Streets for People: What Is It, Why Does It Matter, and How is COVID-19 Helping the Movement?
The Streets for People concept is all the rage in 2020. It is the new buzz word used by agencies, planners, designers and communities to prioritise people’s wellbeing in our movement networks. The concept itself is not rocket science. Streets for People is defined as
“an inviting, vibrant place that supports the local community and economy”.
Pre COVID-19, committed agencies were working hard to deliver Streets for People through finding the balance between providing for vehicles while fostering sustainable transport within the existing streetscape profile.
Now, there’s no going back. The only question is, how will the shifting urban shapes, particularly alongside the Black Lives Matters protests, address equity and what “local living” means to people living in poverty or on the margins?
‘Local Living’ is Reshaping Communities
A small global survey conducted in April found that respondents are leaning on their neighbourhoods as a crutch for maintaining their physical and mental health. A third stayed home except for essential trips and for those venturing out, their choice of destination was at their doorstep – from neighbourhood streets and sidewalks to local parks and front stoops and curbs. Places that were once relegated to passing through are now places for exercising, decompressing, and socialising at a safe distance – especially for those at greatest risk of isolation and infection.
Streets for People represents a paradigm shift in thinking about streets and road reservations as spaces for all users through the negotiation of confined road spaces. ‘Local living’ also represents a paradigm shift and it highlights the need to keep the joys of walking and cycling going. Let’s take kids walking or cycling to school, for example…
More people are working from home
It is estimated that 39% of all jobs in Australia – 41% full-time and and almost 35% of part-time – can be done from home. New work routines can free time previously dedicated to commuting to work. This greater flexibility means that there is more potential for parents to accompany children to and from school by foot or bike. This presents a bonding opportunity for child and parent and fits physical activity into the day as well.
There’s greater confidence in street skills
Walking and cycling as a family has enhanced parental confidence in their child’s ability to cycle and negotiate the streets in their neighbourhood. Less traffic on the road also offers the sense of a ‘safer’ environment.
People have been getting to know their community
People have been spending more time in their own community and the resulting familiarisation with locals, enhanced local surveillance and the notion of safety in numbers may help parents feel comfortable that their child will be safe walking or cycling independently.
The more usage of public spaces, the greater need there is for Streets for People planning.
If you’d like to learn more and delve into the questions of equity, read VICHealth’s paper on Life and Health Reimagined. This paper will be up for discussion on Thursday 2 July. Save the date to watch this webinar.
Life and Health Reimagined invites leading experts to share ideas on how we can create healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable streets. A new article will be published every Monday and ongoing conversation can be found on social using #HealthReImagined.
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