Every once in a while you get to experience a perspective shift. It may be simple or drastic, but it’s always interesting to find yourself in that position. Being made to question the status quo is a novel chance to contemplate the hows and whys of societal norms.
All of which is simply to say that I had a fun time at Open Streets TO.
Established to encourage physical activity and alternative modes of transportation, Open Streets TO is in its second year. Bloor from Dufferin to Parliament and Yonge to Queen were traffic free. There were activities and performances scattered along the path. Whatever your take on movement, if you buy into the rationale or not, it’s hard to argue with the results. It may have been relatively lean on programming and vendors (in comparison to the length of road available), but there was something strangely awe inspiring about the freedom to roam the streets without fear of oncoming traffic. Hell, I got to run straight down the middle of the road unencumbered by the sense of peril that’d otherwise evoke. Despite the people flowing every which way- walking, running, roller blading, biking, skateboarding- it felt calming to not be dwarfed by vehicles. Taking in the moment to capture a 360° view of your surroundings was almost surreal in a way. As if this was a way things could eventually pan out.
Which, in a way, it could. If massive adherence to public transport was taken, things could be shifted under or overhead. Subways, monorails, those Chinese straddling buses. Think about the space that would create within a city. Effectively you’re removing activity from one spacial level and replacing it on another. If there were no cars, buses or trucks, we could walk down the road. We could bike, skateboard. We could use that space for events all the more readily. Maybe that’s even what the event was intending to put forward.
It’s not like this notion of traffic free streets is revolutionary. Here in Toronto, Kensington Markets have summer Pedestrian Sundays. I’ve been in numerous other cities where dining areas will have open courtyards spilling out onto the street. The effect, though, when applied to the central city is something else. Surrounded by massive structures for once felt comforting, secure, peculiar as that sounds. While the buildings seemed like walls, concurrently they weren’t encumbered by the same inaccessibility. I guess this wholly depends on your feelings surrounding large cities. I feel at home in environments of scale. The magnitude to me represents possiblity, potential. In my heart a city is a place that expands the limits of my capability. Opening up the streets, to me, feels like a widening of those limits in ways I did not expect.
Or maybe I’m secretly on the straddling bus agenda.