Which streets? Our streets of children

I was haunted recently by two remarks. One was created in 1960, by John F. Kennedy, a president who I’m old enough to remember. He made...

I was haunted recently by two remarks. One was created in 1960, by John F. Kennedy, a president who I’m old enough to remember. He made an argument for bilateral nuclear disarmament: “In the final analysis, our most fundamental common bond is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish the future of our children. And we are all mortal.

The other was made recently, by climate philosopher Alex Steffen: “The world we have built is not ready for the planet we have built.

I think of these remarks when reading the world’s struggles to tackle the climate emergency, which the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls “code red for humanity”. Here we are still on our small planet, having added a second existential threat to that of nuclear power, because we have failed – or refused – to imagine the consequences of our fossil fuel economy. We are still failing now.

The problem is, it is very difficult to imagine the future, especially in a time of such rapid change. We tend to expect things to stay the same. Yet they don’t. Until 20 years ago, the internet, search engines, smartphones, social media, and online shopping were not forces in our lives. Now they have fundamentally reshaped society, and we can hardly remember what we have done without them.

But maybe it’s a little easier to plan ahead on a small scale than on a large scale. We each contribute only on a small scale to the decisions that will determine the future of human society, which depend on government actions at the highest level. But our local choices are also important, even those that do not exceed a parking space.

This brings us to our beloved Northampton, where we are planning the overhaul of our city center. Local officials tell us that they took everyone’s competing interests into account to find the best layout. But infrastructure lasts a long time. What will be important to the people who will be living here 30 years from now? We must also take into account their interests; their well-being is in our hands.

We know it will be warmer. By 2050, average temperatures in Hampshire County will have increased by 2.2 to 2.8 ° C from 1970. It will also be more stormy. The region has already seen a 70% increase in heavy rain episodes in recent decades and is expected to face a further increase of at least 40% by the end of the century. These changes will present urgent new security concerns. How do we plan for them?

With trees! Many of them. Take a look at the “Benefits of Urban Street Trees” article on the Main Street for Everyone website (walkable.org/download/22_benefits.pdf). The trees cool the pavement and the air down to 15˚F. They absorb precipitation through their leaves and roots, reducing storm runoff by up to 60%. They absorb volatile compounds and improve air quality. They define and house public spaces, improve our mental health and beautify our city. And they attract buyers.

We need to weigh the future value of tree-protected streets against the future value of that extra roadway demanded by corner parking – in a world where resilience will require less car use and more public transportation. The data tells us that almost all the arguments put forward in favor of corner parking – that it is safer, that it is necessary to attract buyers, that it is the only way to accommodate people with disabilities – are false. Of course, it’s easier to slip into an inclined space. But it is not easier to retreat safely. To preserve this moment of ease, does it make sense to engage in streets so wide that even a canopy of mature trees will never be able to grow branches long enough to shade it?

Finally, we know that in the near future, many Americans will be looking to move away from places of higher climate risk to places that plan ahead. Many are already moving here. These new residents can be a force for us, in our walkable urban center, with vibrant public spaces and solid arts, restaurants and shopping. The point is, the virtual market is boring and lonely. We all need places where we can be together.

The world we have built is not ready for the planet we have built, but we can try to build our downtown to be ready for the future we see coming. And if we do it right, the future will be better.

Sarah Metcalf has been a Northampton resident for 30 years, writer and climate activist.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Which streets? Our streets of children
Which streets? Our streets of children
Newsrust - US Top News
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