by Sarah Reilly
That’s a photo of my 12 year old daughter. Riding her 3rd hand bike (with a repurposed Lime Bikes helmet) to school (from Darlinghurst to Surry Hills’ Inner Sydney High School) for the first day back at Year 7 this week. Over the past eight weeks, with fewer cars on the road, and more time just to live, she’s learnt how to ride her bike for transport – on the road, through parks, on footpaths, and on bike lanes (on the few that are out there).
She probably never would have had the opportunity to build this confidence at such a young age had COVID-19 not hit and resulted in cars not dominating our streets and making cycling a terrifying concept. It’s also meant that kids have reclaimed their right to be in public space too – with heaps more seen out and about riding, walking, playing and running in public spaces, on footpaths, and in their local streets. “Just like the olden days”
In addition to more kids getting out and about, we’ve also started to really value our public spaces more, including our roads and streets, understanding the need to share them, to multi-use them, to make them wider, and bigger and full of more things to do. To make sure everyone can equitably access them and that the community who uses them has some sense of control or “permission” to use them independent of government curated programs, events and activities.
Over this time, I’ve been collecting all my favourite changes locally and around the world, and thought I’d share them here for you all to source, reference and advocate for so that the change that has begun can keep on moving ahead!
Street libraries, street pantries, street parties
Street pantries have been popping up all over our streets and yards providing free food and other goods to those in need See article here.
People have also really valued street libraries out front of houses in and in parks – particularly with libraries and books shops closed.
We’ve been living back out front (yay), getting more social, having (distanced of course) parties with our neighbours See here – no matter how old we are and here.
And some of us have been getting on our dancing shoes, wigs and leotards and just simply letting loose.
No cars & “Slow Streets”
In some city centres, there’s just too many of us out now, not fitting on narrow footpaths and definitely not keeping our physical distance. Cities like Tokyo, London and Paris have been closing roads to cars in busy shopping and tourist areas for years on the weekends. And during Covid-19, some cities, with limited other public spaces to get out and recreate, roads in busy areas have been closed all week, and some are not likely to open to cars ever again. Covid-19 really has provided the best opportunities for tactical interventions.
Check out a whole heap of streets that have closed to cars, and opened to people, in cities across the world here, and in Milan here, and albeit temporary, Centennial Parklands here.
And have a look at the amazing Oakland Slow Streets Program and the wonderful videos and images of how the area is getting better for people with less cars on the streets.
More cycling – better or our health, our wealth, and our cities’ heat
And wouldn’t it be great if more kids like my daughter (and middle age women like me) felt confident and safe to ride their bikes for transport. Less packed public transport, fitter and happier people, more activated centres and retail areas.
Paris is all over it (see here) and other countries across the world see here.
Grants and surveys to share our streets
It’s so great to see the NSW Government grabbing onto this with the announcement of the Streets as Shared Spaces Program and Grants, and you can let them know your ideas for streets that could be better shared here.
Now’s the time to make the change, we might not get a time like this again for a while, so let’s advocate for shared streets, streets for people, streets for cycling, streets for kids, streets for old people, streets for socialising and streets for fun. Let’s reclaim our streets.