Creating More Open Space in Cities
Street closures have made it clear that we need room for people to move and enjoy green spaces in urban areas.
There have been a number of inspiring stories and innovations to come out of our ongoing public health crisis. One such bright spot is the closure of streets to through-traffic to create pedestrian-only zones in cities like Seattle, Bellevue, Olympia, Everett and Edmonds, as well as others across the nation.
These closures have helped urban residents maintain a safe distance from one another while walking, biking and running and have played a critical role in allowing people to get much-needed exercise, fresh air and nature exposure when access to even local parks was restricted.
As of June, the City of Seattle has even decided to permanently close 20 miles of these “Stay Healthy Streets.” Local access for residents (as well as deliveries and services) will continue. For many urban residents, the street closures are a welcome silver lining to a difficult time.
“What I’ve learned from all this is that I really love being surrounded by my neighbors, not their cars,” said Loren Drummond, WTA’s digital content manager, who lives in Seattle. “Seeing this rich tapestry of people out walking, running and biking by the house every day keeps me feeling so much more connected to the real community of this city. I’ve even had friends from across town hike their way here on mostly closed streets to meet our 2-month-old son from a safe distance.”
While these street closures are a great win for nearby urban residents, the need for close-to-home recreation and outdoor time during the pandemic has further highlighted the inequitable distribution of green space in our cities. Were you able to walk to parks from your home during the stay-at-home order? Many folks living in Washington’s urban centers were not able to do so.
“I feel incredibly grateful to have this network of closed streets right out my front door, but I’m also keenly aware of what a privilege it is to have this kind of outdoor space and access to green spaces within walking distance,” Loren said. “I wish every person in this city, especially those without cars or the money to reach other public lands in the mountains or along the coast, could at least have this kind of safe space — to walk, breathe, play with their kids and stay connected to each other.”
WTA launched our Trail Next Door campaign this year to focus on urban trails, prioritizing those in areas with less access to nature and supporting the development of new green spaces in our cities. We are actively listening to communities about what they need and want in their own backyards, whether that’s a brand-new trail or simply access to an existing green space. And we’re using all our skills — advocacy, fundraising, outreach, teamwork — so that everyone has better access to all the things nature has to offer. We want to ensure that the benefits and joys from creative solutions like these street closures aren’t temporary and that cities continue to invest in parks and trails so that all residents have easy access to time in nature.
Check your city
If you’re curious about what park distribution in your city looks like, check out The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore index. You can see where parks are distributed where you live, who has access to them and even the highest-need areas for new parks. While no tool is perfect, this is a great starting point if you’re interested in learning more about how green space is (or is not) equitably distributed.