It reminded me of an event I wrote about in the August 2005 issue of Mayday Magazine, called "Survival Day", which took place on October 15, 1970 - nearly 40 years ago, very early on in the environmental movement.
It was organized by two McMaster students, Peter Globensky and Angela Martinson. They shut down King Street East to traffic for four hours, to show people what a downtown street looked like without cars.
I found out about this while researching at Hamilton Public Library Special Collections, in some of the great scrapbooks they've collected. This quote from a Hamilton Spectator article about the event stands out:
The idea will provide people with a downtown business area that will make them feel for once in their lives that as individuals they are more important than cars. It will add immeasurably to the downtown area, that has come to resemble a super ghetto where people want to work but don't want to shop and don't want to live. It will be a relaxing experience, a psychological break in the whole concept of the rat race.
This statement could just as easily be said to promote the Open Streets event - we unfortunately still deal with the same problems today as these activists dealt with in 1970.
While we're starting to turn the corner on downtown being regarded as a "super ghetto", we're still very much engaged in an uphill battle to ensure there's a place for cyclists and pedestrians on our streets - the problems presented by a downtown redesigned to cater to car traffic still frustrate us to this day.
The upside? Thanks to activists like Peter and Angela, who were a part of birthing the modern environmental movement, we now have a better understanding about our environment, air pollution and the problems presented by car culture gone haywire.
Open Streets was a huge success, supported by multiple partners, including Smart Commute Hamilton, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, the City's Public Works and Public Health Departments, as well as NGOs and community associations. Everyone got behind the event and made it work, and now another such event will take place in September.
Many people who attended are asking for it to happen as often as possible. There's a huge appetite for this sort of event - nearly 5,000 people attended Open Streets, according to a police estimate.
Fantastic work to everyone involved.
This entry was originally published on Matt Jelly's blog.
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