As Martin pointed out on Saturday, subtle anti-urban rhetoric is often too casually thrown into the public arena, intentional or not. But even in our existing legal framework, small regulations of this very nature abound in code, let alone the major restrictions that prohibit density and development. The most recent example is the case of Paulo Nunes-Ueno, who’s received flak for putting a sandbox at the end of his driveway for neighborhood children to play in.
By all accounts, Nunes-Ueno’s sandbox is technically illegal on paper, as it encroaches on public right-of-way. But in the practical world, the regulations prohibiting this kind of use are based off archaic notions of segregated uses and traffic optimization, mixed in with a fanatical panic of kids being hit by cars– all of which are driven by notions of privatization, which really have no place in a discussion about public streets.
The oddest argument I hear against Nunes-Ueno’s sandbox is the one that evokes the 5PM commuter rushing to drive home only to slam at 40mph into an unsuspecting child who was playing with sand only moments earlier. The imagery works because it’s sensationalist– motorists only drive that fast because they’re under the impression that only vehicles have priority in the roadway.
A lot of this has to do with how street design has been standardized in the U.S., with the division of public right-of-way into travel and parking lanes, sidewalks, planting strips, etc., all of which are designed for a single use. Regulating it in code means wider right-of-ways, more wasted space, and less land for development. The alternative standard, a street designed for a multiplicity of modes and uses, is a concept already perfected by the Europeans.
While converting all our low-traffic residential streets at the bottom of the network hierarchy into woonerfs may not be entirely practical, Nunes-Ueno’s case represents the small prices we still have to pay for outdated anti-urban regulations that stifle the city’s path forward for vibrancy and livability.