Re-designing streets to become more pedestrian-oriented instills a sense of place by providing for natural and unplanned human connection

In this article from Social Life Project, the authors propose that "to save the planet, start with the social life of sidewalks."

"Imagine if the places where we live were shaped by our social lives, re-imagined to make it easy for us to gather, shop, have fun, eat together, and meet new people. With this mindset, we would fundamentally change our communities. Maybe this vision is closer than we think. Perhaps all we have to do to bring this to life is start with the social life of sidewalks."

Sidewalks are a microcosm of our public realm. They represent many things:

  • How much of our communities are dedicated to people, rather than cars
  • How welcome and safe people feel navigating a given street
  • How easy it is to get from one place to another, and
  • Whose paths cross on a day-to-day basis

According to the article, the implications of starting with the social life of sidewalks as the building blocks for better cities are enormous. Every community could be defined by the vision of its residents and visitors. Local improvisation would be the foundation, meaning that people would shape their own environment. Perhaps reassuringly, there is nothing new about this type of movement. COVID-19 has brought us face-to-face with the reality of how important public spaces are in our everyday life, even seemingly basic places like sidewalks. We are rediscovering our public spaces, and looking at them with entirely new eyes. Outdoor life has increased exponentially. Sidewalks have become the main venue for social life... dining, promenading, and outdoor displays have become the norm. Walking and strolling is now an evening pastime. Chance encounters are happening and sought after.

This transformation of our sidewalks and the process of developing a sense of place has been perhaps no more visible than in our Oakland community since the start of the pandemic forced community-wide re-imagination. From the Social Life Project, these following stories give us a vision of public spaces – focusing on sidewalks and streets becoming places primed for a community-level transformation: