Move Detroit: Creating Vibrant, Inclusive and Innovative Public Places Recap

Picture an intersection in your neighborhood. Would you send an 8-year-old to cross there alone? How about an 80-year-old? If you answered no, we need to design that place better.

That's the philosophy of Gil Peñalosa, founder of the 8 80 Cities project. A former commissioner of Bogota, Colombia, he now works as an advocate for increased pedestrian opportunity and public transit in cities worldwide. He spoke at Wayne State University last month as part of Move Detroit: Creating Vibrant, Inclusive and Innovative Public Places, a week-long immersion sponsored by Jefferson East, Inc. in partnership with Wayne State’s Office of Economic Development with support from Knight Foundation. 

After the talk, Peñalosa was joined for a panel discussion with Jason Hall, co-founder of Slow Roll Detroit, the weekly community bike ride through the city; Ryan Myers-Johnson, founder of Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts, an annual performance and installation art event in Detroit's public places; and Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, Detroit City Councilmember.

Here were some statistics Peñalosa presented in his appeal to "dignify the pedestrian."

60,000 square miles of America is paved - enough to cover the state of Georgia.

This number varies depending on where you look, but the point is that cars have long dominated the American transportation landscape. Peñalosa suggests streets constitute 70 to 90 percent by area of dedicated public space in the U.S., so it's no wonder so much of the public dialog and budget revolves around them. While not demonizing the car industry - a smart move given his surroundings - he did note that even automakers are aware that the way people are looking to get around is fundamentally changing. So too must the government's strategy, Peñalosa said - "less rowing, more steering." For one creative idea of how to get more from all that paved space, read about Colombia's Ciclovia road-sharing program.

Counting all of human history, half the people who have ever lived past the age of 65 are alive today.

Life expectancy in the U.S. is now 79 years, two centuries after no country in the world was above 45. "We have learned how to survive - now we have to learn how to live," Peñalosa said. With the U.S. population older than 65 expected to double to 85 million by 2050, Peñalosa said we must stop building cities "as if everyone was 30 and athletic."

22 percent of trips in North America are less than a mile. 48 percent are less than three miles.

This suggests that many trips that could be made by bicycle or by foot aren't, a symptom of lack of opportunities. The impact of that is more than just health- and environment-related - Americans spend one in four dollars on mobility, according to Peñalosa. Providing more opportunities for cost-effective transit could make a huge impact freeing up the economy.

Know of someone on the cutting edge of transit in Detroit? Please share in the comments. You can learn more about 8 80 Cities at and follow Gil Peñalosa on Twitter at