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Some US cities are hoping for similar social benefits. When it launches its first Aug. 31, San Francisco is hoping to help connect a currently isolated, low-income neighborhood, the Bayview, with other parts of the city on a six-mile route. Portland's June 22 event linked an African-American neighborhood with newer, gentrified neighborhoods on the city's north side.

For some public space advocates, this is just the beginning: "London, Paris, and other cities have taken this idea much further, but they started with temporary street closures," notes Wiley Norvell, whose organization, Transportation Alternatives, is participating in the New York event. "Once you get out of the mind-set of 'all cars all the time,' all sorts of possibilities open up."

Every summer Paris closes a portion of one of its major expressways and creates a temporary beachfront and promenade – complete with sand and palm trees – along the Seine. Starting with the closure of one street more than 40 years ago, Copenhagen has gradually developed a central city that prioritizes walking and cycling.

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