The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding


Why We Need to Slow the Cars

Accident scene at State and Grand.  Hope she's OK.

It happens every day. An innocent person is crossing the street at a corner when suddenly, a car comes barrelling towards her and kills her in an instant. The driver wasn’t drunk or even texting, so we treat these scenarios as “accidents.” We shake our heads and say, “There was no way to prevent this tragedy.”

Well I call bullshit.

Cars are the most dangerous thing most Americans encounter on a daily basis, and our streets and cities are designed to let this happen. The best way to make our cities and towns safer is to get cars driving slower. I have no problem with people driving 70 mph on the highway–that’s a system intended to move vehicles quickly from one point to another, and pedestrians and bikes are not present in that system. What I do have a problem with is cars driving 40 mph through a neighborhood where children are playing, people are biking home from work or walking to the store. Although we’d be safest without them at all, cars can coexist with bike and pedestrians in an urban environment. But only if the cars are slowed considerably. Continue reading


A Quick Run-through

The deserted backdrop of my Walla Walla runs

The deserted backdrop of my Walla Walla runs

I started running during my freshman year of college out in eastern Washington. The landscape is hilly desert and farm country, dotted by a few small towns like Walla Walla, where I attend school. From our campus, I can run a couple miles in each direction, which was fine when I started, but as soon as I craved longer, more challenging runs, the edges of the town felt constricting. Sure there were a couple trails that extended past the last farmhouse, but mostly I felt like I was running in circles—same routes, same backdrops, few people.

Coming home to Minneapolis for my first winter break was thus a wonderful revelation. Suddenly I had the space to run miles in any direction—past kids at recess, dogs in the park, and downtown workers on their lunch-breaks. I’ve heard plenty of people complain about the traffic lights and busy sidewalks that can interrupt a city run (and I’ll confess I have yet to jog in Manhattan), but I would argue that these are small obstacles compared with the immense joy of witnessing the luster of city life at high speed.

There is also safety in the frequent passersby one encounters in a city. While I would never run in my deserted small town at night (for fear that if something happened to me, no one would be around to help), I spent many hot summer evenings jogging through Washington DC when I lived there last year. As Jane Jacobs writes in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, security comes from the presence of people at all times of day. My neighborhood in DC had churches, grocery stores, parks, houses, restaurants and bars so it was filled with people from early Sunday morning to the heart of Saturday night. In this way, I never felt alone.

An ideal running space

Besides regular jogs in the places where I live, running is also my favorite way to get to know a new city. Once I’ve dropped my suitcase, there’s nothing better than taking a jaunt down unfamiliar streets. Before I became a runner I struggled with geography, but (aided by Google Maps) I’ve found that running in a new place situates me. I can wake up the morning after a run and point out landmarks and street names—guiding my travel companions who have only just confronted this new place.

My passion for running is a valuable complement to my passion for cities. Crisscrossing an urban landscape in my running shoes familiarizes me with the people and places that fill that space and in turn, the constant activity of the city offers safety.

Do you run/bike/walk in your city? What do you like about it?