This will be difficult news for those of you who are already reeling from Oprah’s retirement, Simon Cowell’s abandonment of "American Idol" and Sewell Chan‘s departure from City Room, but here it is: I am leaving my job as editor-in-chief of Streetsblog.
For all of the readers, commenters, contributors and colleagues who have made Streetsblog such a powerful tool for transportation policy reform, high-quality online community and fun and interesting job: Thank you. It’s been a great four-year run.
I’d say that I’ll miss you guys except I’m sure I’ll still be seeing you around. I will be moving over to The Open Planning Project’s board of directors and I plan to continue to write and work on livable streets issues, among other things. If you want to keep up with me, you can follow me on Twitter @naparstek. I’ll be dusting off and redesigning the old Naparstek.com blog as well. And it looks like we will probably be doing a going-away party on Friday, February 5. Stay tuned for details on that.
Naturally, I’ve been spending some time taking stock of these last four years and I can’t help but find myself amazed at how far New York City’s livable streets movement has come.
It’s almost hard to believe that when we started this blog, ideas like physically-separated bike lanes, car-free Times Square and bus rapid transit were mostly considered crazy or impossible in New York City. It’s remarkable to recall that as recently as August 2006 we lamented the fact that the leaders of cities like London, Paris and even unglamorous Chicago were rolling out ambitious transportation reforms and long-term sustainability plans while our own mayor chortled, "We like traffic. It means economic activity. It means people coming here."
When I first pitched the idea for Streetsblog to Mark Gorton in January 2006 (almost exactly four years ago to the day), New York City’s streets were improving but still, for the most part, were ruled by a 1950’s traffic engineering mindset aimed at maximizing the city’s capacity to accommodate motor vehicles. While other world cities were rapidly reclaiming their public realm with bike infrastructure, car-free streets, bus rapid transit and congestion pricing, New York City government still seemed to view traffic as something like the weather — a force beyond the control of mere mortals. Though few issues touch New Yorkers lives more personally on a more regular basis, transportation was a third-tier issue at City Hall and in the local press.
Streetsblog helped to change that. We initially had four goals in mind: First, we aimed to generate more of an awareness of our issues by creating a new journalistic beat ranging from the intense, neighborhood-level battles over bike lanes to the big question of how New York City planned to address the challenges of climate change. Second, we wanted to educate and excite policy makers, press and regular citizens about the transportation and urban planning best practices that were emerging in other world cities. Third, we hoped to establish an online community and discussion forum for the people who were working on and thinking about these issues. And finally, most of all, we intended to watchdog and reform New York City’s Department of Transportation. We wanted Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and his staff reading our blog. We wanted them to feel mildly embarrassed about the way that New York City’s transportation policies were lagging behind those of other cities. And we hoped to create a new, more ambitious set of expectations for what New York City’s DOT could do.
And we did it. Streetsblog, in many ways, exceeded — and continues to surpass — the wildest expectations that Mark and I originally had for it. Today, with Janette Sadik-Khan at the helm, New York City’s DOT is pushing a bold program to create "sustainable streets" through the prioritization of pedestrians, transit and bicycles. The agency is not just reformed, it is transformed, and widely considered the leading example for transportation agencies in other U.S. cities to follow. We certainly can’t take all the credit for the great improvements taking place on New York City streets these days and we fully recognize that there is a whole lot of work yet to be done. But looking back at these last four years, I can’t help but think of Danish urban designer Jan Gehl’s oft-repeated quote: "How nice it is to wake up every morning and know that your city is a little better than it was the day before."
Likewise, it has been gratifying this last year to see Streetsblog grow and succeed in other cities. Streetsblog San Francisco is proving that the model that we created here in New York City can be just as powerful and effective in another city. Streetsblog Los Angeles is demonstrating that even a low-budget, one-man version of Streetsblog can reap substantial results. And Streetsblog Capitol Hill, the only news source covering federal transportation policy as a daily beat, is showing that we can have a tangible impact on the national level as well.
Take a look at our Streetsblog Network map today. There are now more than 300 locally-oriented livable streets blogs in 45 states. Sure, the "Tea Party" movement gets all of the media attention. But I believe these 300 livable streets blogs and the tens of thousands of readers who visit them on a weekly basis represent one of the most vibrant, genuine and rapidly growing new grassroots movements underway in the United States today. It will take time — building new communities and changing the physical design and infrastructure of existing cities is a slow process. But this is the start of a movement that is transforming the American city and the American way-of-life in some very fundamental and positive ways. Streetsblog will continue to play a critical role in spreading the ideas and connecting the people who are building this nationwide movement.
I will be leaving you in very good hands here at Streetsblog. Ben Fried will continue to edit and run the blog in New York City, with Bryan Goebel in San Francisco, Elana Schor in Washington D.C. and Damien Newton in Los Angeles. Sarah Goodyear will still be building and managing the national blog network and developing and improving our online community. Livable Streets Initiative managing director Carly Clark will be picking up the slack on the fundraising and development front, pushing ahead with plans to open up local editions of Streetsblog in new cities. Streetfilms, of course, will still be doing the great work that they do. Nick Grossman and the TOPP Labs crew will continue to do an amazing job of designing, developing and maintaining our web sites. And TOPP founder Mark Gorton will continue to provide invaluable financial support and strategic direction to the whole crew.
So, thanks again for your readership and support these last four years. As for all of you regular Streetsblog commenters — I’m pretty sure I heard more from you these last four years than my own wife and kids. You guys all better show your faces at my party. You know who you are. Larry.