I’ve been in Trento, Italy, for the past week and a half teaching at the University of Trento. Like many other European cities I’ve visited, Trento has closed a large part of the city center to cars and motorbikes and created an extensive pedestrian (and bike) area. The other cities I’ve visited this trip – Bilbao, San Sebastian, Pamplona, Granada, Sevilla, and Barcelona in Spain, and Verona and Trento in Italy – all have at least some pedestrian areas. They’re all slightly different from each other, but each of them impressed me with their size and, perhaps more importantly, their extensive use by both tourists and local residents.
This amazing bridge, the Zubizuri, combines Bilbao’s commitment to design and pedestrianism.
In Sevilla, the old town has one of the more extensive pedestrian-only areas I’ve seen. It includes the oldest part of the city – which seems to attract tourists in particular – and a slightly newer part (but it’s still old), which filled with the city’s residents at the end of the day.
Verona is a much smaller city than Sevilla, and it at first seemed like the people crowding the pedestrian areas were all tourists. But at mid-day, that impression changed. Almost all of the shops close from 1-4 in the afternoon, and, just like that, the Italians crowding the streets disappeared. Only we tourists remained. But the change in population made it clear that local residents like their pedestrian areas as much as the tourists do. The shopkeepers must, too, because I saw many, many people walking around with their newly purchased goods from the stores in the pedestrian-only areas. I have to think that pedestrian access to these stores makes it more likely that people will drop into a shop, buy something, and continue along their car-free way.
This should lead me to Trento, my temporary home in Italy. But, because I’m here longer and have grown to love this place, I’ll dedicate a separate post to Trento.
In the meantime, I’ll note that in the United States, various cities have begun to toy with creating pedestrian-only areas. Manhattan made headlines when it actually closed some streets to cars and created new pedestrian-only areas. Portland, Oregon, contemplated a proposal to create some car-free areas downtown, but store owners protested and the city backed away from its plan. How I wish more U.S. cities would embrace the European concept of pedestrian-only areas. They bring so much life and activity to areas, and, I presume, more income to store owners lucky enough to have thousands of pedestrians strolling by.