Urban Transformation, as if people mattered

Urban Transformation, as if people mattered

I’ve blogged about community-school connectivity in the past, including the challenges posed in walking from homes to schools. A whole lot of people have tried to address this topic, usually in a modest fashion and on a very limited budget. Measures may include “walking school buses” or adding bike parking at the school. But these timid approaches only get us so far. What if we jumped in with both feet, so to speak, in promoting a pedestrian orientation? If you’re not sure what that would look like, invite Gil Penalosa for a visit. He’ll tell you all about it.

Mr. Penalosa, Director of the Canadian private non-profit group 8-80 cities, (www.8-80cities.org ) dropped into town last week with a passionate presentation on urban transformation well worth attending. He’s an enthusiastic proponent for inverting our use of public space from a car-orientation to a people-orientation – a place for everyone ages 8 to 80, and presumably everybody else, to truly enjoy themselves. Not all that unusual a sentiment, but Gil brings it on with a difference – he gets things done.

Gil’s a fascinating gent. Check out his TED talk for a taste of what he has to offer:


He’s consulted and proselytized in over 130 cities. He spearheaded the birth of over 200 parks in Columbia, including the massive, 360 hectare Simón Bolívar, as well as the “new Ciclovia”— a car-free day that draws over 1 million people out onto city streets every Sunday to recreate on their own two feet.

And that’s just a taste – he’s done a lot more – but you get the picture. He puts on a good show.
His group, 8-80Cities, helps communities figure out how to reclaim roadways, parking lots and otherwise underutilized spaces, and develop them as vibrant public spaces. Features vary considerably, but range from sidewalk cafes to ponds, streams and playgrounds. His insights are plentiful, but here’s a handful of key pointers he shared:

• Lower speed limits to 20 miles per hour. This reduces the risk of fatalities dramatically.
• Separate lanes of travel by mode of travel – car, mass transit, bike and pedestrian. The ordering of these lanes should be done thoughtfully as well – in many cases bicyclists are forced to ride between car traffic and parked cars, putting the cyclists at greater risk. Flip the parked cars and the cyclists and the cyclists will be better protected.
• Build a full network of bikeways. If we have to drive twenty minutes in order to find a place to safely bike, something’s not right! A functional bike-orientation makes it possible to ride a bike anywhere, throughout the city, safely.
• Tame multi-lane roadways. Install traffic-calming devices, like chokers or speed bumps. Build pedestrian islands, or mini-parks, in-between lanes. No one should have to dash across multiple lanes without finding protected space along the way.

A wonderful trait of the 8-80 group is their generosity with their expertise and materials. They’ve seen urban transformation and reclamation succeed all around the world and can show communities how it can be done on a massive scale.

Check them out at www.8-80cities.org

Tod Schneider
Written by Tod Schneider

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