A Holiday Gift for Cities (Part II)


In great cities, spaces as well as places are designed and built: walking, witnessing, being in public, are as much part of the design and purpose as is being inside to eat, sleep, make shoes or love or music. The word citizen has to do with cities, and the ideal city is organized around citizenship — around participation in public life.
Rebecca Solnit
Wanderlust: A History of Walking

We’re continuing our holiday “Gift for Cities” series. This year we asked city lovers, if you could gift your city anything, what would it be? The answers will inspire and warm your heart during this winter season.

If you could give your city the gift of one piece of new infrastructure, service or planning process, what would it be and why?


Programs and Resources

“I would give my city a pop-up demo of latest transportation best practices, something like a temporary complete street, which would feature innovative bike-peds designs and universal accessibility, transit oriented zoning strategies, and accommodations to transportation users of all modes.

One of the biggest challenges we faced when implementing new innovative designs is the lack of understanding from the public of how the designs can improve safety for all users (not just one particular group), and I believe outreach and education would be the best tool to tackle this challenge. Nothing beats experiencing in first hand!”
— Angel Cheng, Montgomery County, Project Engineer

“My gift to cities would be a monumental increase to dedicated federal transportation funding that balances priorities across transit, safer streets, active transportation, and emerging modes (instead of funding highways and road widening projects). I talk to dozens of cities and transit agencies every week, and one of the most challenging issues they face is the lack of political and financial support for all the best projects they know would significantly improve mobility and access for their regions. Transportation is key to how communities connect to economic, environmental, and health outcomes and is worthy of investment. With dedicated investment, our agencies can rely on the support that will improve transportation outcomes for their residents. “
— Claudia Preciado, Remix, Director of Growth



“Road diets & transit priority lanes, so more people can get around safely, quickly and reliably.
And full-blooded red when painting transit lanes to stop causing driver confusion. We all go on a diet in New Year, why not streets?”

— Sharmila Mukherjee, Capital Metro, Executive Vice President

Kindness and Humanity

“Let’s start with the idea that maybe everyone deserves to live. Safely. With love and dignity.

Next, let’s assert that in order to live safely and with love and dignity, everyone requires at least one third of their time every week not working nor commuting, but investing in something(s) or someone(s) they love. Subtract out at least 8 hours of sleep each night, that leaves our standard 8 hour work day! Wow!

I would give our city and all places a standard 8 hour work day that includes the commute to/from work. This would be adhered to rigidly by employers (thanks to cultural norms, economic incentives, and a reasonable legal framework). This could place the burden of a reasonable commute on employers. This might, in turn, incentivize employers to do a few things:

  • Invest in the most efficient forms of transportation infrastructure (transit, micromobility)
  • Invest in housing within a reasonable distance of their work sites (careful not to follow in the wayward footsteps of ‘company towns’)
  • Ensure their employees can afford such housing within that reasonable distance by either:
  • Paying them based on need as well as merit
  • Working with the city to ensure construction of adequate affordable housing
  • Providing legal resources to their employees to advocate for their own housing rights
  • Allow for working remotely
  • And if we’re imagining a tabula rasa scenario for some other places beyond SF, employers might then be more interested in ensuring a dense, gridded urban form over a sprawling form, and all the associated pedestrian-oriented accoutrements

Of course we would need a committee to review the impacts of these new policies and continually adjust in order to improve because we’ll definitely mess it up with something we’ve failed to consider.

I’d also be okay with a world class subway system as long as it’s designed to serve the needs of our most resource deprived community members.

We should lift each other up out of poverty and reach our hopeful potential as imperfect humans.”
— Steph Nelson, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, Senior IS Engineer

In the spirit of giving, we also asked, what non-profit or advocacy group do you hope get extra love this season?

“Oh gosh. So many. I’ve been recently blown away by the East Oakland Collective. Deep East Oakland is where you will still find the largest population of Black residents. We want to get ahead of the curve of gentrification, prevent further displacement and stabilize our neighborhoods.”
— Steph Nelson, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, Senior IS Engineer

“There are so many worthy causes not just around this issue. I would say focus on organizations that advocate for systems-based, thoughtful policy solutions to our society’s big problems, at whatever level of policy you feel like, including safe streets but also including the housing crisis, the climate crisis, voting rights, or any of the many other crises plaguing us at the moment.”
— Alex Ellis, City of Providence, Principal Planner

Capital Area Food Bank — who leads the DMV region’s efforts to provide good, healthy food to people struggling with hunger and food insecurity. There are many who are struggling with some of the most basic needs such as food, shelter, and transportation in our cities. One of the main goals in improving our cities’ transportation systems should be providing accessible transportation options to the underprivileged. We all need to remember the transportation system users are more than just numbers, they are people too!”
— Angel Cheng, Montgomery County, Project Engineer

“Please do be generous with your checkbook for the nonprofits of your choosing. But also be generous with your time. After you’ve served at the soup kitchen, join those you’ve served at their table and break bread together. Promise yourself to come back in January when the nights are colder and darker. If you were born here, find how you can volunteer at your local refugee settlement program. If you are religious, explore how your congregation can engage with those of another faith. With kindness, cities hold the promise of a path forward for us as one nation, undivided, where everyone is offer ed the same opportunities for success.”
— Jeff Tumlin, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Executive Director

Thanks again to all our contributors. We have so much to focus on in 2020! So this holiday season, relax, get cozy, spend time with loved ones, give back to the community, and gear up for the new year.