The Century-Old Call for Open Streets

Historical reports from the Regional Plan Association show that car-free streets is an idea almost as old as automobiles themselves.

2 minute read

August 7, 2022, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Copenhagen Street

Øyvind Holmstad / Wikimedia Commons

A brief history of the Regional Plan Association’s research into road design and open streets highlights the deep roots of challenges cities still face today. Sidney Essex writes, “Recently, we unearthed from the RPA archives a New York Times article from 1928 that summarized a recommendation from the Regional Plan of New York and its Environs - also known as the First Regional Plan — about the inequity of pedestrian-free highways without parallel automobile-free urban streets.”

Almost a century later, advocates for open streets, including RPA, are making similar arguments. In 1928, RPA touted the economic benefits of open streets, pointing to the lower cost of building car-free streets. In their 2021 report, Re-Envisioning the Right of Way, they returned to economic benefits in a new way. “The research instead explored the potential of considering our shared streetscapes to be part of an integrated natural, transportation, and social system that can support local economies and food production.”

In 1928, RPA warned that giving up parts of residential streets to light industry leads to the loss of usable public space for pedestrians. “In 2021, RPA attempted to navigate this old tension between commerce and pedestrians by holding a symposium on the impacts and opportunities of e‑commerce in the region, which brought leading thinkers in the fields of supply chain management, transportation, land use, public finance, and waste management together to envision a region in which commerce is convenient, safe for pedestrians, and sustainable.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2022 in Regional Plan Association

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