Finding Space for Social Distancing

Coronavirus has put space at a premium. A lot of the places where we gather weren’t set up for people to keep six feet apart from each other. Packing into crowded restaurants, churches, arenas, or malls just won’t work the way it used to, and if those businesses and institutions are going to work at all, they’re going to need more space.

You don’t have to look far to find extra space. Just watch this video from the Post Standard, and you’ll see just how much space Syracuse really has.

Acres and acres of empty streets, freeways, and parking lots. All of that space is up for grabs right now, and all of it could be put to better use.

Let’s put some numbers to that. This picture shows part of Armory Square—a spot where lots of people used to pack into tight spaces. But restaurants, shops, and offices only account for about half of the total space in this picture. Sidewalks and tiny Armory Square Park are another eighth of the space. The rest is parking garages, parking lots, parking lanes, and travel lanes. Fully one third of Armory Square is reserved for the movement and storage of cars.

This is so obviously stupid that people have fought against it for years. New buildings have gone up on parking lots, pop up markets have taken over entire streets, businesses have turned parking lanes into outdoor seating, and City Hall is looking at closing one block of Walton Street to cars for good.

Coronavirus only makes all that even more necessary in every city neighborhood—people need space to meet up, to have church, to pass each other on the sidewalk. Syracuse can’t work the old way—ample room for cars, but not enough for people—when we’re all keeping our distance. If it’s going to work at all, then we’re going to have to make more space for people, and the fastest way to do that is to take it back from cars.