Maneuvering cities on foot or by bike can feel like a game of Frogger. As most streets are designed with cars in mind, there’s a permeating sense that cars own them and it’s up to pedestrians and cyclists to work around vehicles. The truth is, streets belong to all of us.
The Open Streets movement, which temporarily closes streets to motorized vehicles and opens them up to cyclists, pedestrians, runners, pogo-stick jumpers, musicians, stilt walkers and whoever else wants to move car-free, is working to help cities reimagine their streets as more than just networks for cars.
With roots stretching back to the mid-1970s with Bicycle Sunday in Seattle and Ciclovia, a weekly event in Bogota, Colombia that’s still going strong, Open Streets is booming. Car-free days, events, and even a month are popping up all over the world.
In North America, the Open Streets movement has grown ten-fold in the last five years and is now found in communities large and small all over the continent including Jackson Mississippi, Fort Worth Texas, Salt Lake City Utah, Savannah Georgia, Minneapolis Minnesota, Santa Cruz California, Winnipeg in Canada, and dozens more. In all, there are over 100 initiatives in North America.
In celebration of the widespread growth and success of the Open Streets movement, the Open Streets Project, along with Streetfilms, created The Rise of Open Streets, a video that explores the movement and also points out some of the many benefits of opening streets to people.
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What The Rise of Open Streets brings to light is that in addition to providing a space for people to get out and exercise, Open Streets also activates areas, creates enormous stretches of public space, and brings people together, not as members of separate demographics or disconnected neighborhoods, but as citizens. As Gil Penalosa, director of 8-80 Cities says, “It’s like an exercise in social integration…To enjoy Cyclovia or Open Streets all you need is two feet and a heartbeat.”
Open Streets also plants a seed in people's minds about what cities, streets and communities can be, and brings awareness to the importance of having public space. As Enrique Jacoby of the Pan American Health Organization points out, having public space is an essential part of creating and sustaining community.
“This should be an obligation for any mayor or any city authority,” he says. “As we need water, telephone, TV or cable, we need public space where we can enjoy ourselves...It shouldn’t be something exceptional, this should be the norm.”