Janette Sadik-Khan is a top rock star in the world of city planning. She led NYC’s recent transportation transformations under Mayor Bloomberg. In the interview, Zachary Shahan, CleanTechnica’s director and chief editor, returns to his roots as he interviews Janette Sadik-Khan and talks urban transport leadership. Zach’s master’s degree was in city and regional planning (from UNC-Chapel Hill). UNC–Chapel Hill was ranked the #1 grad school in the nation for his specialization the year he graduated. The pair, on the same page, were brought together by Autonomy 2017.
“So, you’ve obviously been a leader in city planning. What would be your one recommendation for citizens — common citizens who want to improve their cities, they’re not in the city planning field/profession — what should they do to make their cities better places?”
Janette Sadik-Khan responds,
“Well you know, you don’t have to be an engineer, a planner, or an urban designer to change your streets. And I think citizens are really the planners for the 21st century.
“You’re seeing citizens in cities all around the planet that are coming together to demand change on their street — because they’ve seen what’s possible. They’re demanding bike lanes, they’re demanding plazas, they’re demanding bus lines. Because they now see some of the potential that’s been hidden in plain sight on their streets.
“So it doesn’t have to take decades to get this kind of work done, and it doesn’t have to take billions of dollars. The kinds of changes that you’re seeing in cities worldwide are done with something as simple as paint and planters, and the materials that almost any agency has on hand.
“And so showing what’s possible in real time — so that people can see and touch and feel it — is critical. And then it starts to build up a really strong appetite for more.
“And at the end, then you have citizens are actually demanding and driving that change. And it’s not government forcing change on its people, it’s the people demanding the kind of changes that they want to see on their streets and in their cities.”
Zach jumps to a related subject “And similar, related, you highlighted the need for people to prepare for autonomous vehicles for cities to be ready — again, on the citizen level, should people be forming groups to discuss or advocate for how we prepare for autonomous vehicles? Should they just be going to planning commission meetings? Should they …”
Janette jumps in, “Well, you know, cities are just starting to wrestle with the issue of autonomous vehicles. And I think the big key is that we are using the technology that comes with autonomous vehicles to make our cities better, and not just react to the technology that’s there, so that we don’t go back and make the same mistakes that we made at the turn of the century when we designed our cities for cars and we forgot about the people.
“We need to be designing our streets and our cities for people and have the technology work for people and ensure that we get the cities we want to live in, play in, and be in. I think that is a really critical component of it.
“For city planners and leaders, we’re working on a blueprint for autonomous urbanism, thinking about what the vision should be. What are the policies, programs that we need to be putting in place now — between now and the next 15 years when it’s really going to hit the street — so that when we open our doors in 2030, we will really like what we see.”
Zach smiles, “Thank you so much. You’re a rock star in the city planning world, so keep rocking. Give us your greatest hits once in a while.”
Looking back on some of Janette Sadik-Khan’s work, this 2014 film montage stood out:
Time spent in construction, remodeling, reinvention, and invention is part of the magic of cities. Life is multidimensional. Choreographing this through landscapes of time and movement is a beautiful way of helping us to reflect. Clarence Eckerson, Jr. of Streetfilms describes similarly and in more detail:
“There’s nothing more dramatic than looking back five or ten years at Streetfilms footage (some of it a bit low-res) to see how much the livable streets landscape of New York City’s streets have changed. In this wonderful montage that even makes us cry check out the transformation of Times Square, Herald Square, the Brooklyn Waterfront and many other places that out-going NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and her staff have intrepidly installed.”