Public spaces into ‘living rooms’, looks to Australia


Janette Sadik-KhanPHOTO: Janette Sadik-Khan says streets need to be redesigned to act more like social “living rooms”. (Olugbenro Photography)

The woman who redesigned the Big Apple’s transport system and revamped Times Square to wide acclaim has turned her planning eye to Australia’s major cities.

Former New York City transport commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has recommended Australian cities integrate more cycle paths and bike share programs.

Ms Sadik-Khan said streets need to be redesigned to act more like social “living rooms” rather than congested pathways.

Her new approach to footpaths revolutionised NYC, removing congestion and encouraging more people to walk.

We used a fast-acting approach and literally painted the city that we wanted to see.

As in many Australian cities, the introduction of a bike share system and extensive cycle path network proved controversial.

“Our streets are where we play and meet, kind of like the living rooms of New York, and so when you change something like that it can cause a stir.”

The stirring sometimes got personal, she said.

“There were days where it was not fun to pick up the tabloid papers.”

New York City now has a privately operated bike share program – reportedly facing financial problems – and a network of mostly separated paths that traverse and connect all five boroughs.

Leadership at the local level is where Ms Sadik-Khan sees most of the innovation in urban design taking place.

“It’s interesting to see that the innovation that you see in cities like Sydney, Adelaide and Auckland and in New York City … it’s the cities that are innovating,” she said.

“To a large degree national governments … you’re not finding the funding and the policy guidance … on [that] level.”

Ms Sadik-Khan is now an adviser to a national transportation association that fosters cooperative approaches to key transportation issues.

Reflecting on her role as commissioner, she said: “I wouldn’t say it’s a ballet in New York; there are lots of interactions. But we’ve worked it out and the last seven years have been the safest in New York City history. It’s been a wonderful ride.”

 Read More By Belinda Sommer


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