When she first heard that “slow streets” might be coming to Durham, North Carolina, alarm bells went off for Aidil Ortiz. It was late May, and by that point, dozens of other world cities had restricted vehicle access to miles of residential streets. With Covid-19 placing a premium on safe outdoor space, the goal was to encourage socially distant walking, biking and play.
But Ortiz was familiar with how good intentions by city planners can miss the mark. As a program manager at the Durham social justice nonprofit SpiritHouse who also sits on the city’s pedestrian and bicycling commission, she’d seen how Durham officials failed to engage communities of color during the planning for the Durham Belt Line Trail, a project to turn an abandoned rail bed into a multi-use trail, in 2018. Concerned that the High Line-esque park could trigger gentrification and displacement, she helped press the city to adopt formal standards for gathering feedback from under-represented groups before transforming the infrastructure that outlined their lives.