Beyond the many aspects of our lives that have had to change during the COVID-19 pandemic — like the way we work, study, eat, sleep and socialize — there are even more changes going on worldwide in ways that are not immediately visible to most of us. A recently published book by UO professors and students, “Rethinking Streets During COVID-19,” looks at how the pandemic has prompted cities all over the world to reconsider the way streets are structured.
Normally, the process of redesigning a street is a long one with a lot of political barriers, because locals tend to push back against that kind of change, city and regional planning professor Marc Schlossberg said. But, because of COVID-19, communities saw immediate need for local spaces that people could safely occupy. The book’s authors said their intention with “Rethinking Streets During COVID-19” was to capture this moment in time and how cities have successfully and quickly made positive changes in their streets. Most of the case studies in the book feature streets that have been changed to accommodate more pedestrians and bikers and fewer cars.
“There’s knowledge about why designing our streets and transportation systems in ways that are not car-dependent are good things for our community,” Schlossberg said. However, the problem is convincing the public of the positive effects of these redesigns, because people in the United States are “socially engineered” to prefer cars, he said.
“Rethinking Streets During COVID-19” is the third in the “Rethinking Streets” book series that is headed by Schlossberg and co-authored by associate professor Rebecca Lewis and several graduate and undergraduate students. Each of the three publicly available books features real-life examples of reimagined street designs that have benefited the surrounding communities.
The most local example is in Eugene on West Broadway, where several blocks were closed off from car traffic to create the Eugene “Streatery,” which allowed restaurants to seat people in public right-of-ways. This was part of the city’s effort to allow eateries to stay open and operate safely when restrictions on restaurants were at their most strict.
The book features a lot of similar case studies in which cities decreased car traffic and increased space for other modes of transportation, like biking or walking. Several examples featured more room for businesses to operate, while some were made for public use. Philadelphia’s Play Streets program offers a place for families to play with their neighbors and to keep children cool and nourished during hot summers, as public parks and pools were closed due to COVID-19.
In an era of many compromises made due to the pandemic, these newly designed streets are an example of change that serves the community well. They provide a more equitable space that prioritizes people over vehicles and promotes economic recovery. Graduate student John Larson-Friend believes that the case studies represented in the book are examples of ways cities can create a more equitable community.
“If we as city planners aren’t thinking about how to expand transportation and road access to as many people as possible, then I think something’s very wrong with how that planning is being done,” Larson-Friend said.
Environmental studies major and planning, public policy and management minor Natalie Kataoka also applied to the project because of her interest in how transportation methods can help create more equitable opportunities for the community. This was her first time participating in a professional research project.
“Hearing how passionate everyone was about transportation made me more interested in the topic,” Kataoka said. “I realized just how big a component it is in the public’s day-to-day lives.”
Those involved with the project hope the temporary changes they discussed in the book will be made permanent. One goal of the book was to demonstrate to others that positive change can be made efficiently, Schlossberg said.
“By limiting car throughput on residential streets, all of a sudden, those residential streets basically turn into public parks for people who lived on the street,” Schlossberg said. “So all of the sudden, you could be in your street, and just dance and socialize with your neighbors.”
Each of the “Rethinking Streets” books are available to download for free at rethinkingstreets.com.