I had the most delicious dream, last night...
The fog and confusion of 2020 had let up. We were out, roaming, visiting, gathering. I dare say, thriving. Grateful, just so grateful, to be out and together.
I walked through my own town, and it was as if the hamlet I call home had been re-imagined - lots of cars all along the outskirts of the town center, but no spots on the streets. Overfull kiosks of fresh produce, food trucks, grassy areas, outdoor dining lined each street, troubadours and staged-music filled the air with art and culture and vibrancy. Puppet-shows and story-times on street corners for children and passerby. Locals walked freely, the streets belonged to pedestrians or cyclists - in town. It was open, clean, fresh, alive, and welcoming. An oasis - with patches of green, lots of life, water refilling stations, artisans, and welcoming storefronts.
Like a sacred heart - a center - for the community's people to gather, mingle, converse, dine, relax, shop, and enjoy each other. It felt like bliss.
And I imagined all of our large and overcrowded cities - made more sustainable, walk-able, with our vehicles circling these centers, making each little heart of commerce more people-friendly. A true marketplace. Maximizing foot traffic, minimizing vehicle congestion, and honking, and accidents, and worse.
And I woke, and I remembered... this was what I loved so much about my visit to Santana Row - the design. The architecture. The city-flow. A commerce center, with walk-ability, vendors and merchants of all kinds all around, and no competition between cars and pedestrians. Of course there are always provisions for those without the ability to walk, which is a very real concern, but it just felt so good and I wondered why we didn't do this large-scale. It makes so much sense.
And I researched this concept, as I do, (show me the info) and I came upon urban development and sustainable cities. And I gazed into the the examples I saw, that are practicing car-free streets:
...there were more...
And I thought... why couldn't we? And maybe we are... maybe, on the other side of this mess, with so much on pause, we can rebuild stronger and smarter. Maybe that's part of the plan, already... "Rebuild a New NY." I don't know.
And I get it. It's easy to fear the unknowns. When we aren't directly in control. Of course it is.
But what if it could be better than we fear? What if our cities could be improved to be safer, cleaner, smarter, and more geared toward a sustainable lifestyle, for everyone? I think it makes so much sense.
When I walk in these cities - with only other pedestrians, or special lanes for cyclists - I feel more at ease. I feel healthy, I'm moving my body, I'm breathing fresh air. Folks are walking their dogs. I have space around me, I don't have to wait to cross interscections at some light box - because there are no vehicles. I am...free. To wander, to mosey, to buy a gelato, to listen to a young man or woman with a guitar and throw some money into his/her hat. To dine under the stars, with my dog at my feet, which I'm seeing more and more, even now... as restaurants move tables outdoors to continue to serve their guests under strict health and spacing guidelines.
And I feel like it's so very possible. Inconvenient, for sure. Challenging. And this is not to say that's it's not heartbreaking seeing so many businesses suffer and close their doors. It can be heartbreaking to see favorite institutions shut down. It's bittersweet, and sometimes tragic, the amount of staggering loss that we've endured. That's real. Businesses are run by people, and people have suffered.
But what if some sincere good, in the way of re-imagined city centers for the duration, for the climate, for humanity, for the sheer simplicity in living a healthier and smarter lifestyle... could flourish on the other side of all of this? Simple. Healthy. Intelligent.
"When you know better, do better..." - Maya Angelou
And to be sure... it's hard not having access to things as we've always had them. It's hard. But change can be smart. Efficient. Exciting. Optimistic. And thoughtful, with the best of intentions and the best interests of all, at heart. It is possible.
Oh, it was a lovely dream. I lingered around the flower cart a bit too long... it was really something.