Events

Open Streets Hamilton a Chance to Experience a City Made for People

Let's celebrate our community on Sunday, July 13, and then let's get to work on making Open Streets a weekly celebration of our shared humanity.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 27, 2014

The Open Streets Project is a worldwide campaign to reclaim city streets from automobile traffic temporarily so that people can enjoy "walking, cycling, dancing playing and socializing". With over 100 events in North America alone, Open Streets is an important and popular event that is reconnecting people with their own public spaces and their own communities.

Many cities follow the Ciclovia model started in Bogota, Colombia and close a network of streets to traffic every Sunday and public holiday. This allows the event to become normalized. Participation grows organically and performers/vendors are willing to commit more fully to it because they know it will be a weekly occurrence.

Ciclovia in Providencia District, Santiago, Chile. (Image Credit: quiltro/Flickr, Licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Ciclovia in Providencia District, Santiago, Chile. (Image Credit: quiltro/Flickr, Licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

'CicLAvia' in Los Angeles, California (Image Credit: waltarrrrr/Flickr, Licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
'CicLAvia' in Los Angeles, California (Image Credit: waltarrrrr/Flickr, Licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Ciclovia in Jakarta, Indonesia (Image Credit: killerturnip/Flickr, Licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Ciclovia in Jakarta, Indonesia (Image Credit: killerturnip/Flickr, Licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Open Streets in Hamilton

In Hamilton, we close James Street North for just one or two Sundays during the summer. This year's Open Streets Hamilton will take place on Sunday, July 13, 2014 from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM on James North between King Street and Guise Street.


View Open Streets Hamilton 2014 in a larger map

It promises to be a big event. Timed to coincide with both the one-year countdown for the Pan American Games and the FIFA World Cup final, Open Streets will celebrate both with festivities and live screening of the World Cup final game on two big screens.

This won't be the first time James North celebrated the World Cup. Celebrants thronged out onto the street in 2006 when Italy won that year's World Cup.

Celebrants thronged the street after Italy won the 2006 World Cup (RTH file photo)
Celebrants thronged the street after Italy won the 2006 World Cup (RTH file photo)

In addition, Hamilton Bike Share plans a limited launch of their new program, which will roll out fully in August.

'Future Bike Share Hub' stencil on Hess near Hunter
'Future Bike Share Hub' stencil on Hess near Hunter

History

Hamilton held its first Open Streets event in 2010, when James North was closed between Cannon Street and Burlington Street for five hours on June 6. According to Hamilton Police, close to 5,000 people attended the event. A second Open Streets was held on September 26 of that year.

At the time I expressed the hope that it would become a weekly event, helping transform Hamilton into a city built for people, not cars. Four years later, we're still not there, but it's at least encouraging that the length and duration have been extended from earlier years.

Open Streets 2013 (Image Credit: Lindsey Jacobs)
Open Streets 2013 (Image Credit: Lindsey Jacobs)

Recently, Nicholas Kevlahan noted that the Durand Neighbourhood Association's call for two-way streets, traffic calming and pedestrian/cycling improvements for its neighbourhood streets dates back nearly four decades to the 1970s. A few years ago, Matt Jelly made a similar discovery: the Open Streets concept in Hamilton dates back to 1970, when a pair of McMaster students closed King Street East to reacquaint people with their city. As organizer Peeter Globensky put it 44 years ago:

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.

Like the Ciclovias of so many other cities, Open Streets has the potential to realize more fully the promise from that exercise of civic engagement back in 1970 - a city whose streets are calibrated to celebrate people and human interactions, not to set us against each other in rolling private compounds.

Let's celebrate our community on Sunday, July 13, and then let's get to work on making Open Streets a weekly celebration of our shared humanity.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Masons (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 08:19:13

It's the fact that implementing complete streets has been such an ongoing battle that makes me believe in conspiracy theory.

That some dark forces are at play, trying to kill humanity, in any which way possible (in Hamilton, via pollution, dangerous streets) seems reasonable to believe.

I mean, who is benefiting from these things? Seriously.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 27, 2014 at 09:34:58 in reply to Comment 102898

Hanlon's razor.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 09:13:18 in reply to Comment 102898

Sadly, people who drive ... at least until they get out of their car. There's no grand conspiracy. It's just us, or most of us, and we are slow to change our ways.

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By Masons (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:51:16

How is it that in an information age, the masses seem more ignorant than ever??? In truth I think most people are actually not that ignorant, and do want positive change. Which is why I believe theres a conspiracy. Small but powerful interest groups subvert real change.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 27, 2014 at 14:03:59 in reply to Comment 102907

Never underestimate the power of fear of change and sheer inertia to prevent things from happening. As the old saying goes, "No one ever got fired for buying IBM." That mentality of not wanting to risk any change plays into FUD by supporters of the status quo, who warn of amorphous unknown risks - chiefly the risk of failure - that might result from innovation. Even when the proposed innovation is already proven in a variety of urban contexts, fear of change leads to exceptionalism - the belief that things which work in other places won't work here due to an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of excuses.

Meanwhile, our investment in the status quo renders the risks of continuing to do what we're already doing more or less invisible. We don't think of the 100 people who die prematurely or the 700 people who are hospitalized each year due to air pollution (imagine if 100 people were murdered in a year - it would be a full-blown panic!). When pedestrians and cyclists are killed at rates far higher than the provincial average, we blame the pedestrians and cyclists themselves or, less often, the rare 'bad actor' driver (exceptionalism), while ignoring the evidence that street design influences behaviour and impacts the risk of injury.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 13:21:39 in reply to Comment 102907

I don't think it's helpful to think in terms of the ignorant masses, because it implies a small minority stands outside it and gets what's really going on. And small but powerful interest groups don't just block or subvert change, they also push for change ... this includes city improvers/urban reformers (your line of argument mirrors the classic reform refrain that Tammany Hall like political machines simply bought off the poor (mostly southern and eastern European immigrant) masses in cities.

ItJustIs does make an important point. Most RTH readers are keen urbanists. What interests us doesn't extend as far as we'd like ...

Comment edited by RobF on 2014-06-27 13:23:12

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 13:17:59 in reply to Comment 102907

How is it that in an information age, the masses seem more ignorant than ever?

We're not more ignorant. Actually, I read just recently, that the average Joe from a hundred years ago would seem pretty dumb if suddenly thrust into today's world.

But I get what you're saying. Two things.

One. Quantity of information. Studies are starting to come in, that the internet age is reducing attention spans, excessive bombardments with messages, a life of quick twits, and instant access, are actually dropping intelligence. Someone who checks email constantly shows the same IQ drop as a regular pot smoker. Younger and younger kids are getting tablets and phones and it is changing how brains work. Not to be overly dramatic about it, but we are only just starting to discover the implications.

Second. Quality of that information. Garbage in, garbage out. Not a conspiracy theory, but well known and widely taught that this is quite deliberate these days. The entire field of marketing (sorry) is largely based on psychologically manipulating people into thinking and doing what the architect wants, through any avenue of social and psychological science that is legally available. Media often sells quantity over quality. Some examples ... Look at CBC facing cuts and existential crisis - what do the conservative managers cut? The Documentary teams, the award winners and only part of CBC the public feels is worth keeping. What does the for profit Spec print? Dreschel. What does not-for-profit RTH print? Researched quality information. History Channel or TLC want to show Pawn Stars all day? Bye; world's smallest violin for tanking cable subscriptions.

That said, like the Matrix scriptwriters commented, individuals are smart. People are dumb panicky animals. So individuals can and do make an effort to think critically and logically, and always have. I think the situation is exactly the same as it's been through human history. Ignorance and common groupthink has always been the easier path. The technology and degree of bombardment has changed. Human nature is exactly the same.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 13:50:22 in reply to Comment 102913

Yes. If you can't control the message, the alternative is to increase the noise. We live in a post-modern, post-enlightenment age ... the better argument is hard to make if you have no "Truth", only competing "truths". This kind of thinking emerged from the "critical" left in academic circles, but has been increasingly co-opted by the right since the 1980s.

Comment edited by RobF on 2014-06-27 13:52:53

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 27, 2014 at 14:16:35 in reply to Comment 102915

I still hold out faith for a new enlightenment "based not on a naive faith in mechanical rationalism as a sword to cut through heredity, mysticism and other irrational entanglements but on a mature system of thought that accounts for and addresses the many ways in which humans are susceptible to magical thinking, bias and dogma."

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 17:32:11 in reply to Comment 102917

Me too.

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:39:27 in reply to Comment 102907

I don't see it as a 'conspiracy'. Nor do I believe that 'small but powerful interest groups subvert real change'. (Aside from developers and the construction industry, but that pairing has been in play since the founding of the city, I'm sure.)

One of the pitfalls of being on a civic engagement site such as this one is that it's really easy to lose touch with everyone else. We get fired up about making the city better. And we feed off each others' energies. Now, I say this at the risk of being labelled a 'troll', but the truth of the matter is, no matter how many cities you can show are moving things in the right direction, in the main, for the majority of Hamiltonians, a lot of what we're impassioned about doesn't even register. Look; I'm out in the city daily. On HSR, on foot, in a car... Seeing how people live their lives. Striking up conversations. From Stoney Creek to Dundas, from the North End to Rymal Road.

So 'stupidity'? Actually, no. 'Disinterest'. 'Ambivalence'. 'Uninterested'. 'Apathy'. Hmm... Probably all of these in varying forms across the board. How to change this? It's no different than an election campaign: get out there and engage the public. Don't leave it to Councillors. Or City Staff. If Councillors hear more and more that their constituents...the people they HAVE to keep happy, because of the 'career politician syndrome' and its needs...want these things, then they'll be more apt to 'change'.

'Think outside the blog.'

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:55:56 in reply to Comment 102909

Absolutely. Most folks don't think about the details of why things are they way they are. They just think "I want to live in a nice neighborhood" and "I want to get to and from work quickly" and "I want to help the environment" but not the details of how those three statements interact.

It's not a sin, it's just not a subject they're highly interested in.

Especially true is the weird way the human mind works when you get behind the wheel (or handle-bars, really) - the level of impatience we all find in ourselves once we hit the road is stunning. If you go by gut feeling (which is all you have to go on if you haven't looked at the research) then anything that slows down traffic seems terrible.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 20:49:33 in reply to Comment 102911

Also, as the television comedy show "Yes, Minister" made very clear, the bureaucracy has its own interests. Which very rarely coincide with the public interest.

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By Papa Wheelie (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 17:15:31

Still holding out hope that Open Streets will push beyond the one street that probably experiences the most closures per year. IMHO, rotating the concept around the city would expose more communities to the concept and create more common ground for the complete streets debate,

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 27, 2014 at 19:19:21 in reply to Comment 102919

Ciclovia in Bogota runs every Sunday and spans 120 km of city streets.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 30, 2014 at 18:56:56 in reply to Comment 102921

They are also the world leader in cocaine production. Should we do that too?

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By Papa Wheelie (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 23:35:30 in reply to Comment 102921

Precisely. So what is keeping Open Street from becoming Open Streets? Is it an issue of BIA sponsorship? Because even if you pedestrianized just one other BIA once or twice a year, it'd bring us far closer to Ciclovia than biennial closures of the same 2km of what is perhaps our most pedestrian-positive street. The city has more than a dozen BIAs and some 2,800 centreline km in need of taming. People don't need to wait for this organization to sanction or sanctify similar interventions. Let's make it happen.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 22:07:09 in reply to Comment 102921

I've been there for it. Fantastic. Being weekly is great too. People have it as part of their regular routine.

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