Taking back public space

A really good short video on the realization that’s decades-old but now spreading: cars occupy an incredible (some might say insane) amount of public space; it wasn’t always like that and doesn’t have to stay like that either.

Ewa Westermark, at Gehl Architects, “doesn’t specialize in buildings. Instead, she specializes in the spaces between buildings, like streets and courtyards.” In 2001, the firm worked with New York City to temporarily remake Times Square with mostly paint to identify new bike lanes and pedestrian areas. The conditions before their experiment are indicative of many places in various cities.

When the architects examined the space, they found that only 10% of it was geared towards people; namely, the sidewalks. The other 90% was given over to cars. But the users of the space were the exact opposite: 90% of the users were pedestrians.

It’s one of those things you can’t unsee. When walking or biking along a street, especially in commercial districts, notice how much space is used up by inert cars.

It’s called “dead metal.” And while it sounds cool as hell, the problems it causes aren’t: dead metal is all of the parked cars chewing up half of a city’s space. Bikes, people, pets, strollers? They get jammed into the spaces between dead metal and buildings — sidewalks.

Before cars, even initially, they didn’t have such privileged treatment in public spaces.

It’s the most massive privatization of public spaces since the Middle Ages, Blaine Merker, director and head of climate action at Gehl, says, and it’s happened right before our eyes. In most cities, 80% of roads are given over to vehicles, and when people walk, jog, or ride into that space, accidents happen. […] [R]oughly half of the space in American cities has been given over to roads, parking lots, parking spots, gas stations, traffic signals, and other things pertaining to cars.”

Now designers are working with citizens to recreate neighbourhoods for living with “User-generated Urbanism.”

For Bela, user-generated urbanism means that both designers and the people who will use them work together to create better spaces designed for those who will actually be living in them.

Photo: Frame from the video We’re using our streets all wrong by Hard Reset by Freethink