A street without cars
Yesterday I found out that someone died in my bath – and glimpsed a car-free past, and possible post-traffic future.
My young family and I have lived in our Hackney home for over five years, largely ignorant of its history. But last week we, together with most of the twenty or so other households on the street, braved the biblical downpours and held our first street party, and stories of the street were swapped and ruminated upon all day long. It wasn’t just gossip and the murky pasts of our homes that were shared – there was a smorgasbord of international cuisine to tuck in to. Curry from India, gyozas from Japan, pizza from Italy, as well as roast beef and corn fritters. On top of that there was a talent show and endless spontaneous games.
As the day drew to a close we converted bins into goals and had an all-in football match (ages 5 to 55), and pondered the unexpected pleasures of a closed car-free street. It had provided a rare glimpse into our car-less past – beyond the tonnage of mobile metal that occupies and distorts our public spaces, (and, ok, helps us get from A to B). It gave us, and our kids, freedom to roam, play and chat and was genuinely joyful. It also made us consider what might be.
What if we got rid of the cars more often? Quarterly, monthly – or how about every Sunday? We are lucky, being on a cul-de-suc there are few, if any, downsides to closures. Why not go further and extend the permanent car-free space? Should we stick with the configuration of streets and pavements inherited from nearly 150 years ago? Change doesn’t have to be costly. Literally a key-turn and a few cones could transform our street from a car park to a space where play and community are prioritised to the benefit of all.
Turns out we’re not the only ones to think so. The Bristol-based Playing Out think the same and have mounted an impressive campaign to help people stop traffic and increase street play. One option is for councils to make short temporary road closures much easier to get for, say, an after-school play session. A campaign to this end is already brewing in Hackney. It should succeed, and may be a brilliant augury of other post-traffic uses for our shared public spaces.