In many cities, the swift rollout of car-restricted streets at the start of the pandemic faced fierce community resistance. Now planners are changing their playbook.
Bloomberg CityLab By Laura Bliss
January 6, 2021
When she first heard that “slow streets” might be coming to Durham, North Carolina, alarm bells went off for Aidil Ortiz. It was late May, and by that point, dozens of other world cities had restricted vehicle access to miles of residential streets. With Covid-19 placing a premium on safe outdoor space, the goal was to encourage socially distant walking, biking and play.
But Ortiz was familiar with how good intentions by city planners can miss the mark. As a program manager at the Durham social justice nonprofit SpiritHouse who also sits on the city’s pedestrian and bicycling commission, she’d seen how Durham officials failed to engage communities of color during the planning for the Durham Belt Line Trail, a project to turn an abandoned rail bed into a multi-use trail, in 2018. Concerned that the High Line-esque park could trigger gentrification and displacement, she helped press the city to adopt formal standards for gathering feedback from under-represented groups before transforming the infrastructure that outlined their lives.
Now, as the pandemic was surging, the city was contemplating a significant change set to affect some of the same communities, where Covid case rates were taking off and whose residents had complained for years about dangerous speeding.
“Sometimes people in marginalized communities are very caught off guard by what is seen as priority,” said Ortiz. ”I knew if slow streets were implemented without dialogue and consent and co-ownership, people would resent how it unfolded, and it’d become another example of how some people matter and others don’t.”
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