Livable Streets V: A Burst Into Freedom—A Radical Proposal

HOW THE STREETS CAN BE, devoid of parked cars. Photo by Maggie Berkvist.

By Barry Benepe

In the past installments I have looked at our streets and our privilege to walk on them primarily as a source of safety, security, and pleasure. They are fundamentally our entry into freedom. 

In The Preservation Advocate, winter 2020, Frank Sanchis said of historic preservation, “It makes walking down the street every day an exciting experience. It opens the door to a richer everyday life. It positively affects our everyday surroundings. It’s increasingly diverse.” Gilbert Castle echoed this view in his editorial in Planning in October 2015, “We say beautiful when we experience a spontaneous, deep connection between our inner selves and our surroundings.”

This leads me to a truly radical, though not original, proposal. Let us be rid of the imprisoning walls of steel along every walkway in our city—the lines of parked cars—the free storage of private property in public places. For the first time since 1934 we will be able to see oncoming motor vehicles without fear of being blindsided as we cross the middle of an 800-foot-long block. Drivers will not be surprised by a pedestrian suddenly emerging from between parked cars. Curb spaces will be available for pop-up gardens, play spaces, sitting areas and cafes. Much of our auto congestion is caused by drivers, having to move their cars several times a month, simply cruising for parking spaces. A Florida resident needing a car in NYC to take their dog to the park will find their nearby landscaped street as pleasant a place to walk and sit as Central Park.

For some of us the freedom to walk and sit extends even beyond the city boundaries. In a letter written to me on February 27, 1963, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas cautioned, “Our machines will devour us all unless barred from the sanctuaries. The sanctuaries man needs are undisturbed woodlands and meadows, wilderness areas on nearby ridges and in nearby valleys as well as in the distant mountain areas, foot paths in alcoves adjacent to cities, trails that are local, trails that are regional, trails that are national.

“Man needs escape from the noise and turmoil of our industrial society if he is to remain whole.”

Now is the time to truly civilize and beautify our city. 

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