During the pandemic, cities closed off their streets to cars, turned unused parking garages into urban farms, and expanded bike lanes. These people-friendly modifications made cities more livable during a global pandemic, but many of them are here to stay as cities shift away from car-based infrastructure in favor of human-centered design.
The shift of public space away from streets and parking lots in favor of walking space, recreation areas, and green space is one change that appears to be here to stay. During the pandemic, Seattle launched its Stay Healthy Streets program, which upgraded more than 20 miles of neighborhood greenways and closed off streets to vehicles. Now, the city plans to keep this program alive even post-pandemic.
Across the country in Raleigh, North Carolina, the city transformed curbside parking spaces into short-term pick-up parking. There are now more than 200 of these zones in the city which allow patrons to stop in and support their favorite local shops without circling the block looking for parking. Long-term parking options are gone, but there is more street space for pedestrians and less traffic. The program was created during the pandemic, but now the city plans to make it permanent.
Housing is another big sector that has been permanently changed by the pandemic. 45 cities across the US instituted eviction moratoriums and 78 expanded utility assistance programs. Many cities, like Philadelphia, are keeping these programs alive for long-term housing security.
Cities also took more long-term approaches to housing the unsheltered. The pandemic encouraged many cities to realize that permanent housing solutions were a more ethical and cost-effective solution to homelessness. The City of Austin purchased a large hotel to turn into transitional housing and the program has been so successful, they’re planning to buy a second facility soon.
We’ve discussed how the pandemic is an opportunity to rethink and revamp our urban spaces to be more sustainable, equitable, and accessible. These are just some of the changes propagated by the pandemic that are improving our cities for the better in the long run.