Open Streets Southwark
For the latest news on London's first Open Streets event in August 2014, click here
A global movement
Open Streets is a celebration of our streets as public spaces. By re-imagining our streets in this way, we enable a wide variety of social and cultural activities which traffic normally renders impossible. Our streets do indeed become places for recreation and joy.
Open Streets events have been taking place in Colombia since 1976. Every Sunday and on holidays from 07h00 until 14h00 the Ciclovía opens some main streets of Bogotà and other cities to human powered traffic. More than one million people (in a city of seven million) come out to exercise and socialise.
Today there are Open Streets events in cities in Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, New Zealand, and Peru. In the USA dozens of cities, large and small have Open Street events. Almost 40 years after the first Ciclovía there are now 200 Open Streets initiatives worldwide. Many cities have weekly events. They remain rare in the UK.
A broad range of activities has evolved to include walking, cycling, roller skating, dancing, keep fit, swimming, outdoor board games, children’s games, street tennis, soccer, bike polo, music, street cafés, playing and simply enjoying being with other people.
Can closing streets to motor traffic be good for business?
Yes. There is growing evidence from around the world that car free events increase dwell time and boost local trade. London's New West End Company reports that over 80% of retailers saw higher sales during a recent "VIP" day, whilst in San Francisco over 75% of participants had spent money along the route, and in St Louis over two thirds had become aware of traders they had previously not known about.
Why it matters
The transformative power of Open Streets is eloquently captured by this local resident who describes South Africa's very first event earlier this year:
Open Streets is such a simple idea; choose a day and close the street to traffic is one basic description of it. But beyond this apparent simplicity is also an invitation which cuts across our daily habits, and steps us into other possibilities. Open Streets allows us to come out on to the public space we normally call “roads”, without the usual barriers of vehicles and haste.
Like the guys who heaved a sofa on to the road and watched the world go by; or the kids who got down on their knees and chalked the road into a riot of colour; or the cyclists and skaters who meandered through; or the dancers who just kept dancing on. And on. We are ultimately curious, social creatures and Open Streets attracts us because at some fundamental level people love to watch, and be around, other people.
And the outcome of Open Streets was a strange phenomenon which many remarked upon - there were just so many smiles. Surprised smiles, charmed smiles, smiles of realisation and children’s smiles. This is a rare, rare thing to see on our streets. The design of our cities boxes us up, separates us out, and rushes us though the public space we call roads. Open Streets not only opened our roads yesterday, it opened our minds. And that was what made it so special.
Lisa Kane, Cape Town, May 2013