Land protection creates great value in any community. Whether preserving a farm, a coastal habitat, or land for a park, the impact affects all layers of our society. The benefits are found in our food systems, the natural environment that surrounds us, and the public places we create for people.
By creating more places for people, whether for recreation, transportation, or outdoor dining, we create opportunities to foster deeper connections to our lands and communities. We empower local businesses, foster healthy lifestyles, and build an overall better quality of life during a time when all three are desperately needed.
This October has been designated Walktober by the Maryland Department of Transportation and other partnering agencies. During this month they are encouraging towns to become more walkable as the and other agencies like AARP, America Walks, Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, Maryland Department of Health, and Department of Natural Resources all recognize the many benefits walkability brings to any community. Here’s what we can do.
In Incremental Approach
Incremental steps can make these projects easy and inexpensive to implement. Tactical Urbanism, or demonstration projects, is a bottom up method for residents to test designs and locations for outdoor seating, new bike lanes/sidewalks, or parklets. If the testing works, towns can raise money to create a permanent solution, building upon a foundation that starts with prioritizing people in the placemaking process.
However, if they do not create the desired effects, they can be easily dismantled. To avoid pitfalls, it is critical to evaluate potential scenarios for positive and negative outcomes, and to include key stakeholders in the process. Open Street efforts should foster a collaborative relationship between Main Street and Downtown Associations, Public Safety and Public Health Officials, and others who are affected by street closures.
We’ve Done This Before
For most towns this is not a new concept. Consider how our Eastern Shore towns transform for events like the Tea Party Festival in Chestertown, the Waterfowl Festival in Easton, and regular First Friday events. Streets become pedestrian malls, allowing people to move freely and safely to shops, restaurants, and attractions. Local citizens and tourists have the opportunity to discover new businesses, get their steps in, and simply enjoy being outside.
We should prioritize space for people more often. Consider the positive outcomes from opening select streets on daily or weekly routines. One outcome is towns better serve and support the needs of their residents. Most citizens want a strong connection to their neighborhoods and businesses, but it is difficult to do that when we prioritize space for cars over people.
Pushing the Eastern Shore Open Streets Movement Forward
Eastern Shore towns like Cambridge, Chestertown, Denton and Easton have already started this process, working with business owners and volunteers in their respective communities to close streets to cars and creating places for people to dine out at a local restaurant or enjoy the open space, while maintaining safe distances. They see these changes as a way of supporting their local businesses and their residents.
The temporary transformation of streets into places for people to walk and bike is well-suited to become a permanent practice and a different type of conservation – one that enhances public space for people without the requirements of a car. This is the method championed by groups like Tactical Urbanism, Better Block Foundation, Project for Public Spaces, AARP Livable Communities, and Strong Towns who advocate for building people friendly places (Placemaking) and doing so step by step.
Whether these measures work or not, they should be tried and tested. This is Placemaking. Try what you think is best for your community. Get feedback, make changes. If it works, consider making it a part of your town’s unique fabric.
Owen Bailey is the Town Projects manager of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy is lives in Chestertown, Maryland.