The Accessible City
Public space guru Jan Gehl has said that “we shape cities, and they shape us” and as a community-based urban planner, I have spent the last eight years learning as much as I can about how our public spaces are designed and how that design (or lack thereof) affects our behavior. Our public spaces are where we meet, socialize, play, relax, transport ourselves and congregate – but with varying degrees of success. It’s my belief that our public spaces should be accessible to diverse users, activities and modes of transportation, and help contribute to a more equitable and interwoven city.
Vibrant and connected public spaces can improve community health through exercise (from walking and biking), reduced pollution from cars, provide traffic calming by slowing speeds and reducing the number of cars, and improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. They can contribute to economic growth (successful public spaces can increase patronage of local businesses) and be conducive to community engagement and empowerment by bringing neighbors together to talk, exchange ideas and express themselves through art and culture, protest or collaboration on local projects.
In the absence of successful public and civic spaces, our neighborhoods become disconnected from one another and we live in segregated spaces, separated by our differences in physical ability, transportation options, language barriers or perceptions of safety or exclusion. Despite these barriers, public spaces are so important to our sense of “community” that residents of neighborhoods that lack accessible public space will transform their home, block or entire neighborhood by expressing themselves through public art, importing culture in innovative ways, and meeting up with friends and families wherever possible (garages, markets, sidewalks, front yards) to socialize, celebrate and feel comforted.
Our inaccessible public spaces can be reborn into accessible spaces through (often inexpensive) urban design changes that can be enjoyed by a diversity of people instead of a select few. My objective is to use this blog as a platform to highlight formal and informal projects that are reflective of their neighborhood, creating a better quality of life and ultimately, helping to create a more accessible city.