At the University of Minnesota, researchers have launched a two-year study to identify the elements of urban design (shaded streets, sidewalks, marked crosswalks, neighborhood retail, etc.) that cause people to get out of their cars. Said one researcher, ?We could decrease the attractiveness of driving. We could increase the cost of gas, make congestion worse and increase the cost of parking. But Americans don?t want that. So then we need to make walking more attractive.? Actually, though, there may be another way of getting people on their feet: Buy each of them a dog. One of the study?s participants, a 62-year-old man, said he used to walk a lot but stopped when his Labrador retriever died. But since he signed up for the study, he?s started back. What?s his secret? ?Now, I did something that I probably shouldn?t tell you,? he confided to a newspaper reporter. ?I borrowed my son?s dog to get me out there every day.?
There obviously are some practical problems, but the dog thing has some legs. So, in the case of our neighborhood, do skateboards.
We live a short block from a park, and our big front window is oriented so that, during most seasons of the year, we can watch the parade, the walkers coming and going from the park. They have dogs and tennis rackets and the sidewalks spill out into the streets, very much a pedestrian space. The cars go slow, and there’s little of the auto-people tension that can muck up a good walk.
So it was only a matter of obvious evolution when the skateboard kids started taking over the street for themselves. They first started in the driveway of the house on the corner by the park. The dad there works construction, and he built rails and ramps and all the other things the kids need. Soon they started claiming the street itself. Most evenings, either in front of the house or down by the park, they’re doing their tricks, and claiming the street, and making the cars slow down for them rather than racing to get out of the way. It’s a friendly sort of sharing of the street, not an assertive territoriality, which is I think part of what makes it work. You seldom see drivers annoyed – they have to stop at the stop sign anyway, and go slowly around the park, so the added inconvenience of having to give the skateboard kids the extra room is very little inconvenience at all.
It just works.