California and Australia look to Indigenous land management for fire help 

California and Australia look to Indigenous land management for fire help 

As fires rage across the state of California, many are wondering how management could improve to reduce the risk in the future. Traditional fire management is being increasingly embraced in Australia, which could help inspire California.

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Anna Kusmer

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Firefighters control a spot fire near Bredbo, south of the Australian capital, Canberra, Feb. 2, 2020. Fire management in Australia has increasingly encompassed Indigenous cultural burning techniques. 

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Rick Rycroft/AP

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After years of advocacy work, cultural burning practitioners had a win in Australia last week, when the government of New South Wales, the state hit hardest by last year’s catastrophic bushfires, formally accepted a recommendation for an increase in cultural burning as part of their fire management strategy. 

An official report issued by the New South Wales government explains how Indigenous land practices can improve fire management in the wake of the deadly bushfires.

As some of the most damaging wildfires in recent memory have raged through California, in the United States, this cultural burning knowledge is becoming more relevant than ever, said Don Hankins, a Plains Miwok fire expert at Chico State University in California. 

Today, officials in both the United States and Australia are increasingly turning to Indigenous land management practices to help control wildfires. 

A cultural burn, happening in a fire-prone oak woodlands landscape, Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve in California, 2015. 

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Courtesy of Don Hankins

Hankins says he has contemplated the benefits of cultural burning — a form of traditional fire management passed down through generations among Indigenous people in fire-prone landscapes — for most of his life. 

The practice entails carefully burning areas during the wet season to reduce flammability and vulnerability in advance of fire season. Burning also helps improve soil quality, spurs the growth of certain plant species and creates more productive landscapes. 

Hankins found international inspiration back in 2003, when he flew over northern Australia, on his way to do some dissertation research, and saw small fires — set carefully and intentionally. 

It was the first time he had seen Indigenous burning practices done on a landscape scale. “I could do that in California,” he thought to himself. 

Since then, Hankins has been working to promote cultural burning in California, through training sessions, workshops and skill-sharing. 

“[Cultural burning] is about reading the land and knowing the landscape and knowing how and when to apply fire in a very safe and effective manner.”

Don Hankins, Plains Miwok fire expert, Chico State University in California 

Hankins says cultural burning is “about reading the land and knowing the landscape and knowing how and when to apply fire in a very safe and effective manner.” 

Related: What Aboriginal Australians can teach us about managing wildfires

Better land management

Hankins, who has been making trips to Australia for decades to share skills and knowledge with other cultural burning practitioners, said that he is happy to see cultural burning gain more recognition by the Australian government. 

“It’s a step in the right direction. … I wouldn’t say that that it’s gonna be the cure-all in that area. I would like to see more opportunities for Indigenous-led approaches.”

Don Hankins, Plains Miwok fire expert, Chico State University in California 

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that that it’s gonna be the cure-all in that area. I would like to see more opportunities for Indigenous-led approaches.”

In Australia, Indigenous people have done some form of cultural burning on the land for thousands of years, and it is only in recent centuries that cultural burning was outlawed and Indigenous people were forcibly removed from their traditional lands

That fact is now being officially recognized, said Oliver Costello, a Bundjalung man who is CEO of Firesticks, an organization that advocates for cultural burning in Australia. 

“There’s a recognition that cultural burning is a part of broader Aboriginal land management practices, which is really important.”

Oliver Costello, CEO, Firesticks, Australia

“There’s a recognition that cultural burning is a part of broader Aboriginal land management practices, which is really important,” said Costello. 

Recognizing that climate change will likely exacerbate droughts and intensify wildfires has urged experts to think more critically about how to mitigate wildfire effects and adapt to the weather conditions that spur them. 

In the Northern Territories of Australia, where fewer people live and cultural burning practices are largely intact, Aboriginal fire and land management have cut bushfire destruction in half

‘Rehabilitate the landscape’

Cultural burning is slowly gaining recognition by agencies and local governments in California, as well, says Hankins. 

A handful of communities have done some burning on traditional lands in the past decade, such as the North Fork Mono in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the Karuk Tribe in northwestern California, and a Yurok community in the Klamath Mountains of northern California, who have been doing cultural burning annually since 2014, with support from the Nature Conservancy. 

But only a few thousand acres are culturally burned a year in California, much fewer than the 90 million acres in northern Australia that are under a burning regimen.

There is still a lot of red tape, said Hankins. Native groups must obtain permits and may not receive permission to do burning on their lands due to air-quality or liability concerns. 

Before the Gold Rush and Spanish Era, millions of acres of California were burned every year for more than 13,000 years by hundreds of tribes across the region. Now, governments mostly suppress fires, which leads to a build-up of fuel for catastrophic wildfires down the road. 

Landscape rehabilitation and fire resiliency require much more Indigenous leadership and guidance, says Hankins. 

“It’s a short time frame that we’ve taken the [cultural burning] part of the equation out. … The main driver that has helped to shape these ecosystems has been removed because of that colonial impact.”

Don Hankins, Plains Miwok fire expert, Chico State University in California 

“It’s a short time frame that we’ve taken the [cultural burning] part of the equation out,” says Hankins. “The main driver that has helped to shape these ecosystems has been removed because of that colonial impact.”

Don Hankins heads out to a cultural burning wearing his Smokey Bear shirt at Kaanju Ngaachi Indigenous Protected Area in Chuula, Australia. 

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Courtesy of Don Hankins

‘Shaped by fire’

Hankins and Costello are both part of an informal network of cultural burning advocates around the world, such as Canada, Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil.

First Nations Emergency Services Society (FNESS), based in British Columbia, Canada, also advocates for cultural burning. Shane Wardrobe, interim manager of the Forest Fuel Management Department at FNESS, said his organization has met with cultural burning experts in the US and New Zealand.

“In some places, this traditional knowledge is being passed on, and in a lot of other places, it’s not. When we lose our elders, we’re going to lose that knowledge…”

Shane Wardrobe, First Nations Emergency Service Society 

“We’re trying to get more of our Indigenous people involved before that knowledge is lost,” he said. “In some places, this traditional knowledge is being passed on, and in a lot of other places, it’s not. When we lose our elders, we’re going to lose that knowledge…” 

Related: Reviving traditional fire knowledge in Australia: ‘Fire is something we live with’

A night fire at Kaanju Ngaachi Indigenous Protected Area in Chuula, Australia. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Don Hankins

In Australia, Costello said the principles of cultural burning can apply to any fire-prone landscape. 

“Landscapes have been shaped by fire for thousands of years,” he said. “If … you only see the negatives of fire, […] you don’t understand that fire used in the right way will maintain healthy relationships.” 

With climate change bringing hotter, drier, windier periods that can make fire season worse, this knowledge is more important than ever, said Costello. 

“We have to learn and adapt, which is what cultural knowledge and cultural fire management is all about.” 

Police reform requires culture change, not just diversity, advocates say

Police reform requires culture change, not just diversity, advocates say

As demonstrations against police brutality and racism continue in the US and in other parts of the world, people who work with police departments to address biases and build ties with communities of color are questioning the effectiveness of their work. The World looks at the San Jose Police Department, which, despite its diversity, was criticized for its response to recent protests.

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Monica Campbell

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Derrick Sanderlin, right, who trains police officers in rooting out bias, at a Black Lives Matter protest in San Jose, California, last month. 

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Courtesy of Derrick Sanderlin

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For years, Derrick Sanderlin volunteered as a trainer to help San Jose police officers to spot their biases. He also worked to improve their ties with African Americans like him, as well as the city’s large immigrant communities.

Then, on May 29, he participated in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in downtown San Jose. Things grew tense. 

“I saw a fair amount of innocent protesters just being shot with rubber bullets, some at point-blank.”

Derrick Sanderlin, volunteer anti-bias trainer

“I saw a fair amount of innocent protesters just being shot with rubber bullets, some at point-blank,” Sanderlin said. 

He stepped forward between the officers and protesters to plead for calm. A local ABC station showed what happened next: Officers pointed their riot guns at Sanderlin as he stood several feet away, not making any aggressive moves. Still, he was fired at several times, with one rubber-coated bullet hitting him in the groin. 

“It took me a second to really process the pain in that situation,” Sanderlin said. He needed emergency surgery. Doctors have told him he may no longer be able to have children. 

As demonstrations against police brutality and racism continue in the US and in other parts of the world, people like Sanderlin — who work with police departments to address biases and build ties with communities of color — are questioning the effectiveness of their work. Meanwhile, some police officers who are minorities and immigrants themselves say they feel torn over their own communities’ distrust of law enforcement. 

Related: From Minneapolis to Madrid, racial profiling and police harassment cost lives

Derrick Sanderlin, left, a community organizer in San Jose, California, speaks at a meeting of People Acting in Community Together, or PACT, a group that seeks to create a more just community.

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Courtesy of Derrick Sanderlin

Asked if he would work with the police department again, Sanderlin said he was not sure. 

“I have sorta held my tensions long enough, I think,” he said. “And if our city doesn’t make a serious change when it comes to how and when we depend on police, I think it would dramatically change how I participate.”

Among other things, he’s questioning what it means to have a diverse police force, a mission he has long believed in. 

“Diversity is important,” he said. “But if there’s even a small faction within the department that’s sort of determining how they view neighborhoods of color, you know, diversity kind of flies out of the window.”

Sanderlin is not alone in thinking this way. 

Tracey Meares is a professor at Yale Law School and founding director of the school’s Justice Collaboratory, which pushes for criminal justice reform that increases cooperation between individuals and the state.  

“What communities have been saying is that it is important for you to look like me and to reflect who we are,” said Meares, who also served on a task force created by former President Barack Obama to examine policing after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. 

Still, she added, diversity alone is not enough. 

“I don’t think that you can expect necessarily that having a more quote-unquote diverse police force is going to advance the question about how people act related to bias,” she said. “That is not a project for the police department alone, again, because it’s about the structure of society that we live in.”

Stephen Donahue, a lieutenant for the San Jose Police who leads recruitment and hiring for the department, agrees. 

“It’s the culture in that department and it starts at the top and it disseminates its way down through the ranks to the officers on the street.”

Stephen Donahue, lieutenant, San Jose Police Department

“It’s the culture in that department and it starts at the top and it disseminates its way down through the ranks to the officers on the street,” he said.  

But like many others, he still believes diversity among officers is important. 

“We’re not all white people trying to police other people,” he said. “The minority of our department is white.”

The San Jose Police Department employs many minority officers. One of them is Silvana Cespedes, a patrol officer who was assigned to control the crowd at the May 29 protest in San Jose where Sanderlin was injured with a rubber bullet. 

“I was first in line at the protests, literally having rocks and bricks and flares — lit flares of fire thrown at me,” Cespedes said. “And obviously they’re ruining it for the people there exercising their rights.”

Cespedes was 18 when she moved to the US from Bolivia, where she believed police officers were corrupt. In the US, she said, she felt a difference. 

“I was, like, ‘Wow, police officers are just, like, good people’,” she said. “I could trust the police.”

As an officer for the San Jose Police, she said she has worked to build relationships in the heavily immigrant areas she patrols. 

“I am in the community, in all the outreach programs I can get into, trying to teach how to bond with the community,” she said.  

Recently, she started teaching her colleagues Spanish — a first for the department in an area with a huge Latino population. Other officers are learning Vietnamese, another commonly spoken language in San Jose. 

Cespedes values the diversity of her team: “I have someone from Mexico, from Japan, a Hispanic guy and then it’s me,” Cespedes said. 

She said she is hurt to hear more people say they don’t trust the police. That’s how she felt about police growing up in Bolivia. 

“It makes me sad because that’s a memory that I carried here, as an immigrant coming from a country where police interactions are not pleasant.”

Silvana Cespedes, patrol officer, San Jose Police Department

“It makes me sad because that’s a memory that I carried here, as an immigrant coming from a country where police interactions are not pleasant,” she said.

Despite all the recent protests, Cespedes said she is determined to keep working like always. Her immediate family supports her, she said, but not all of her relatives do. 

“Family members who — out of nowhere — start calling me a horrible person,” she said. “I don’t understand because they’ve known me my whole life and they just refer to me that way because I wear a badge.”

This Zimbabwe rom-com could be your next Netflix binge

This Zimbabwe rom-com could be your next Netflix binge

By
Amanda McGowan

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Tendai Ryan Nguni and Tendaiishe Chitima star as Prince and Anesu in the Zimbabwean film, “Cook Off.”

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Courtesy of Bongani Kumbula/”Cook Off” 

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Sometimes you just need to kick back in front of the TV and watch a rom-com.

Here’s a suggestion: “Cook Off.” 

It’s the story of a single mom who enters a TV cooking competition that might just change her life. Last week, it became the first film from Zimbabwe to get picked up by Netflix.

Related: Brazilian Netflix film sets off censorship debate

“It’s a huge milestone for Zimbabwe. … It’s the first time ever a film from this side has been seen on such a platform. For us, we see this as a chance to introduce Zimbabwean films to the world.”

Joe Njagu, film producer, “Cook Off”

“It’s a huge milestone for Zimbabwe,” the film’s producer Joe Njagu told The World. “It’s the first time ever a film from this side has been seen on such a platform. For us, we see this as a chance to introduce Zimbabwean films to the world.”

The film, which is in English, centers around the relationship between single mom Anesu, played by Tendaiishe Chitima, and her son, Tapiwa, played by Eugene Zimbudzi, who encourages her to follow her dreams and enter a cooking contest even when Anesu’s own mother disapproves.

Singer Shingai Shoniwa, who plays herself and Eugene Zimbudzi, who plays Tapiwa, in a screenshot from the Zimbabwean film, “Cook Off.”

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Courtesy of “Cook Off”

Related: Netflix’s ‘Ghee Happy’ imagines life as a Hindu deity — in preschool

There’s also — of course — a love story that blossoms on the set between Anesu and fellow contestant Prince, played by Zimbabwean hip hop artist Tehn Diamond (Tendai Ryan Nguni). 

“Cook Off” was produced on a shoestring budget of$8,000. Njagu says it was made possible by the fact they could reuse sets — the writer and director of the film is also the director of a Zimbabwean TV show called “Battle of the Chefs,” — and the cast and crew agreed to a deferred payment plan. 

The film, which premiered in 2018 at the Durban International Film Festival, was produced in extraordinary circumstances, during the historic ouster of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017.

Related: Dead at 95, Mugabe was one of Africa’s most polarizing figures

Tendie Chitima, who plays Anesu, on the set of “Cook Off.”

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Courtesy of Anel Wessels/”Cook Off”

Njagu is hopeful that “Cook Off” won’t be the last Zimbabwean movie to reach a wider audience.

“It’s still a little film community that’s trying to sprout out and become an industry,” he said. “Why this is such a big deal is this is almost like a springboard to kickstart things, so we can start getting to a place where we can call ourselves a film industry.”

Njagu said he wanted to make “Cook Off” — a love story and underdog story — to challenge Hollywood’s typical depictions of Africa.

Related: What the US can learn from West Africa to slow the spread of coronavirus

“I always feel that Africa is portrayed in a very negative light: like, it’s synonymous with stories about war, poverty, hunger disease. This was a chance to show the other side of Africa, the other side of Zimbabwe.”

Joe Njagu, film producer, “Cook Off”

“I always feel that Africa is portrayed in a very negative light: like, it’s synonymous with stories about war, poverty, hunger disease. This was a chance to show the other side of Africa, the other side of Zimbabwe,” he said.

“This is why I felt like this was a very important story to tell — to change that whole Africa narrative,” he added. 

Teresa Romanowska survived Nazis, Soviets and cancer, but died of COVID-19

Teresa Romanowska survived Nazis, Soviets and cancer, but died of COVID-19

The pandemic is robbing the world of institutional memories of the past as older people fall victim to COVID-19. Indira Lakshmanan, the senior executive editor for National Geographic, shares her mother's story.

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Christopher Woolf

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Teresa Romanowska with her nanny Maria (center) and her brother Tom (left) on Tom’s pony, Kucka, in Choceń, Poland, 1933.

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Courtesy of the Lakshmanan family

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Teresa Romanowska survived the German invasion of Poland in World War II, detention in a Nazi camp, Soviet oppression, emigration, divorce, cancer (twice) and a stroke. 

But on June 3, Romanowska, 89, died of the novel coronavirus, one of the more than 400,000 to fall victim to the pandemic that has upended the lives of people around the world. 

“She was someone with just an incredible and indomitable will to live and will to survive,” Romanowska’s daughter, Indira Lakshmanan, described her mother. “It’s just such a devastating disease — for it to take someone who had seemed basically indestructible … I’m still in shock about that. It doesn’t seem real.”

Indira Lakshmanan with her parents, T.R. Lakshmanan (left) and Teresa R. Lakshmanan (right), in 1970s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Courtesy of the Lakshmanan family

Lakshmanan is the senior executive editor for National Geographic. She had recently profiled her mother for the magazine as part of its June special edition on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. 

“I never met anyone who had survived so many disasters, and so many things that it feels like would bring down anyone human,” Lakshmanan said. “And for her to ultimately have been felled by the coronavirus, well, it brings it home really painfully.”  

Related: Coronavirus most challenging crisis since World War II, UN says

Romanowska’s resilience was evident from a young age, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939.

“My mom was only 8 years old when she was essentially robbed of her childhood,” Lakshmanan said.

Teresa, age 8, shortly before the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

Credit:

Courtesy of the Lakshmanan family

Romanowska experienced the terror of an air attack. She cowered in a basement as she heard soldiers fight and die in her front yard. She saw a Jewish neighbor shot dead by Nazis and her father taken away. She fled with her mother and brother after they were thrown out of their home, taking only what they could carry, with a few things thrown into a baby carriage. 

Lakshmanan says her mother always recounted one particular story of the invasion. 

“[She] had this beloved stuffed fox that she slept with. She was clutching it when she first heard the German barrage. And when the soldiers came and forced her and her mother and brother out of their house …  she was holding on to that fox. And the German soldier saw it and grabbed the stuffed fox out of my mother’s hands.”  

The Nazi soldier stuck it on top of his truck like a trophy. 

“It was essentially a perverse trophy to the subjugation of other humans,” Lakshmanan said. 

Related: Giselle Cycowicz shares her story of surviving the Holocaust 

Romanowska was not Jewish, but Nazi ideology considered Polish Catholics “subhumans,” who needed to be cleared away to create more living space for the German race.

In 1944, Romanowska’s family was rounded up and put into a camp. They were later put onto a train, bound for an “extermination through labor” camp. During a stop to air out the cars from the stench of excrement, Romanowska and her mother simply jumped from the train, and despite being fired on by Nazi guards, managed to escape, Lakshmanan said. They survived the war sheltering with relatives. 

In 2019, after a stroke, Romanowska suffered hallucinations and delusions. “Her mind regressed to the Nazi period,” Lakshmanan said. Romanowska fought off nurses trying to give her shots because she believed they were Nazis trying to conduct medical experiments, Lakshmanan added.  

“One of the things she had told me,” Lakshmanan explained, “was that in this transit camp where they were held outside of Warsaw, even though there was disease — there was cholera, there was typhus and roots, lice, there were all sorts of problems — everybody was more terrified of these so-called doctors and medical staff than they were of the actual disease.”

“That was incredibly painful, seeing the PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] come back in that way.” 

Related: Wajahat Ali on maintaining one’s faith through crises

Many victims of COVID-19 are older. And the pandemic is robbing the world of institutional memories of the past. 

“I think about that generation of people who lived through the Great Depression, who lived through World War II, who lived through incredibly hard times,” Lakshmanan said. “We have so much to learn about how they got through it all. About grit, about determination, and about resilience.”

“But these people are dying out,” she warns, “and we really need to be able to listen to them and glean their wisdom.”  

After lockdown, Milan rolls out plan to open more streets to cyclists and pedestrians

After lockdown, Milan rolls out plan to open more streets to cyclists and pedestrians

The Strade Aperte plan, translated as “Open Roads,” is one of the world’s most dramatic examples of how city planners around the world, after COVID-19 lockdowns, are redesigning city streets to be friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists.

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Anna Kusmer

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Milan’s “Open Streets” plan makes way for more cyclists and pedestrians. 

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Courtesy of @bikeitalia

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Pinar Pinzuti describes herself as a professional “cycling brainwasher.”

Her Milan company, Bikenomist, advocates for more bike lanes in her community. Pinzuti said that recently, there’s been an increase in public acceptance of bike lanes, particularly for commuters and families.

“More and more people accept the bicycle as a means of transportation, finally.”

Pizar Pinzuti, Bikenomist

“More and more people accept the bicycle as a means of transportation, finally,” Pinzuti said.

Related: Venice battles climate change and lack of tourism

She appreciates that her city is making more room for cyclists, and she hopes more people will soon take advantage of the changes. The impact on just one major thoroughfare, Corso Buenos Aires, she says, is already evident.

Piano di azione per la mobilità urbana postCovid è un manuale in open source pensato per i comuni nella realizzazione della mobilità urbana. A cura di Paolo Pinzuti, arch. Paolo Gandolfi, arch. Valerio Montieri, arch. Matteo Dondé, Gabriele Sangalli.https://t.co/OfKbcGap0l pic.twitter.com/b19jm7xXYx

— Bikenomist (@bikenomistcom) May 20, 2020

“The street that I once avoided visiting became my favorite destination to observe the transformation,” Pinzuti said, speaking about Milan’s decision to rapidly and dramatically change miles of urban street design. 

Corso Buenos Aires now has two new bike lanes that extend along five miles of one of the city’s most prominent shopping streets. Corso Buenos Aires is Milan’s first street to be transformed as part of a citywide plan to convert 22 miles of roads this summer into bike paths and pedestrian areas. 

The Strade Aperte plan, translated as “Open Roads,” is one of the world’s most dramatic examples of how city planners around the world, after COVID-19 lockdowns, are redesigning city streets to be friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists.

“The idea is to accelerate projects the city [started] before,” said Pierfrancesco Maran, the deputy mayor for urban planning, green areas and agriculture for the city. “It’s 10 years we’ve been working to reduce pollution, to reduce congestion, to move in a better way.”

Now, as lockdowns slowly lift in many cities around the world, cars are coming back on the roads, which will provide a test for Milan’s redesigned streets.

Related: The changing face of Venice

“There is a very long queue of traffic. I think this is longer than it used to be before quarantine. Many people are using their private cars to move in the city center.”

Fabio Moliterni, Milan resident

“There is a very long queue of traffic. I think this is longer than it used to be before quarantine,” said Fabio Moliterni, a Milan resident. “Many people are using their private cars to move in the city center.”

Maran said although many drivers in Milan may oppose the new bike lanes, he believes the redesign strikes a balance between their needs and a more walkable city for residents.

“People who use cars say that it was better before,” Maran said. “We have to listen to everybody, even the people that complain. Our idea is that cities are not just made for cars. We have to find space for everybody.”

At the height of Italy’s lockdowns, car traffic dropped by up to 75%, which contributed to major drops in the country’s air pollution. Maran said the city has a goal to reduce the amount of air pollution that comes back as cars reenter the roads. High air pollution is associated with high rates of mortality of COVID-19, and northern Italy historically has some of the worst air quality in Europe.

The Strade Aperte plan, translated as “Open Roads,” is one of the world’s most dramatic examples of how city planners around the world, after COVID-19 lockdowns, are redesigning city streets to be friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists.

Credit:

@bikeitalia

On top of new bike lanes, the Strade Aperte plan includes new and widened sidewalks, more stringent speed limits for cars and the opening of pedestrian- and bike-priority streets.

Milan has one of the most ambitious plans, according to a global overview put out by the National Association of City Transportation Officials. But other cities — Paris, Auckland, New Zealand, London, Mexico City and Bogotá, Colombia — have had similar changes, creating emergency bike lanes and extra pedestrian areas amid lockdowns.

Related: Robot nurse helps Italian doctors care for COVID-19 patients

Milan has the ability to lead the world in urban street design, said Janette Sadik-Khan, a former transportation commissioner for New York City, who now works with Bloomberg Associates and chairs NACTO. Sadik-Khan has spent the last two years working with Milan on plans to transform their public spaces. She said the pandemic sped up a process that was already in motion.

“Milan is giving the world a master class in seizing this difficult moment. We don’t just want cities to return back to normal, we want cities to come back more resilient, more equitable and economically connected.”

Janette Sadik-Khan, Bloomberg Associates

“Milan is giving the world a master class in seizing this difficult moment,” Sadik-Khan said in an email. “We don’t just want cities to return back to normal, we want cities to come back more resilient, more equitable and economically connected.”

More than half of Milan residents took public transit to work before the pandemic. And as the systems start to reopen, the capacity of buses, trams and subways will be largely diminished, down to less than a third of what was available before.

Pinar Pinzuti of the Milan company, Bikenomist, said that recently, there’s been an increase in public acceptance of bike lanes, particularly for commuters and families.

Credit:

Courtesy of @bikeitalia

Part of the reasoning behind Strade Aperte is to encourage residents to avoid choosing cars — by offering a pleasant alternative. The planned bike lanes follow subway lines, to create an alternative for people who used to rely on public transit for their daily commutes.

“[Commuters] can have the same itinerary every day, but do it by bike instead of by subway as before,” Maran said.

Related: Living under lockdown in the Eternal City

Sofia Carra, a 19-year-old high school student who lives in Milan, said she was heartened to see the bike lanes lining Corso Buenos Aires, but she’s worried as she sees the cars coming back to the streets.

“The fact that the government decided to create this new bike path shows how they are starting to care more about the climate change issue. But I think it would be just a drop in the ocean. I think we could easily go back to how Milan was before the lockdown.”

Sofia Carra, high school student, Milan

“The fact that the government decided to create this new bike path shows how they are starting to care more about the climate change issue. But I think it would be just a drop in the ocean,” Carra said. “I think we could easily go back to how Milan was before the lockdown.”

Corso Buenos Aires is Milan’s first street to be transformed as part of a citywide plan to convert 22 miles of roads this summer into bike paths and pedestrian areas. 

Credit:

Courtesy of @bikeitalia

But Sadik-Khan argues that transforming city streets is a step toward system change in cities, with lasting improvements for both people and the environment.

“The cities that take this moment to reset their streets and make it easier for people to walk, bike and take public transport will be positioned to prosper after this pandemic and not simply recover,” she said.

Maran posted a video on Twitter in May, riding along Corso Buenos Aires’ new bike lane.

“It’s incredible. We go into politics because we want to change our city,” Maran said. “The idea that after a pandemic, we try to have a better city … that’s something that is fantastic, and to ride on something you created, it’s emotional.”