Theses Master's

Reclaiming streets from cars: a review of open streets interventions in Western Europe and North America

Levine, Alexander

The form and function of the built environment in cities is a fundamental determinant of health. However, in many cities, urban space is given disproportionately to cars rather than to health-promoting uses such as recreation, socialization, and sustainable transportation. This review investigated efforts in recent decades to reclaim urban space from cars in Western Europe and North America. Such efforts are described as open streets interventions. This review was conducted over several months using the databases Scopus, Proquest, Google Scholar, Web of Science, and Columbia University’s Online Library (CLIO). It aimed to uncover how historical and political factors influence the development and implementation of open streets interventions and the impacts of these interventions on urban health. Findings suggest that political, economic, and cultural factors of the local context are important to successful and equitable implementation of open streets interventions, and that open streets interventions have the potential to produce far-reaching benefits to urban health through promoting physical activity and the creation of social spaces. Four thematic areas emerged: (1) health and economic outcomes, (2) bottom-up versus top-down processes and tactical urbanism, (3) ripple effects and equity, and (4) placemaking. Ultimately, analysis of these themes suggests that drawing inspiration from historical perspectives and paradigms of street use is beneficial to guiding future open streets interventions and developing health-promoting and socially-cohesive urban neighborhoods. Future research around specific health impacts of open streets interventions and public perception of streets and urban space would help to better inform the extent to which open streets interventions improve population health, and how they contribute to changing the paradigm on urban street use in Western Europe and North America.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociomedical Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Rosner, David K.
M.P.H., Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
Published Here
May 11, 2021