Most Americans live in or near cities, and cities produce most of our economic advances; that’s because of the density of activities, resources, people and their ideas that cities constitute. It’s that density and concentration that makes cities – and economies – successful. But it can also be overwhelming sometimes. Cities provide most of what people need – but sometimes people need a break from all that.
Sometimes people need what urbanization has sometimes replaced: open space, greenery, and the natural environment. Clean air, room to run, space to think – people need these things, too, to lead and happy and productive lives. Our cities need to be places full of these opportunities, as well. Here’s what Dwight Evans thinks we can do:
Expand city park accessibility. One way to expand park accessibility is to strategically put new parks where the people are. For example, in Denver, Colorado, nine out of every 10 residents live within six blocks of a park, and the city overall has 9.7 acres of open space per 1,000 residents. This high level of accessibility was achieved in part by a careful analysis of the distribution of parkland throughout the city, using GIS mapping technology and a “six-block criterion.” The city used its capital appropriations funding to address the gaps or inequities it identified. Now, it plans to raise the standard for accessibility from six to only four blocks (or approximately 1/3 mile) from people’s residences.
Create a parklet program: This initiative, inspired by parklets in New York and San Francisco, creates seasonal patio-like little parks out of two existing parking spaces in commercial areas during the Spring and summer months. The Boson Globe has reported each parklet will cost about $12,000.
Plant more trees. Pennsylvania’s TreeVitalize Program is a model for a concentrated tree planting effort. Responding to an alarming trend of the loss of trees in Pennsylvania’s metropolitan areas, TreeVitalize is a public-private partnership created to help restore tree cover, educate citizens about the benefits of planting trees in their cities, help local governments to protect and restore them. Launched in 2004, TreeVitalize has worked with communities to plant over 350,000 trees in 14 metropolitan areas. In the City of Pittsburgh, TreeVitalize has planted over 17,000 trees since 2008.
Support and replicate programs like Philadelphia’s creation of rooftop parks and green space.
Extend free WiFi to city parks and repurpose all payphone kiosks with WiFi capability. Converting unused payphone kiosks into free wireless hotspots will enable any user within a 100 to 200 foot radius to access internet on their phones, laptops, tablets and other WiFi devices, without needing to share any personal information. Boston introduced this program in trial form with plans to provide wireless access at 16 existing pay phone sites throughout downtown; one demo wireless site near City Hall Plaza garnered the attention of 200 people in a span of just 24 hours, and with zero advertising, resulted in 2,000 devices accessing the Internet on that one day alone. New York City is creating the world’s largest and fastest free public Wi-Fi network by replacing its payphones. Kiosks, called “Links,” will provide New Yorkers with an “incredibly fast, secure and private” Wi-Fi network with a 150-foot radius, free domestic calling, two USB charging ports, a tablet for accessing the internet, and a red 911 button to contact emergency services. As many as 10,000 links will be installed across the city.
We need to expand this initiative to all cities, especially low-income neighborhoods where fewer residents can afford their own Internet service. By providing ads on the booths, advertisers will absorb the cost of the initiative with little to no additional cost to the city or the public.