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A Rare Chance for Urban Innovation

The realities of social distancing are allowing for innovations and experimentations with real opportunities for long-term benefit in cities, according to an article by Allison Arieff.
April 14, 2020, 11am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Staying at home to stem the spread of the coronavirus has offered a rare experiment, according to an article by Allison Arieff: "We can see our cities for the first time without the choking traffic, dirty air and honking horns that have so often made them intolerable."

Arieff is encouraged by the adaptability of San Francisco during this time of crisis—residents have turned the city into a pedestrian's paradise, the streets are quieter, and the skies are bluer. Arieff also acknowledges that Covid-19 is also "laying bare the stark reality of income inequality," but some of the innovations and "MacGyvering" that have taken root in response to the crisis have the potential to create a new normal after the crisis has abated, according to Arieff.

One of the key ways that potential is being realized and showcased during the crisis is on streets: "Urban planners have long argued that more streets should close to make more livable spaces, but governments have always resisted, calling it impractical or impossible. They’ve just proved it can happen — and they should keep it going after the crisis."

The mere existence of this experiment in the public realm, and several other, smaller interventions, like deactivated pedestrian "beg buttons," offer some hope that cities will eventually act to prevent the worst outcomes of climate change. Time will tell whether these changes can last, according to Arieff, and for the many hopeful developments listed in this story, there are also concerning developments regarding privacy and discrimination.

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Published on Wednesday, April 8, 2020 in The New York Times
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