Fellow Tricia Martin, reflects on how public space can be used for recovery and resiliency as part of our Trust by Design campaign. Tricia Martin is owner of WE Design, a Brooklyn-based firm specializing in innovative, buildable design solutions for cities, landscapes, and the built environment. She is a licensed landscape architect with over fifteen years of experience working on complex, urban sites ranging in scale from the region to a small lot.
The past few months I have been taking advantage of more time at home to write about how greenways can better support planetary health and social infrastructure. While current greenways inherently do much of this already, Greenways as Resilient Infrastructure takes a more tactical approach to greenway planning and design. For example, I dive into the biological processes of carbon banking and the mental health benefits of forest bathing to offer new strategies for addressing pressing environmental and social infrastructure problems. So, it comes as no surprise that I have sat at my desk with delight watching as street after street across the globe partially or fully closes down to vehicular traffic to provide the opportunity for people to safely get outdoors. With relatively little effort, via barriers and some street signs, the streets have come alive with COVID Happenings! Little children are learning how to ride their bikes (right in their front yard “streets”), families can walk to their closest park using the streets as pedestrian friendly routes, neighbors are enjoying a cocktail together sharing ideas, concerns, and opinions about our current crisis and so much more. Getting outdoors is critical for our mental health (and getting into Nature is even better) and we know that connecting with people and our neighbors is one of the most critical elements in building resiliency within our communities.
The best thing we can do for the short, mid and long term resiliency is keep these streets, the most public of urban spaces, open for people and nature, not cars. Not just during COVID, but permanently. And we should close a whole lot of other streets too. These are the greenways of the future – disguised as playways, slowways, wildways. Imagine our cities connected by a grid of greenways that help children get safely to school walking or biking (schoolways), or planted as forests where workers seeking a mid-day break can take a meditative stroll (slowways). Imagine a Saturday afternoon playdate where children are climbing trees and foraging for mushrooms amongst native ground covers, worms, and other insects (wildways). The options are limitless and the impacts are immense. This won’t be easy. There are entrenched social patterns and interest groups that rely on these usage patterns to function. Where would all the cars go? Who pays to transform the streets? And, who takes care of them?
Covid has shifted our views on so many societal norms that only a few months ago would have seemed far-fetched: masks, gloves, etc. now seem normal. Let’s not waste this moment of unique urban street usage by thinking of it as temporary. Let’s seize the moment to make these corridors the norm and look at expanding and encoding them into our urban systems models moving forward.