In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, cities around the country are considering or enacting policies to expand opportunities for social distancing by limiting or prohibiting vehicular traffic and opening streets to pedestrians, cyclists, and restaurant-goers. This project examines the intersections between these open street initiatives and issues of equity. In an article published this week in the Journal of the American Planning Association, the authors — who represent a current student (Dani Slabaugh), faculty member (Jeremy Németh), and alumnus (Alessandro Rigolon) of the PhD in Geography, Planning, and Design — asked a simple question: Whom do these new open streets projects actually serve? They develop and implement a four-pronged environmental justice framework to analyze this pandemic-related planning initiative. They argue that open street programs can worsen historical injustices if they don’t center people of color in planning and implementation. Put another way, they argue, cities simply cannot bypass justice considerations for the sake of rapid-response planning during a pandemic. By examining intersections between open street initiatives and distributional, procedural, interactional, and recognitional justice, they find that open street initiatives raise six potential paradoxes that planners need to contend with. They also provide some suggestions for overcoming these paradoxes, building on innovative open streets that work around the country, most of which are led by people of color.
Photo by Ben Wicks