These are short interviews with designers, manufacturers, artists, and residents who use the tiny bits of urbanity we generally call street furniture. This interview was conducted over email and edited for clarity.
I started the Instagram account @pedestrianspace in May 2020. The pandemic has affected all areas of life and I began to notice that there were some really fantastic and truly progressive things happening related to public space and urbanism. I wanted a space where I could repost, share, and document a lot of the news I was following regarding car-free initiatives, pedestrianization of areas (even if temporary to begin with), and related news.
I am originally from the USA and currently live in Sweden. I grew up primarily in suburban environments in Florida and California and didn’t live in an urban neighborhood until my early 20’s when I moved to Seattle. It was then that I really became dialed into discussions about mobility, public transportation and urbanism, experiencing these issues as a city resident myself. I went on to move to Sweden and took part in a Masters in Spatial Planning degree program here about 20 years ago. For the past decade, I have been working as a photographer: I love merging my work in media with pedestrian advocacy. This definitely feels like my way of reconnecting with those roots of interest in urban and community planning.
Walkability is so central in my life. I grew up dependent on car living. For many suburban Americans the car almost functions as a second living room: this was just the norm for me. Later, when I began experiencing urban living, I really fell in love with the walkable lifestyle. It was immensely practical to me and also very enjoyable. Walking is often how I get from point a to point b, where I get my daily exercise, when I often get ideas for writing or projects and also how I best enjoy experiencing the city and seasons.
Right now I live in central Sweden with my family in what is a truly 15 minute city. I can get anywhere I need to be on foot within 15 minutes and of course quicker with the bus. It was actually while we were living here that I learned about the 15 minute city concept and I thought “That’s exactly what we are experiencing right now.” It’s a good lifestyle and of course much less stressful than long or complicated commutes. I enjoy the amenities, pulse and diversity of larger cities as well but I believe this “15 minute city” concept is very important in urban life- whether applied to smaller and medium sized cities or to neighborhoods in a metropolis.
Our relationship to the environments we inhabit is so critical to our physical, mental and emotional health and of course more broadly to planetary health. Issues surrounding this pandemic have really put front and center what demands our attention and immediate change.
There are a lot of surprising shifts occurring right now and keeping up with the media surrounding all these proposals and changes to public space and urban planning is very exciting and can keep you very busy. I established Pedestrian Space, in part, to create a hub for news on these issues and am really still learning about all the cities at the helm of change right now.
What’s happening in Paris and Milan are the changes we need now in the 21st century. Leadership such as Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s demonstrates the bold initiative required to usher communities into a more sustainable relationship to their urban environments and to challenge deeply ingrained concepts of car dependence and convenience. What is happening in Paris, and other cities, is, I believe, radical, incredibly progressive as well as practical and totally modern.
I’ve been reading about the superblocks in Barcelona as well, car free initiatives there and how it is inspiring changes in other cities. Now I’m dreaming of a visit to Barcelona to see these areas myself! These are the types of changes I am paying attention to because they have the power and practical ability to benefit all ages and create positive effects for human health as well as the environment. Thus far, my focus is pretty Euro-centric as I am here in Europe and language wise it can often be easier for me to discover media here, but I am genuinely interested in these initiatives worldwide and hope to really increase coverage of such projects going on around the world.
One thing that has definitely surprised me during my work, in a great way, is to see that these changes are occurring in many cities. The pandemic has really required and inspired an innovative approach to consideration of public space globally. We are seeing these demands for mobility and commuting issues, physical health and exercising, physical distancing, dining out and so much more. So this has really pushed the discussion forward and urges that everyone who is connected to these spaces reconsiders how we use and move through them. Of course much of the work related to change falls to leadership and planning boards but grassroots efforts are very important and it will ultimately be a community effort as we all inhabit these spaces.
Broadening pathways is perhaps among my favorite urban intervention when it comes to pedestrian spaces. The beauty and practicality of a wide sidewalk, giving comfortable access to a range of movers (pedestrians, cyclistys, individuals in wheelchairs, parents with strollers, skateboarders etc) cannot be underestimated. I really swoon over a wide, beautifully tree-lined sidewalk that perhaps also has ample space for outdoor dining.
For me, cities are lacking awareness of possible change at all levels. In terms of change, cultivating awarenesss at all levels is part of the work. Perhaps 20 years ago, many of these car-free initiatives would have been unthinkable and scoffed at. Now, they are seen as essential. There is and will be pushback as essential change can challenge our conception of what the city is and should be. Essential change can even challenge our values and belief systems. But when awareness is raised about what is possible, for example about the beneficial effects of reducing or eliminating car traffic in select areas, this can help promote change that positively impacts the city as a whole and its residents. The range of benefits of pedestrianized streets for example include increased mobility for people of all ages, potential economic benefits for businesses in the area and a potential ambient and ecological boost if the area receives greening during pedestrianization efforts. These benefits are and continue to be well documented via research and can be further shared via popular media as well to cultivate broader awareness.
Since I have launched the @pedestrianspace Instagram account a couple of months ago, I’ve been mostly resharing posts with minimal commentary. I am just getting comfortable there and truly enjoying getting familiar with the network of organizations, studios, cities and individuals worldwide who are working with these issues. I’m looking forward to new dialogues and views as well as creating more original content and commentary to share.
Thank you Annika Lundkvist of @pedestrianspace for taking time for this interview.