Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Town Recovers from Oil Dependence, Part 2

This is #27 in a series of blog posts about recovering from the Gulf oil spill and from oil dependency overall. The first introduces the series.

In yesterday's post, I began describing a fictional transition town in which a few citizens move toward greater freedom from car and oil dependence. We had reached a point where the local school district gets involved with Safe Routes to School and several Walking School Buses are organized.

These Walking Buses, plus a carfree vacation to Maine that includes a stop in the very walkable town of Portland, gives the local Girl Scout leader an idea. While traveling, she picks up a great little map produced by the regional government's Kids and Transportation program, "The Kids Guide to Getting Around Portland." She decides her troop can create a map fashioned after Portland's, showing ways kids can get around by foot, bike and bus, as well as the safest routes to schools, and earn merit badges in the process.

Walkable Portland, Maine
Photo credit: Photographer: Dan Burden

When completed, the Girl Scouts' draft map gets written up in the local newspaper. This (and a grant proposal written by the Girl Scout leader) prompts the local community foundation to provide money to produce the map, and pretty soon kids are using it to walk, bike and bus around town. Soccer parents breathe a sigh of relief as their driving mileage drops accordingly; with less chauffeuring to do, they actually get a little time to themselves.

More people are biking and walking, but too many cars still speed on the town's streets, according to the town's neighborhood improvement group. One of the group's leaders has just read the book Street Reclaiming by David Engwicht as well as finding pictures on the web of Park(ing) Day, where people reclaim parking spaces as mini-parks. He enthuses about both the book and Park(ing) Day to other members of the neighborhood improvement group.

Turning a parking space into a park on National Park(ing) Day.
Photo from

Park(ing) Day is held in September each year, and the neighborhood group makes plans to participate in the next one. In the meantime, the group starts a little psychological street reclaiming by hanging banners across the street; then they pick some strategically located parking spaces and turn them into mini-parks by furnishing them with potted plants and outdoor furniture. They notice that traffic slows near these changes; eventually the group leaves the plants and furniture out permanently in those locations. These communal outdoor living rooms become favorite hangouts for the neighbors. Other neighborhoods around town take notice and decide to do some street reclaiming of their own.

All this looks good to our senior citizen, but she's still having trouble crossing the street downtown; too many cars zip through ignoring pedestrian rights. She grumbles a little, but basically puts up with this. Then one of her friends is hit by a car while walking across the street in a crosswalk ....

.... to be continued tomorrow ....

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