Oakland’s Slow Streets experience may inspire the future of cities

By Adam Mann, Wired UK, June 2, 2021

“Everything [Oakland authorities] knew about Covid-19 at the [beginning of the pandemic] suggested that [people gathering in a few open spaces for fresh air] could be a recipe for disaster.

“[On April 10, 2020, Oakland announced] a policy known as Slow Streets — an aggressive plan to close 120 kilometers of city roads to most car traffic, allowing these thoroughfares to become places for walking, jogging, biking, and other outdoor activities.” Similar programs appeared shortly after in cities across the US.

However, city administrators soon realized that the initial implementation fell short of their goal to put equity first. In response, “Officials set up working groups with community organizations, in particular those in East Oakland, where residents tend to be poorer and come from marginalized backgrounds.” Over the next two months, the city addressed working group findings by iterating and launching new initiatives.

“The city never actually reached its intended goal of closing 120 kilometers of roads, settling for around 34 kilometers by the summer of 2020 and deciding against going further based on the feedback it received. For streets that continued to divert all non-essential traffic, officials worked with a local artist to redesign signage, which now features a scraper bike — a brightly modified bicycle created by local youth of color — as well as an outline of two young Black girls playing.

“ ‘I think it’s meaningful to use culturally competent way-finding,’ says Logan. ‘So that you are reflecting back to the community that we’re talking about you.’ ”

One initiative, called Flex Streets, helped store owners and restaurants apply for and build parklets.

“The previously cumbersome process was highly bureaucratic and often slowed down by other business owners’ complaints. Now, says Logan, there’s an easy template that only needs review by a single official, saving time and money.

“Prior to the pandemic, such ideas would have met with more resistance, [Logan] adds. Asking the city to shut down a tenth of its streets to through traffic would have likely been a non-starter.

“ ‘The lasting impact I’m hoping to have is that residents and merchants stop being afraid of change,’ Logan says. ‘I want to challenge people’s understanding of the ways they use space, and show they can benefit from flexibility and innovation.’ ”

Adam Mann is an Oakland-based journalist who has a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley.

Previously in Roundup: On January 6, 2021, Laura Bliss wrote in Bloomberg CityLab that “the rapid implementation of Slow Streets appeared to ignore the long legacy of distrust towards the city felt by many Oaklanders of color.” Northern News excerpted her article here.

Read the full article here. (~5 min.)

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