The NSS hits the streets #1: Price Tag the City

How many different ways can we value our city streets? There are things that immediately jump to mind, like the investment in a roadway, or the revenue the city receives from parking meters. And then there are more intangible values, like what a street tree contributes to the cleanliness of the air and water in the city, or what a bench gives to every individual who rests there. We wanted to find a way to open up a conversation on what value the street brings to everyone who uses it. Read on to learn more, but we’re also really proud to have collaborated with H.P. Mendoza - famed Bay Area documentarian - to produce a short film which highlights our Price Tagging adventures in and around San Francisco.

 

In April 2017, the National Street Service embarked on a pilot program in San Francisco to explore ways in which we might expose the varied values of street infrastructure and collectively explore the tradeoffs we must make. We asked questions like: what does a street tree contribute? How much does a parking space cost to maintain? How much do local businesses benefit from the use of a bike rack? And, taking a different angle than simple monetary costs or benefits, what things might we do instead with the street space dedicated to parking?

We learned that many people do not really think about the value that streets and their infrastructure contribute to everyone’s lives, yet can quickly grasp these values when presented with powerful visual aids, and fundamentally care deeply about using our public spaces for their highest best use. We found that sharing the tradeoffs we make on what can physically fit into street space can be particularly resonant: we created a street stencil which highlighted how much produce could be grown in the land taken up by a parking space, which proved to be the most eye-catching for many passersby. Most of all, we found nearly everyone understood that our streets and all their constituent parts bring significant value to the city and to us all. But we also have finite resources and finite space: it’s important that we consider the tradeoffs we make when we dedicate space to, for example, parking, instead of sidewalk space or actual parks.

There’s more to come from the National Street Service, but in the meantime the conversation continues at nationalstreetservice.org and on Instagram and Twitter, or write us at joinus@nationalstreetservice.org.