Urbanistas often debate or discuss how to make cities less automobile-centric. Sometimes the discussion becomes an “either-or” dichotomy. But there are examples where streets can be for cars most of the time, and the city make exceptions on the fly as popular activity dictates.
Last Sunday as the World Cup final went into extra time, people started gathering on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. As in past years, the crowd was starting to spill into the street for lack of room on the sidewalks in front of the myriad restaurants, cafes and bars offering the game on TV. The excitement was building as penalty kicks seem to loom, and then Spain scored, to cheers and a few groans from Dutch fans. Soon, the celebration began for those cheering for Spain.
The police had already shown up, not to stop festivities, but to facilitate them. With no announcements or prior plans, they had closed a 7 block stretch of Commercial Drive to traffic. And people danced, juggled soccer balls, and enjoyed mingling.
10 years ago, when I first moved to this neighbourhood, the post-Euro-2000 game celebrations involved cars driving up and down this same street, waving giant flags, honking horns. The 2002 World Cup was the same. The police kept the crowds on the sidewalks, on the sidewalks, which really meant they had to leave onto side streets as it was crowded. The road was for cars, people had to use whatever urban space was left.
This time, the street was for people and those in cars had to find a place to park if they wanted to join the fun. And they did.
What was also really cool about this approach was that instead of being in a silo in a car, people mingled with both strangers and neighbours who had backgrounds from around the world, all having a good time (and no one seemed drunk).
Spontaneous soccer games erupted on the street. Some drummers offered a samba-salsa beat with flamenco influences and dancing took place. People in Netherlands shirts joined those in Spanish colours as well as many wearing Serbian, Mexican, Brazilian, Italian or Portuguese jerseys kicking around a ball.
Others sat in chairs sipping their cappuccinos, on the street, watching the show. Kids road bikes and scooters. The gelato stores did well.
This spontaneous urban event lasted for several hours, and without incident as far as I could tell.
A great example how streets can be for cars and buses most of the time, but become great public spaces for certain occasions.