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The pandemic may have reshaped cities forever

Even with these opinions on the books, the pandemic – or indeed, the random response to it – has changed people’s perceptions of what a city can be. “As a species, we’re not good at imagining things we’ve never seen, and the vast majority of North Americans really only saw automobile-dominated single-family homes as the way we build things, ”says Shoshanna Saxe, an engineer at the University of Toronto who studies sustainable infrastructure. “It wasn’t the only option. It didn’t have to be that way. We made a choice. During the pandemic, people saw something different. “

The question is whether it will stay that way.

For the first time in a long time, policy makers at many levels are supporting these kinds of changes. In 2019, municipalities like Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis, Minnesota began shedding exclusive, single-family zoning in an attempt to address justice and the climate crisis. Under the Biden administration, transport grants states still allow freeway expansion, but also smaller-scale changes for neighborhood improvements.

New York City, Washington DC, New Orleans, and San Francisco have all decided to make pandemic parklets permanent; Boston does not have. “We don’t know if these changes were simply a reflection of the desire of local businesses to continue to have services, or a desire to change our relationship with the street,” says Freemark. “The reality is that we are somewhere in between.”

Which people really don’t like, and never liked, it’s traveling much more than half an hour to get anywhere. Until about 150 years ago, this meant that most people lived within a mile or two of places where they worked, ate, learned, and partied, as that was roughly the distance that a person could walk, or, if you were rich, on a horse. The result in practice is a high density city, a downtown area like you would see in Europe, or in the old towns of North America. This is the objective of the leaders of places like Paris or Barcelona, ​​who are building cycling and public transport infrastructures to meet climate objectives and make urban experiences more pleasant.

When electric carriages and buses entered cities in the 19th century, the radius of this circle extended to tens of kilometers. The result was (like this very good account dit) higher density corridors connecting neighborhood to neighborhood or, more likely, places where there are a lot of houses in a place where there are a lot of jobs.

The inclusion of the automobile after World War II in this space-time calculation really turned things upside down. A car, without constraints, can easily cover 30 or 40 miles in half an hour. But as soon as many cars try to do the same on the same route, the system breaks down, especially if one end of the route is mostly houses and the other end is mostly roadworks, so the whole thing. world wants to drive to the same place. the same time.

In the United States, instead of building Following houses inside the old circle (or, God forgive, even closer to each other and near where people go), people have built houses even further. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, public transportation was built before homes; streetcar lines were what made housing developments practical, if not valuable. When the car arrived, the tracks tore, but the exclusive (and generally racist) zoning which favored single-family homes on large lots has remained in place. The cost of housing has increased. Well, you can see the geometry problem here.