Urban Design Forum envisions a street-based ‘platform’ for a ‘thriving city’ – Streetsblog New York City


The city planners, architects, civil servants and “placemakers” who make up the livable streets movement have just handed Mayor Adams a manual on how to run a crucial part of any city administration.

This playbook – a blueprint for a new municipal focus on the public realm – comes in the form of “Streets Ahead: Five Routes to a Thriving City” from the Urban Design Forum – a forum for civic leaders, planning professionals and defenders.

Focusing on how streets can contribute to five areas of city life – “commerce, culture, climate, care and continuity” – “Streets Ahead” articulates goals that will not be controversial for Streetsblog readers but may seem new to New Yorkers who think of streets solely as depots for free car storage.

He postulates that:

  • The streets can help revitalize our city’s small business community and support economic recovery.
  • Streets can enable cultural expression and creative activation.
  • The streets can help New York City address the climate crisis.
  • The streets can be at the center of safety, care and healing for New Yorkers of all ages, races and abilities.
  • Streets can build connected communities.

Under each heading, it then provides policy recommendations, such as:

  • Activate micro-distribution centers in each borough.
  • Expand and equip underinvested business improvement districts and community maintenance partners. Co-locate street safety and permanent cultural infrastructure.
  • Install power generation technologies in the right-of-way.
  • Invest in containerization of waste.

Some suggestions overlap with Adams’ “Blueprint for New York’s Economic Recovery,” which included a new “Interagency Task Force for the Public Realm.”

But the Urban Design Forum platform, the culmination of a year of field studies, local dialogues and international exchanges, goes further by seeking to transform the streets and neighborhoods of the city while responding to its climate crises, health and politics. In this, it joins works as disparate as the “vision plans” of various business districts, strongly focused on pedestrianization; practical guides, such as the Design Trust’s public space management toolkit; and even children’s books, such as “City Streets Are for People”.

His rhetoric is noble.

“We are at the start of a historic recovery for our city,” the document states. “It is imperative that we seize this moment to end road deaths, equip our streets to fight the escalating climate crisis, and bring our neighborhoods together after a period of deep isolation. The last two years have shown us what is possible with agile and collaborative work. We invite you, our elected officials, not to be afraid and to continue this work. … A vision of a safe city is possible to achieve in eight years if we recognize that our right of way is an essential piece of the puzzle.

Jackson Chabot, director of Public Space Advocacy at Open Plans (a sister organization to Streetsblog) and a member of the Urban Design Forum, said the document would energize the movement — and inform policy.

“This forward-looking publication is about people, public space and how we manage public space in a way that is sorely needed,” he said. “Streets and sidewalks are the front yards of many New Yorkers. Open Streets and Open Restaurants have shown us what is possible if we think beyond moving and storing vehicles on our streets and we must continue to redesign our streets. …These steps will help us create a city where all New Yorkers deserve access to safe, clean, happy neighborhoods and public spaces.


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