The Permanent Effect of Temporary Street Closures

So, we all love a good street party, yes? But at some point, the party is over… right?

Or is it?

That’s what Joan Pasiuk over at the Streetsblog Network member blog Transit for Livable Communities, in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, is asking. Noting the popularity of festive street-closure events in cities around the globe (Bogotá’s Ciclovía being the premier example), Pasiuk wonders what the permanent effect is, and whether it would be worthwhile to start something similar in her community:

2757131617_cd68d44aa4_m.jpgPhoto of Bogotá’s Ciclovía by Velaia via Flickr.

Communities near and far (Chicago, Miami, New York City, Bogotá, Quito, Baltimore, Portland, Guadalajara, El Paso…) are excited about opening streets to people on selected weekend days. Travel on foot, scooter, skates, stroller, wheelchair, or bicycle (but not motor vehicle) along selected routes sets the stage for a community celebration of city life. Mayors have often been the voice of inspiration after learning of positive experiences in other cities, telling staff to make it so…

I am interested in the idea for building community, but dubious about whether we need a new event here. We heard no evaluation of results except turnout. Is there a lasting behavior or attitude change —
something beyond a party on a temporarily transformed street? I live not far from Grand Avenue, which once a year abandons its car-centric attitude and throws itself open to the masses. And masses come — maybe drawn by the mini donuts, free music and great people watching as much as the open stretch of asphalt. It would be possible to create new messaging — encouraging fewer people to drive to the walking event for example, and new activities — substituting a jazzercise demo for a beer tent. But even so, would they leave with a sense of the vitality of urban streets? Would they recreate the family experience by walking more together? I remain skeptical about the health and transportation benefits, but love a street party as much as anyone.

It’s an interesting question to ask in light of the recent opening of Times Square to pedestrians. Did New York’s earlier, temporary street-closure events — like last year’s Summer Streets — build popular awareness and support for the Times Square move?

Elsewhere around the network, people seem to be blogging furiously after a Memorial Day lull. Some highlights: 1000 Friends of Connecticut on the American Academy of Pediatrics statement that current development patterns are unhealthy for children; Greater City: Providence on the tension between property rights and progressive planning; and The Infrastructurist on the effort to save Detroit’s magnificent — and decrepit — Michigan Central train station.

  • Bike Miami Days has successfully worked itself into the collective car-dominated conscious of Miami. It has made livable streets discussions and implementation possible by bringing numerous departments and agencies together to collaborate on the monthly event. If Miami is smart, they too will be as bold as New York City in pursuing more permanent car-free public space.

  • mfs

    Williamsburg Walks (http://williamsburgwalks.org/) in Brooklyn has helped build community in our neighborhood. This year, my group, Neighbors Allied for Good Growth is co-sponsoring it with the L Magazine. We’re having local non-profits put on programming and table about their services. We got a lot of new members when we did this last summer that helped seed some organizing campaigns we are doing this year. It’s also a really good opportunity to register new voters.

    Miami seems to have done a good job in maintaining the continuity of the event (Hey Mike) and has run it for almost nine months now. The continuity and regularity is the single most important thing in establishing the event and building community.

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