This recent piece in New York magazine about the new, pedestrian-friendly Times Square had me thinking: Why don’t more American cities think of creating something similar? It’s not like New York is a natural, or is perfectly dogmatic about their ped-happy zone:
“All those statistical tide pools, filled with contradictions and disconnected observations, do add up to one incontrovertible conclusion: that enriching the lives of pedestrians doesn’t mean punishing drivers… Times Square works, not because it’s totally free of cars but because it isn’t. A pristine pedestrian mall would snarl traffic all around and feel like an artificial preserve. But Seventh Avenue and the east-west streets still dice the plaza, so pedestrians need to wait for lights and stay alert. This may be an oasis, but it’s still New York.”
A central plaza is one of my favorite things about some of my favorite cities in the world. (It’s worth mentioning that in general, I’m a Jane Jacobsite.)
Why can’t we have more of these in the States?
In Seattle, a sign has been hanging on a downtown building for months, advertising a woonerf–a Dutch invention that slows down cars to make neighborhoods more reasonable for bikes and pedestrians. A 2006 Seattle Metropolitan article describes the woonerf concept in detail, but if it’s been developed in the years since then, I haven’t seen it. It was probably a dream of the housing bubble era.
I love travel, and one of the things that’s most important to me is bringing good ideas back home, like a local version of Siena’s magnificent Piazza del Campo, pictured below. I’m sure it’s not simple–that developers, city planners, and zoning laws can stand in the way of a conversion similar to the one Times Square experienced.
But, still, New York demonstrates that a retrofit is possible. So–more, please. More American cities following NYC’s lead, and celebrating the need for the bella piazza.