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For our summer double issue here at BusinessWeek, we are putting together a special report on the Case for Optimism. We want to hear what is making our readers optimistic. Then we’re going to wrap it all up and turn it into a user-generated masterpiece for August beach reading, just as we did in last summer’s issue. So I’m going to weigh in with my own little ditty of optimism, in the hope that you will share your thoughts on what is making you optimistic in our comment box. Please also check out our new blog, The Case for Optimism. We are dying to hear from you! Here’s your chance to see your comments transfered into the stuff of old-fashioned print magazinedom.
My current micro case for optimism: I pedaled into the BusinessWeek mothership this morning on my three-wheeled rickshaw, a.k.a. one of the deep and true and I-swoon-over-it-daily loves of my life.
Public policy planners call this “active transportation”: when a metropolis-dweller like me, all flabbed up with winter layers, uses my bodily self to get me to work as opposed to sitting in a car or hopping on a train. This is lifestyle redesign par excellence: taking what was once a wasted dead zone—a study in sedentary—and turning into a meditative mini workout. Free transportation plus free calorie burn plus faster commute equals a net net net positive gain.
What was different about this morning’s commute was that I took a tour through the new Times Square. Over Memorial Day Weekend, NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan—she of the smashing capes and hipster-bureacrat brain—had her people use some paint, some traffic barriers, and some chairs to transform a sliver of Broadway into a neon-swathed simulacrum of Piazza San Marco, the famous Venetian no-car zone. That’s Sadik-Khan above, courtesy of New York Magazine, looking all leggy on a photo-shopped runway of grass.
Car lovers, business owners, parking garage moguls and cabbies were at first apoplectic. But here’s the delicious truth of this new Piazza for the People. If the experiment bears out the research, it will make the experience of Times Square better for everyone. The plan is projected to actually cut traffic, congestion and pollution while at the same time making what was once one of the most dangerous triangles for pedestrians a far safer, more liveable space.
So much talk of sustainability hinges on being less bad. Less plastic. Less packaging. Less resource use. But less bad isn’t the answer. The true value comes from delivering more good.
What the new Times Square represents is an eco hat trick: a win for pedestrians, for drivers, and the environment.
Sadik-Khan, a former senior vice-president of the international engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, is a case for optimism because she is blending the Jane Jacobs idea of the sidewalk as community mash-up with the ambitions to do for New York’s sustainbility movement what the last century’s planners did for the age of the combustion-engine and asphalt.
A green Robert Moses.
Already, Times Square is a quieter, less noisy, more liveable place. Change is wrenching. But in the macro view, such public space makeovers are one of those no-cost structural changes that delivers more good, as detailed in the excellent new book from Jeff Mapes called Pedaling Revolution.
For her part, Sadik-Khan took her cues from Copenhagen, widely known as perhaps the best designed city on the planet. You can read more about her in the recent profile in New York Magazine.
The title of the New York magazine story was something I got a taste of this morning: Honk, Honk, Aaah.
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