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The DL: An easy way to enhance public space

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Downtown Lowdown

The DL: An easy way to enhance public space

  • A parklet on 4th Avenue.
    Downtown Tucson PartnershipA parklet on 4th Avenue.
  • A parklet Downtown.
    Downtown Tucson PartnershipA parklet Downtown.
  • A parklet in downtown.
    Downtown Tucson PartnershipA parklet in downtown.

As the streetcar continues testing up and down its 3.9-mile route, urban planners and activists are increasingly thinking about the role of multimodal transit in downtown Tucson. While multimodal transit may sound rather dull, it is anything but. Incorporating public transit, bike and pedestrian transit in an urban core is essential to creating a vibrant public space teeming with interaction.

When we picture a downtown, we often picture the skyline, the tall buildings silhouetted against a sunset or lake. But what truly creates a downtown or any vital urban area is the space between the buildings. This is where people meet, where music plays, people dance, old men play games of chess, young people laugh and hold hands, and old friends reconnect in a chance encounter. This is the space that defines our experience of a place.

Incorporating multimodal transit means thinking about these spaces between the buildings. It's people feeling safe to walk or bike instead of staying trapped in their car, isolated and disconnected from their surroundings. It's a group of friends taking a pedicab (a bicycle powered, open air cab) on an impulsive pub crawl, enjoying themselves immensely while keeping themselves and those nearby safe. It provides accessibility, allowing everybody to participate in their civic space. Multimodal transit allows a space to be programmed on the scale of the people, not just the tall buildings where they live and work.

Even for those who are only interested in coming Downtown by car every so often, diversifying transportation options enhances their experience. Fewer cars on the road mean cleaner and healthier air in the moments the motorists are out of the vehicle. More parking is available to those who do drive if people that live closer by are able to take a bike or public transit instead of a car. If parking is never in high demand, fewer new parking spots need to be built, decreasing infrastructure costs for taxpayers and people looking to open new businesses.

Living Streets Alliance is one Tucson organization committed to ensuring that downtown Tucson includes all of these elements of integrated transit. Their work includes lobbying and planning for smart transit solutions, but also events like Cyclovia, where people of all ages walk, bike, skate, unicycle, and almost anything else in public streets, allowing people to re-imagine their streets. LSA has already demonstrated amazing success in both their events and their seemingly less exciting work shaping public policy — Tucson has been named by numerous organizations as one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country.

Park(ing) Day

LSA's next event will take place in locations around Downtown this Saturday. Park(ing) Day encourages the public to create parklets or small public spaces that encourage people to connect - within a parking space. Parklets have seen amazing support from cities across the nation. Even notoriously car-obsessed Los Angeles has well-used parklets dotting their downtown, packed with people doing everything from people on their laptops or battling at foozball tables. Parklets can be comprised of whatever people want: pool tables, sofas, tables and chairs, benches, bulletin boards on astroturf. Anything goes.

Parklets are an innovative way to think about public space, to take back a small space of asphalt and create a unique experience. An area may lose a parking space or two, yes, but what it gains can be so much more, a place for people to interact and connect, for music and fun. These small areas that really define our downtowns and urban areas. We thrive on these interactions, these moments that shape our experience of a place. Downtown Tucson has over 15,000 parking spots. Would anybody really notice if just two or three of those spaces were dedicated to enhancing this space for everybody?

For more information about Park(ing) Day 2013, visit Living Streets Alliance.

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