I took a little blogging hiatus to get recharged, but now I’m back by popular demand. I recently met Gil Penalosa, former Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation for the City of Bogotá, Columbia. Along with Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, they turned a weekly street closing event into a cultural, social and public health phenomena (that’s not hyperbole). I can describe Cyclovia and you can go, “Oh, that’s nice”, or you can watch this rockin video and get a visceral sense of what the simple act of closing streets to cars can do for communities.
So, Roland Park has their Ciclovia, but it’s just a short distance and demographically homogeneous. The point of the event is to get people walking and biking into neighborhoods they ordinarily wouldn’t go to and interacting with people they normally wouldn’t talk to. To pull this off right, like many other cities have done, highly visible streets need to be closed and the route expanded to include all socioeconomic groups. Say, Charles St. or Baltimore St. (including east and west of downtown). If we’re gutsy, maybe Pratt. North Ave. may be another opportunity. Having thousands of people walking, exercising, biking, learning karate, or dancing with hula hoops on North Ave. every Sunday would change the perception of the street forever.
- Exercise, obviously.
- Social interaction. How often do you meet your neighbor driving in your Volvo?
- City pride. You notice a lot of unique things about the city while walking or biking.
- More people buying local. Even if the event is on Sunday, people window shop and come back during the week
- Reduce us vs. them mentality. It’s hard to hate someone you just finger painted with.
So, Gil Penalosa said this is all a matter of priorities. We spend billions on highways which have huge negative externalties. We can also spend a fraction of that on pretty much the exact opposite; closing streets to cars and giving them back to people with huge benefits. Let’s do this.