To prevent COVID resurgence, Mayor de Blasio must create open streets for schools – Streetsblog New York City
New York City’s nearly 1.1 million public school students will begin the new term on September 13. And while at the start of the summer it might have seemed possible that the reopening looks like a ‘return to normal’, the easily transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 now means schools will use some, but not all of them mitigation measures that were in effect last year. They are not enough.
Some parents are asking for the return of the distance school option, but our children need in-person learning. As parents of public school children – Kelly’s children are in elementary classes, Ellen in middle school – as well as public space professionals, we are appalled at Mayor de Blasio’s lack of courage and creativity. regarding the use of the outdoors by schools.
At a minimum, every school should have a car-free street in front of its entrance, a street closed to vehicular traffic and open for recreation, lunch and learning.
We are almost 18 months after the start of the pandemic that hit New York City early and hard. In addition to opening schools, the mayor wants reopened offices, full subways, and the thriving shops, restaurants and small businesses that bring the city to life. But a healthy society is as strong as its most vulnerable members. Students connect and return home with city nurses, doctors and respiratory technicians, subway drivers and bus operators, as well as catering staff and delivery people. When the virus begins to spread, schools will close and children will be quarantined with their parents, who will not be able to return to their workplaces. The city’s economic progress will be at a standstill.
It is not too late to correct the course.
As governor, Andrew Cuomo closed all restaurants in New York City on March 15, 2020. As of May, they were starting to open for outdoor dining, albeit on a random basis. On June 22, the city’s Open Restaurants program was launched. It’s been three months from closing to reopening in a relatively safe manner. In other words, when the mayor is motivated, he can propose solutions. This expansion into our city’s largest public space – our streets – has been both innovative and successful, and now is the time to apply the lessons learned to our schools.
Taking our schools outside shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea after our one-year culinary experience. Yet the city has been slow at best to move schools to the outdoors, let alone the streets. Yes, the Departments of Transportation and Education have joined forces to launch an outdoor learning program in 2020, but the application and maintenance process is onerous and prohibitive. Schools that participated last year must reapply. School principals discovered that they had to become amateur planners to complete the application and site managers to use public space throughout the school year. The city is full of professionals with these talents; why are we asking our school administrators to add one more responsibility to their endless to-do lists?
For more than a decade, our city has been making its streets accessible to pedestrians and cyclists with the aim of creating a safer city for all. Much of that effort has been focused on moving people from one place to another, but now is the time to think bigger and use our streets to connect, play, eat and, yes, learn. . The best public spaces, including the streets, welcome and welcome all ages, from toddlers taking their first steps to seniors with reduced mobility. The streets surrounding our nearly 2,000 schools should be the first to achieve this benchmark. Outdoor school spaces will provide multiple benefits beyond mitigating COVID and improving physical and mental health: A 2018 study carried out by Localize have found that an alarming number of traffic accidents affecting pedestrians and cyclists occur near schools, and the reduction in traffic there inherently creates safer spaces for children to walk and do. cycling near buildings.
This public health issue is also a question of equity. A July 2021 Rand Corporation national survey of parents’ feelings about returning to school found that “about two-thirds or more of black, Hispanic and Asian parents needed each of the following practices in place to feel safe sending their children to school in person: ventilation in classrooms, teacher vaccination, social distancing, mandatory mask, and regular COVID-19 testing. Far fewer white parents needed these practices to feel safe. A sin [an earlier survey in] In May 2021, parents who weren’t sure about sending their kids to school in person mostly wanted all of these safety practices, and more. Without a distance learning option, the use of outdoor space is another way for schools to ensure the safety of students and staff, fulfilling parents’ desire for better ventilation and distance. social.
There are three days left before the schools reopen. The mayor of Blasio can use this time to come up with a plan and spread the message throughout the city, so school staff don’t have to go door-to-door to explain to local businesses what is going on. (as the app now requires) at the last moment. City planners should work with the DOE as well as individual schools to determine the best street space configurations, then provide a toolkit of equipment and procedures needed to manage an open street.
Now is the time for Mayor de Blasio to prove that New York really is as great as we all think it is. He must make closing streets around schools his top priority to protect children from COVID, and he can do so by asking DOT, DOE, Department of City Planning and other city agencies to support in collaboration with school administrators in the creation of these spaces. His second and final term ends in four months. His legacy relies heavily on achieving universal pre-K in his first year. The mayor of Blasio now has the opportunity to reserve this legacy with another major innovation for the city’s children and their families.
Ellen McDermott is the Acting Executive Director of Project for Public Spaces and the former Deputy Co-Director of Transportation Alternatives. Kelly Verel is the Market Cities Program Director for Project for Public Spaces.