For the last 70 years, cities around the world have been torn apart, retrofitted, and codified to accommodate 2-ton vehicles at the expense of all other modes of transportation. These deeply engrained patterns have dispersed people and businesses out to a sprawling landscape of dependency, diluted our places of vibrancy, and have left behind environmental devastation. In a silver lining to an otherwise devastating year, it only took a few months and a bit of political leniency to revert to a pre-car world.
Life as we know it came to halt in March of last year. As people sheltered in place to protect themselves from Covid-19, city streets became barren. For several weeks, they looked post-apocalyptic. Amidst the uncertainty, economies faltered. Businesses reliant on in-person interaction—and by extension those who owned them or were employed by them—feared for their survival. Half of all restaurants were forced to temporarily close, and industry insiders speculated even more could close permanently if relief and recovery weren’t expedient. As millions struggled to survive, others reveled in the downfall of our cities.
But cities are resilient. In the first few months of the pandemic, streets were not only devoid of people, but of cars, too. This led to a reduction of carbon emissions and increased air quality in notoriously smoggy cities like Los Angeles. Animals thrived in the cleaner conditions, and human activity picked up with bikers and pedestrians taking over space forfeited by cars. In some areas, the pandemic even enabled more social connection, as once-unacquainted neighbors became friends through sporadic walks and trips to the park — occurrences not previously possible in a world oriented around commuting to the office.
Parklets are a visible manifestation of people reclaiming streets
As restrictions made it impossible to gather inside, people got creative. Tens of thousands of parking spaces around the country were repurposed into parklets to allow for outdoor dining. Beyond offering a lifeline to food and beverage outlets who months before were staring down near…