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When a City Closes the Streets to Cars, It Opens Streets to People

Posted by | February 15, 2018

San Jose skylineIf you ask the average American if they’d like to see a street closure on the street leading to their favorite restaurant or park, the answer will likely be, “no!” If you gave the average American the option to walk or drive, they will generally choose to drive. However, these sentiments are slowly changing. An amazing trend is sweeping our nation: cities are beginning to see the transformative power of open streets programs.

The Power of Open Streets

If you look at any city in the world from the sky, the largest public space is always the streets. Streets are designed for one purpose: to get vehicles from one place to another. Open streets programs transform those streets into meeting places, art installations, and parks, by closing them to cars and opening them to people. For anyone who has experienced the power of open streets firsthand, the sense of joy and freedom can be overwhelming. You would never tell your child or grandparents to play in the streets. You would never plan a picnic in a street median. You would never lay down in the middle of the road and take a selfie. But when streets are open, they are safe for everyone. Thousands do exactly what they’ve been told not to do their whole lives. Through open streets, people meet each other as equals. Participants see parts of their city they may have not visited in the past due to lack of accessibility, lack of curiosity, or negative perceptions.

Seeing is Believing

In 2014, I was fortunate to spend three days in Guadalajara, México with 880 Cities (Toronto, Canada based nonprofit) and its founder Gil Penaloza. My task was simple: attend the open streets training provided by 880 Cities and provide feedback on the value and effectiveness of the three-day experience. As a former nonprofit and current recreation professional, I had heard my share of sales pitches and attended many trainings. What Mr. Penaloza was saying seemed too good to be true. How could the simple act of closing streets create sustainable happiness? How could allowing people in the streets have such an impact? On Sunday, I jumped on a bike and experienced the power of Via RecreActiva. I stopped on an uphill crest to see a street filled with people as far as the eye could see – 300,000 individuals biking, walking, or running; the young and the old; the able and disabled. Everyone was smiling and experiencing the freedom of traversing 40 miles of car-free streets.

Continue reading in Next City

Originally written by  Jenn Stanley

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