and fountains and public spaces that give us relief from the severe concrete character of the cities. But we stop short of injecting humor. Humor almost always pokes fun at some constituency, so it’s by definition not politically correct thus unlikely to get civic approval. So if we want to find humor we have to create it on our own as French artist Clet Abraham did with this piece.

Abraham has been performing these interventions around Europe, much to the displeasure of many city councils. Abraham does intend a serious message with his art – asking us to think twice about following instructions blindly. He believes that much public signage is done with sensitivity to the urban landscape. This may well be true, but I think the underlying humor far outweighs the didactic message of his work.

How refreshing and optimistic it would be if cyclists and motorists alike made their way through the streets with a sense of humor and with smiles instead of resentment on our faces. Imagine a Critical Mass of Comedy or a city bus with witty messages on its interior and exterior. It might be the antidote to aggression and road rage, or at least one way at coming at this problem.

 

How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time

February 19th, 2013

Walkable City by Jeff Speck Jeff Speck Chicago, IL Arezzo, Italy New York, NY Amsterdam, Netherlands Portland, Oregon A few years ago, I participated in a National Quarterly Forum called the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, where designers and urbanists get together and share insights. I learned a lot there. In fact it was one… Read more »

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Walkable City Jeff Speck
Walkable City by Jeff Speck

Walkable City Jeff Speck
Jeff Speck

Walkable City Jeff Speck
Chicago, IL

Walkable City Jeff Speck
Arezzo, Italy

Walkable City Jeff Speck
New York, NY

Walkable City Jeff SpeckAmsterdam, Netherlands

Walkable City Jeff Speck
Portland, Oregon

A few years ago, I participated in a National Quarterly Forum called the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, where designers and urbanists get together and share insights. I learned a lot there. In fact it was one of the events that inspired me to start PUBLIC.  At that time, the Mayors’ Institute on City Design was run by Jeff Speck, an architect, planner, author, and speaker.  We became friends. That’s the disclosure part of this newsletter.  So if I’m going to tout a book by a personal friend, there better be some pretty good reasons to recommend it. There are many.

First of all, it is quite simply one of the best books about our cities that I’ve ever come across. Secondly, Walkable City could just as easily be called Bikeable City as the same issues pertain.

If you take a copy of Jeff’s book to your local downtown area, situate yourself in a café or (weather permitting) on a bench somewhere and read the first 50 pages while periodically looking up and noticing what’s going on around you ­– the width of the sidewalks, the number of lanes in the street, the parking, the mix of stores and cafés, how fast the cars are going, how many people are on foot or bike – you’ll receive a unique and invaluable urbanist education. You will also be entertained. Jeff is witty, provocative, and appropriately irreverent.

There are many other excellent books that deal with urban issues from Lewis Mumford’s The City in History to Jane Jacobs to Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking. These are all excellent and readable but they are lengthy tomes, and likely too much information for many people. Walkable City is a good, quick read. It’s fast-paced, clever, and alarming in parts. Jeff’s overall thesis is that improving our downtowns is as key to our society’s health and well-being as any other action we might embark upon. His insights will challenge liberals and conservatives alike. This is not a doomsday book, as Jeff has as many examples of positive developments as he does critiques. For instance, there is a provocative section on why much of suburbia might become the next slums, and why “white flight” to the suburbs is now turning into “bright flight” back to the cities by young, educated people.

There are thirty substantive reviews on Amazon where Jeff’s book has a 5 star rating (and a current price of $15.88). Here are a few snippets I have culled from the book.

“The real problem with cars is not that they do not get enough miles per gallon, it’s that they make it too easy for us to spread out (sprawl) and encourage forms of development that are inherently wasteful.” Hybrids are not the solution.

“The average American family spends $14K a year driving multiple cars, about 20% of its income. (This figure was 10% in the 1960’s).” For many working class families more money is spent on cars than on housing.

“In these cities, and in most of our nation, the car is no longer an instrument of freedom, but rather a bulky, expensive, and dangerous prosthetic device, a prerequisite to viable citizenship.”

“It would seem that only one thing is more destructive to the health of our downtowns than welcoming cars unconditionally and that is getting rid of them entirely.  The proper response to obesity is not to stop eating, and most stores need car traffic to survive.”

Most of us like driving but hate commuting. Some polls that show that “a 23-minute commute had the same effect on happiness as a 19 percent reduction in income” and another poll where “5 percent of respondents said that they would be willing to divorce their spouse if that meant they could stop commuting and work from home instead”.

We are the least active generation of Americans in history. “Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the American health-care crisis is largely an urban-design crisis, with walkability at the heart of the cure.”  We are fat because we sit in cars rather than walk.

Car crashes have killed 3.2 million Americans, considerably more than all of our wars combined.  It is the leading cause of death for all Americans between the ages of 1 and 34.

If you are book phobic, listen to Jeff on NPR Weekend Edition.

His website is also a Speck of Brilliance.

Taking Back the Streets

November 15th, 2012

Every time I go to New York I find further examples of how a city can find new bold ways to improve the streets for residents. The bike lane programs instituted under Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan are steadily being expanded and have received international attention…. Read more »

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Every time I go to New York I find further examples of how a city can find new bold ways to improve the streets for residents. The bike lane programs instituted under Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan are steadily being expanded and have received international attention. And I find new examples of taking back streets for civilian uses like these concrete cones creating an urban walkway.

The challenge of protecting our streets and communities from excess noise and traffic has been with us as far back as we can see. Here’s a shot I took in Pompeii showing traffic calming technology dating back to 79 AD (when Vesuvius erupted and covered the city with ashes). Large stones kept oversized horse drawn carts or speeding chariots from rolling through residential areas where pedestrians deserved the right of way.

I found another creative use of traffic obstruction in Havana a few years ago. Canons were appropriated from the prior military regime and repurposed – quite elegantly and comically towards car control. Bringing a little humor to the urban environment might help to cure road rage.

In our back yard in San Francisco parklets are popping up all over the city. We had fun with one temporary take over of car parking space a month ago. Balloons waved in the wind putting smiles on the faces of passer-bys and made our street corner festive, at least for a day.

Our friends at Rapha celebrate the launch their parklet this Friday from 4:00-9:00 pm in San Francisco (Filbert St. @ Filmore St.) with a party. This will be a permanent parklet and, like everything for Rapha, is done with panache and style. Please join us if you are in the Bay Area this week.

Bikes (and the US Pavilion) Win in Venice

September 12th, 2012

Venice, Italy is not known for bikes. In fact, bikes are banned in town unless you are four years old or younger.  In Venice you either walk or take your choice of water vehicle, and it makes sense.  But this month bikes were given center stage in Venice at two venues: 1) The  Peggy Guggenheim… Read more »

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Bikes in Venice Italy Spontaneous Interventions Spontaneous Interventions Spontaneous Interventions Spontaneous Interventions Spontaneous Interventions

Venice, Italy is not known for bikes. In fact, bikes are banned in town unless you are four years old or younger.  In Venice you either walk or take your choice of water vehicle, and it makes sense.  But this month bikes were given center stage in Venice at two venues: 1) The  Peggy Guggenheim Museum with the Cycling, Cubo-Futurism, and the Fourth Dimension show featuring Jean Metzinger’s At the Cycle-Race Track (Au Vélodrome) and 2) the Biennale for Architecture show Common Ground. The Biennale for Architecture is the pre-eminent international event for architecture, somewhat like the Olympics. Fifty-five countries around the globe host pavilions with concepts that define the important issues in architecture today.

We went to Venice specifically for the Biennale as our friend and colleague Cathy Ho was the Commissioner and Curator for the US Pavilion titled Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good. Also the Biennale promised to be especially relevant to PUBLIC as the overarching “Common Ground” theme dealt heavily with shared public space and its value and meaning. Today Michael Kimmelman reviewed the show in the New York Times “Projects Without Architecture Steal the Show” and singled out the US Pavilion as one of the highlights.

The provocative US theme “Spontaneous Interventions” focused on architecture and designs that come into existence by circumventing traditional planning processes and include such things as Edible Schoolyards, Post Furniture, Streetfilms, Yarnbombing, and over 150 case studies with clever analog “pull down menus”. The floor of the pavilion had a zillion quotes and factoids that covered developments from cases that range in scope and timing from 7000 BC until today. Did you know that the term “Urban design” was first used at Harvard University in 1956? Romp through their website to appreciate the rich resource of information.

The US Pavilion was among a select group of countries to be acknowledged by the jurors for special recognition. This is no small feat at the Biennale. This marks the first award the US has won at this prestigious show that dates back to 1985. That’s right.  In over 25 years the US has never been given an award. The other award winners included Japan and Russia.

The importance and value of bikes in the city was featured as prominently as any other urban “intervention”. The bike interventions showcased ranged from guerilla bike paths in Los Angeles, to ghost bikes in New York, to unique bike lighting systems, and to bike share programs in Washington DC and New York. From the clever timeline of the floor of the pavilion it became obvious that bikes have played an important role in our cities and urban lives since the 19th century. At first bikes were used to help people escape from industrial cities to the country. Now that cites have become cultural centers they serve the opposite purpose – they help us connect more closely with cities.

There are numerous reasons why the US Pavilion received the honors. At the top might be the relevance of the concept itself. They also made this comprehensive amount of information palatable, educational, sexy and clever. The exhibition was low on ego and high on purpose, the polar extreme from star architecture.

Cathy Ho selected a curatorial “dream team” that  included Paola Antonelli (MoMA), Dave van der Leer (Guggenheim), Ned Kramer (Architect Magazine), Anne Guiney (Urban Design), Michael Sorkin (Terreform), and Zoe Ryan (Art Institute of Chicago). The exhibition design was done by Freecell and Erik Adigard and Patricia McShane of M-A-D. The US Pavilion was something of a Spontaneous Intervention itself, done in a short amount of time on a shoestring budget with many interns yet pulled off so well that viewers would never have known these restraints. It came across like something a professional, well-seasoned team would do. Kudos to the US team.

Again check out the website. Or better yet, go to Venice and see the show. It’s open until November. But leave your bike at home.

 

Bicycling in Small Towns

April 23rd, 2012

The growth of bikes as basic urban transportation, and the overarching “livable cities” movement, is acknowledged internationally and becoming tangible in many major urban areas in the US.  Mayors like Richard M. Daley and Michael Bloomberg have spearheaded these changes in our biggest cities, and large-scale bike share programs are expanding in Washington DC, New… Read more »

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The growth of bikes as basic urban transportation, and the overarching “livable cities” movement, is acknowledged internationally and becoming tangible in many major urban areas in the US.  Mayors like Richard M. Daley and Michael Bloomberg have spearheaded these changes in our biggest cities, and large-scale bike share programs are expanding in Washington DC, New York, Chicago, and later this year, in San Francisco.  The positive trends are unlikely to be reversed.

Poster by Gerardo Gonzalez

Gerardo Gonzalez

Sandi Milford

Less obvious are similar trends in smaller communities that rarely show up on the radar. Take Edinburg, Texas, for example way down in the state’s southernmost tip. I just returned from a trip to the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA), aka “Panam,” where I gave talks to a diverse group of faculty and students with majors in art and design, engineering, and business. These faculty and students are all a part of the same livable cites movement that we see in larger cites, just handled more modestly. I came away optimistic that the progressive alternative transportation movement is definitely not just an elitist phenomenon limited to large urban areas.

UTPA is located in the second poorest county in the US. There is a large immigrant population and for the most part English is a second language. The wide roads are filled with big US trucks and lined with strip malls and fast food joints.  (We ate lunch at Monster Bar & Grill Carwash).  The flat sprawling urban plan is the polar opposite of what we have in San Francisco.  But bike culture is on the rise and highly visible. In my 24-hour stay I saw a bike art exhibition, numerous bike lanes, and a diverse biking crowd. I had many conversations with young art students, senior engineers, department heads, librarians, and architects that reminded me of the conversations I have everyday in San Francisco.  Special shout out to two young artists Sandy Milford and Gerardo Gonzalez whose stylish fashions designed with recycled material and cool graphics made the art show especially compelling.

One of the UTPA staff owns a PUBLIC bike and lent it to me for a half day. I rode for ten miles between UTPA and McAllen, TX where my hotel was located.  I was directed to a winding eight-mile bike path that offered one of the most pleasant and relaxing rides I’ve ever had. Signs along the path educated me about the native birds that raucously serenaded me along the way.

Yerberia Fragrance

On a bike you can easily cruise an entire downtown like McAllen. I pop in and out of the unique retail stores mostly of Mexican heritage. I found cool and quirky products, unique visual compositions, and colorful signage. My favorite store was Yerberia (pictured above) where I scored some amazing candles and some unique oils and fragrances, all with terrific and seductive packaging.

Exploring the streets of South Texas and McAllen on an orange bike made me feel like an ambassador of joy. Bikes help bridge economic and cultural differences and make people smile. This trip was as inspirational as my recent trip to New Orleans.  A bicycle turns out to be the ideal way to get to know a small(ish) town in a short time. And we’ll do more of this.

Details from McAllen and Environs

Talking Trash in Panama

March 13th, 2012

What makes a city livable? Museums, public transit, cafes, parks, schools, banks, wifi, bike paths, density, international vibe, nightclubs? Yes, but these are add-ons, just gravy. Without the basic essentials like safety, clean water, and sanitation, civility cannot exist and museums and libraries are fish out of water. This becomes obvious when you visit a… Read more »

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What makes a city livable? Museums, public transit, cafes, parks, schools, banks, wifi, bike paths, density, international vibe, nightclubs? Yes, but these are add-ons, just gravy. Without the basic essentials like safety, clean water, and sanitation, civility cannot exist and museums and libraries are fish out of water. This becomes obvious when you visit a country like Panama and its capital Panama City – places that are equal parts first world modern and third world.

Panama does not lack clean water, and there are only a few sketchy, gang-run neighborhoods in Panama City where safety seems to be an issue.  But (though I can’t really comment on sanitation overall), trash is scattered almost everywhere in public places and it is simply impossible to ignore. Plastic junk floats up on shores. People dump junk along roadsides; alleys fill up with stinky stuff. In many places, picking up litter does not appear to be part of the culture. I’m not a particularly prim traveler, but I found it disturbing. What makes people ignore this sight?

Some officials in Panama City seem to have noticed and have devised an ingenious solution in the older part of town, Casco Viejo. This quarter has been filled with cleverly painted trashcans with messages about recycling and respecting the city. They are in almost every corner of town, and their personality grabs your eye and your attention. The soulful funkiness make them feel more genuine (and more effective) than any sleek, imported modern European bins that look like they came from an airport in Germany.  The painted cans seemed to be working (not to mention the fact that they make a nice collage as a group). It’s nice to see a lowly object like a trash can get some respect.

I don’t want to leave the impression that Panama is a big trash dump, it isn’t.  Parts of Panama City that are well-kept, residential towns like Gamboa are elegant and stately. The ecological movement there is flourishing in throughout the countryside.  There are pristine beaches and islands that rival the purest places I’ve seen. And in many of the island villages you often see evidence of a very clean sensibility in their public spaces.

But something happens with the move to larger cities. We stop taking ownership of the public places. We see this in our own cities also. Is it because the place is just too darn big and the problem overwhelming? Is everyone waiting for someone else (or the ‘powers that be’) to clean up?

While littering is uncommon in most US cities, we have our own trashy oversights. We junk up the air with CO2 gases and send frightening amounts unrecyclable waste to our dumps. Our waste just isn’t as visible or as obvious – out of sight, out of mind. We, too, seem to be expect someone else to solve the problem. Creative solutions like the garbage cans in Casco Viejo might inspire us to some clever solutions. Making problems highly visible in the public landscape is a good place to create awareness.

Wheels Are Not Square

January 6th, 2012

A friend sent me a photo of a bike with square wheels. It may sacrifice a little in the area of smoothness of ride, but its absurdity made me laugh. Just when you think you’ve seen the last art bike, another one comes along. We believe this bike hails from Marfa, Texas where Donald Judd… Read more »

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A friend sent me a photo of a bike with square wheels. It may sacrifice a little in the area of smoothness of ride, but its absurdity made me laugh. Just when you think you’ve seen the last art bike, another one comes along. We believe this bike hails from Marfa, Texas where Donald Judd reigns supreme and where right angles dot the landscape, walls, buildings, and psyche.

We take the wheel for granted, but it may be the most impressive invention humanity has ever created.

The wheel has been around a lot longer than the light bulb or wifi or the abacus or toaster waffles.  It dates back to about 4000 BC and all the while it has stayed true to its original form. Look at the wheels on ancient chariot carts – they are almost identical to those that move goods around in modern day Cartagena, Colombia. I spent a day photographing all kinds of wheels, stationary and in motion.  Life there essentially revolves around the wheel. Without them there would be no commerce or trade.  The basic human exchange of goods and communications is enabled by vehicles and their wheels. The same holds for most of the modern world.

Wheels of Cartagena from PUBLIC Bikes on Vimeo.

We acknowledge the ingenious internal combustion engine, but what would cars and trucks be without wheels? OK, airplanes don’t need wheels in flight, but many insist that a safe landing is an important part of their flight. The bike is really just two wheels made animate – though that doesn’t keep us from obsessing over elegant frame architecture or getting geeky about gears, weight, and all.  Wheels are everywhere – cranes, trains, pulleys, scooters, skateboards – even those gears we get geeky about.

In a place like Cartagena the diversity, character, and ubiquity of the wheel is extraordinary. You notice them more when they are not shrouded or incased by metal as they are often with cars.  It was easy to get carried away with an appreciation of the aesthetics as I walked around taking photos.  And the wheel as an object or symbol has been adored by artists as diverse as Marcel Duchamp and Ai WeiWei. And then someone rolled by in a wheelchair and I realized how dependent we are on the wheel for our basic needs of independence and survival.  The wheel is too cool to be square.

 

Visualize Space

October 24th, 2011

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… Read more »

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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.
Cartagena Streets.blog