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Recently I read two books that show that urban transformation is possible. The first one is the recently launched book entitled Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, and the second one is “Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities” by Ryan Gale. They show recent cases in New York and Atlanta, respectively.

In New York, the change came from the public sector that was able to mobilize in a short period of time strategies for reclaiming the streets as public space to be shared and enjoyed. From 2000 to 2012 the bike share quadrupled. In less than 3 years they built 321 km of new bike paths and reclaim parks in previous car spaces such as Times Square. Today, under a new administration the change continues and New York is reaching an amazing figure of 1,500 km of bike paths.

In Atlanta, the transformation was fostered by a bottom-up citizen mobilization. From a master thesis, Ryan Gale mobilized the community, grassroots organizations and the government to build the Atlanta Beltline, a magnifying green space for biking, walking and enjoying the city. This project, similar to The High Line in New York, is making Atlanta rethink its previous actions that prioritized car-oriented policies. The Atlanta Beltline will compromise in few years 35 km of the former railway corridor with green space for pedestrians, bicycles and public transport.

These are some of the quotes and lessons from these books that can make you see that the city you dream can become a reality if you act.

StreetFight – Janette Sadik-Khan, 2016.

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  • “Streets for the last century have been designed to keep traffic moving but not to support the life alongside it.”
  • “Inefficient and poorly designed streets are the stage for chronic congestion and 1.24 million traffic deaths annually along 22 million miles of road worldwide.”
  • “Streets are the social, political, and commercial arteries of cities. People know how to read the sidewalk, and there are unspoken, unmarked lanes that people intuitively understand.”
  • “Every city resident is a pedestrian at some point in the day. A city whose streets invite people to walk, bike, and sit along them also inspires people to innovate, invest, and stay for good.”
  • “If cities truly want a future where more people choose to take buses or trains, to bike or walk, then cities must invest in trains and buses, bikes and better streets.”
  • “Little by little, the redesign of streets creates spaces that invite people and opportunities beyond cars.”
  • “We can reclaim our streets today. It only awaits those who care and those who dare.”

“Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities” by Ryan Gale.

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  • “Communities defined by sprawl (1) are sparsely occupied by segregated groups of people, (2) are highly dependent on automobiles, (3) do not adapt easily to change, and (4) eventually choke on their own success.”
  • “[A sprawl community] has segregated us from each other, and this social and cultural isolation has dramatic impacts that go well beyond the physical plan of our cities.”
  • “Places designed on the scale of cars are fundamentally different from those designed on the scale of people. They are not reasonably walkable.”
  • “Public advocacy is the key to making the Belt Line a reality”.
Atlanta BeltLine EastSide Taril 10K December 7, 2013 photos by Christopher T Martin www.christophertmartin.com

photo by Christopher T Martin 

  • “Atlanta Beltline gives us hope that we can follow through on our dreams to build a new business, live without a car, or bike to the park after school.”
  • “When it is done right, infrastructure can even be sexy. It is seductive—it dares us to go to places we might not otherwise go. It is muscular—it shoulders the underlying weight of our social life and economy.”
  • “We need to experiment with ideas. We can start small by trying easier, faster, and even temporary projects, including guerrilla gardening and food trucks.”
  • “Whatever kind of experiments we engage in, we need to get comfortable with not knowing all the answers and be willing to test ideas that don’t seem possible. We need to develop a political structure for change. This is critical because, otherwise, some of the best ideas never see the light of day. We need to find reliable ways to get them to the table, vet their eligibility for our vision, organize efforts to support them, integrate them with other ideas, and protect their integrity over time.”
  • “If we are thoughtful, if we work hard, and if we care, this new claim will allow us to leverage change to work for us, not against us, and in the process, catalyze the creation of places where we want to live.”
  • “All it requires is for you and me to decide, perhaps naïvely, that we can actually make a difference.”

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