Who Are Our Streets For?: A Q&A with 2014 Lee Schipper Scholar Madeline Brozen
Madeline Brozen is a Program Manager within UCLA’s Complete Streets Initiative and a recipient of the 2014 Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship. Her research focuses on urban design policy, with an emphasis on how cities can shift from car-oriented streets to infrastructure that supports bicycling and walking.
TheCityFix caught up with Madeline to get her perspective on urban mobility and how we can reshape streets and cities for people.
Tell us about yourself! Where are you from? What kind of transport did you use growing up?
I’m from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States originally, and I’ve been interested in transportation my whole life. Minneapolis – even more now than when I was growing up – is a very bikeable city. My parents lived on a great trail network, so I would ride my bike to friends’ houses. Before I had a drivers’ license, I would take the bus downtown just to be able to venture farther than my bike would take me.
I’ve always used transportation as my entry point into exploring the neighborhood around me and lens through which I see the cities in my life.
When did you marry your interest in bicycling with the notion that street design matters for cyclists?
I started college thinking I wanted to study architecture, and it was never really what I thought it would be. I found myself in an urban planning class, having never heard of planning before, and that really captured more of my experience in cities growing up. I remember thinking how great it was that there’s a whole field that does this.
I transferred to the University of New Orleans two years after Hurricane Katrina. I realized there that transport and urban planning are part of peoples’ lifelines. It shapes peoples’ views of how they understand the city. I started to understand that how people see space is very much a function of what choices they have available and what their personal preferences are.
What do you think it will take to get the public to begin thinking of streets as community spaces again?
People connect with the idea of neighborhoods, and they take ownership of the neighborhood. But we don’t see the same reaction when talking specifically about streets. We in the planning profession need to help make the connection between the design of streets and community fabric. For instance, a safe, walkable street network creates stronger neighborhood ties, and this will resonate with people.
Too often we hear, ‘you bike people just want everyone to get out of their cars.’ Getting away from that us versus them mentality, we can start to think about what a holistic transportation system looks like. That’s what we mean when we talk about complete streets. On a complete street, it’s pleasant, safe, and attractive to get to your destination however you want to do so. It’s not about forcing a particular mode on people.
Your research relies a lot on the idea of knowledge exchange between cities. Tell us more about that.
Really understanding the whole story is so powerful. You can look at pictures of Copenhagen, Denmark now and say ‘wow, that’s great.’ But it wasn’t always that great! Even cities that we now think of as leaders in biking and walking also had their automobile period. That narrative is important, and so is understanding the steps along the way that made these places the way they are today.
If you’re Los Angeles right now, you look at those cities and say ‘that’s not us.’ But the narratives help you understand that, at one time, things were different and that places evolve no matter where you are.
What does a people-oriented city look like to you?
A people-oriented city really starts with people, and how people feel. And we need to think – whether it be housing, transportation, or otherwise – about these societal aspects.
A people-oriented street, for example, is one where I can walk side by side with a friend, there’s space for both of us, and we can have a conversation and hear each other. If we want to have that conversation in a car, we can. If we want to take transit, it’s available. A people-oriented city allows residents to make connections to each other, whatever part of the city they’re traveling through or interacting with.
The Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship honors the legacy of Dr. Lee Schipper, an internationally recognized physicist and researcher who co-founded EMBARQ, the producer of TheCityFix, in 2002. The scholarship supports up to two extraordinary young innovators advancing transformative research in sustainable transport. Learn more at leeschipper.embarq.org.
WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities works to make urban sustainability a reality. Global research and on-the-ground experience in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Turkey and the United States combine to spur action that improves life for millions of people.