Our streets should be constantly changing places: the ability to adapt, accommodate, get reused and meet new needs as well as old ones, keeps a street valuable and useful. Great streets are forever being perfected. But what if you live on a street that’s changing, and you don’t feel good about that change? Or perhaps you desperately want to see change and it’s just not happening. How do we keep streets vibrant places that meet our needs today, while respecting our heritage and history and what made our streets great to begin with?
We at the National Street Service believe that change is a constant, and that change can be valuable, if we all get involved. There will always be passionate supporters (and resisters) of change who volunteer their energies unasked. But what about the rest of us? We created the “Street Ranger” program to unlock the power of people who care about their street but who might not have had the time or knowledge to get involved before, and channel that power into more focused advocacy for change. Read on to learn more, but thanks to the artistry of H.P. Mendoza, we also have a short film to share that captures the experiences and achievements of some of our wonderful Street Rangers. Thanks to all our Rangers for going above and beyond in service of their streets!
Our 20 Street Rangers were incredibly active participants in the debates around better streets in San Francisco, and in many cases plunged right into making change themselves. In just one week, we saw 14 conversations sparked between residents and city government officials around requests for physical street infrastructure. Street Rangers requested a new neighborhood bench, asked to close dangerous slip-lanes, and highlighted how their streets needed better crosswalks, among many other great contributions and suggestions. By the end of the week no less than ten benches had been “chalked” onto the street as an important statement of where our Rangers wanted to see installations, and five benches were on their way to being installed in collaboration with the Public Bench Project (to be stewarded by Street Rangers). We also saw city supervisors responding positively to the outreach, and one of our Street Rangers even participated in a community town hall meeting held by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. Street Rangers also changed themselves: we recorded a significant shift towards feeling more personal agency over change on the streets, and certainly heard again and again how Street Rangers now felt greater willingness to be involved in such work in the future.
Our big takeaway from the Street Ranger program was that providing easy but progressively more engaging, place-based ways to improve a local street is a powerful tool. We learned that we can engage passionate people who might not otherwise have taken action, which points to significant potential to focus the energy and enthusiasm of many more people on improving the safety and livability of streets across North America. Unsurprisingly, we think there’s so much more to the Street Ranger program, so stay tuned for where we might take things after this pilot. In the meantime, continue the conversation at http://www.nationalstreetservice.org.