Gearing up for PARK(ing) Day, which is right around the corner on September 18th, has us thinking a lot about cities and how we connect to them. So this week’s reads will be focusing on connecting to the city we live in by looking at how we are encouraged to engage with the city.
Like many cities, Miami is still car-centric and city life, in many ways, revolves around cars and what is believed to be most convenient for car travel: wide roads, freeways, and lots of parking. Historically, before cars were our main form of travel, places were laid out differently and people got around primarily by foot, trolley, or train. As cars became the dominant mode of travel, cities changed. Suburb development exploded (most of them deed restricted, meaning whites only) in the post-WWII era and white people moved out of the urban core. Driving became the mode du jour to get around, as well as an enduring symbol of class status.
This change in how cities and neighborhoods were designed has had many implications that we are dealing with today: namely, sprawl. Places we need to go are not close together or easily reached by walking or biking in most neighborhoods. Going to the grocery store or the pharmacy often requires driving (or it is more convenient/safer) because of how our communities are laid out, with housing and businesses kept very separate.
This way of designing places may have seemed like a great idea at the time, but forward thinking planners and people from many other fields have been questioning that wisdom for some time, and a movement to rethink our cities is underway in the U.S. We are moving again toward communities that are not only mixed use (meaning residential and business properties are intermixed) but are easy to get around in by walking or taking public transit. Progressive cities are also investing in more robust transit that links the whole city together and reduces the need for driving.
All this is taking place for many reasons: concerns about the environmental impact all that driving has on our world, the toll commuting takes on people’s health and well being, and the recognition that other forms of transportation can bring us closer together and encourage people to connect with each other, fostering a deeper sense of civic pride and engagement.
More evidence accumulates by the day on the advantages of changing how we move and how are neighborhoods and cities are laid out - for example, there is some evidence that infrastructure like protected bike paths can increase our empathy for others. Paris and other leading cities are taking it a step farther and going completely car free for a day, encouraging a deeper level of connection between people and place.
While PARK(ing) Day doesn’t push boundaries quite that far, it still causes us to think about what our communities could look like if cars were less prominent and we had the space they take up to use for just being, in public.