Life in cities, despite the fact that they surround us with people, can be a lonely experience. How could this be?
Compare the following two photos:
The top photo is Strøget, a 100,000 square meter car-free pedestrian zone in Copenhagen, Denmark. This is an ordinary scene in Strøget terms, but look at it again. See the father handing something to his young child, groups of friends sitting next to the fountain, a crowd gathered around entertainment, some folks enjoying a stroll by themselves, people walking in and out of shops. Look at all the people. Who wouldn't enjoy being there?
Contrast this merry scene with a typical one endured by North American residents. The lower photo is a street in my neighborhood, the Inner Sunset in San Francisco, looking down 9th Avenue from Judah Street to Irving Street. Cars are everywhere, barely a person in sight. Nobody's hanging around, enjoying the place. A wrong step in this scene could be instant death. This is normal for us.
Compare the photos. How does it make you feel? Is there a better way to live than the picture of 9th Avenue? How about our children? Do they deserve a place to play freely in the heart of their communities or do we need to drive them a mile away and supervise them? How about you? What scene would you rather be in? Strøget or 9th Avenue?
Don't tell me that it's not possible for a scene like the lower one to become something like the upper scene. Strøget was a regular car zone until 1962 when the regular holiday street closure was quietly extended. Merchants initially cried bloody murder but business quickly improved and soon some shop owners were claiming it had been their idea. In the next 30 years, the car-free area greatly increased in size and now 120,000 - 250,000 people use the space every day.
Try telling the businesses and residents on and near Strøget if they would rather the streets full of cars or full of people. It's not hard to guess what they'd say.
Pedestrianizing streets in the hearts of our neighborhoods is a central challenge of our time. It is a crucial goal for people who live in and near places like 9th Avenue. If just one community pulls it off, other communities will follow suit. The more this happens, the more people will wake up from the car-induced coma of the 20th century and realize that we deserve better than this. We deserve gathering spaces in the streets and we deserve them now.