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Take back the streets 

There is growing recognition that we have to reinvent streets and undo the damage caused by the dominance of the automobile over the last 70 years.


click to enlarge Frank Palermo is advisor to the Shift 2018 Planning Conference class, professor in the faculty of architecture and planning at Dalhousie, director of the Cities and Environment Unit and chair of the Planning and Design Centre.
  • Frank Palermo is advisor to the Shift 2018 Planning Conference class, professor in the faculty of architecture and planning at Dalhousie, director of the Cities and Environment Unit and chair of the Planning and Design Centre.


Shift Conference
Wednesday, February 28-Saturday, March 3
Dalhousie School of Planning
5410 Spring Garden Road
free
dalhousieplanningconference.webs.com

The form and structure of cities is changing. It has to change for environmental, economic, equity and health reasons. New technology is enabling the change.

Around the globe the cities we want to live in, work in, invest in and visit are increasingly focused on people and not cars; on walking, not driving; on public transit and active transportation, not more highways, corridors and roundabouts.

The future is about streets whose purpose is social, open, marketplace and not just movement—streets whose design reflects our values and climate.

We need to take back the streets because they represent about a third of the total land area of the city, but also because they are an essential public asset. They are important as places. They connect neighbourhoods, define districts and are the lifeblood of every community. Streets serve as our common living room and major gathering places. You live on a street. You use them to get to work. You may depend on them to get a service you need or just to get some fresh air, and sometimes even as a spectator or performer in the theatre of daily life. Streets touch all of us.

There is growing recognition that we have to reinvent streets and undo the damage caused by the dominance of the automobile over the last 70 years. During that period the car shaped cities. It fed suburbia; spawned acres of parking lots and led to road classifications and design standards intended to ensure that movement and storage of vehicles was the primary purpose of streets. The dominance of movement was enshrined in codes and legislation. Engineers were given and largely still maintain the authority to determine the design of streets.

There is now an urgent need and opportunity for action to reinvent streets as central to community. Every year, for more than 20 years now, students in the school of Planning at Dalhousie organize a conference around a significant issue of current interest to the community and the planning profession. Over the last seven years, those conferences have focused on the idea of shifting thought. A few years ago it was Shift Rural. Last year it was Shift Transit and this year it's Shift Streets.

The conference brings together students, the profession and the community. A number of carefully selected guests—local, from other parts of the country and from beyond our borders—will help to collaboratively and creatively explore. Together we will try to develop approaches, ideas and strategies for moving forward to Take Back the Streets.

There is an element of audacity in this conference. We believe that change needs to happen now. We think it's urgent to take back the streets so they can be less about movement (particularly car movement) and much more social places, open spaces and marketplaces. We know that to accomplish this is a large undertaking that will take concerted and extended effort to reconsider streets, particularly in terms of equity, accessibility and responsiveness to climate.

We believe that it's possible to start the shift here and now. We also know that it can only happen with broad community engagement. The community has to embrace it, be inspired by it, want it and be willing to contribute. This is how change will happen. We need many voices and minds to join us now. The only limit is the reach of our collective imagination.

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Voice of the City is a platform for any and all Halifax individuals to share their diverse opinions and writings. The Coast does not necessarily endorse the views of those published. Our editors reserve the right to alter submissions for clarity, length, content and style. Want to appear in this section? Submissions can be sent to voice@thecoast.ca.


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