On July 18th, between 9:00AM and 1:00PM, all downtown traffic halted in Peterborough. Peterborough is no stranger to having roads closed off for events, but never has there been an Open Streets event to this magnitude in the city. All along George Street, Lake Street, Crescent Street, Lock Street, and even further south, in the heart of downtown Peterborough.
The only wheels that touched the streets were those of cyclists and baby strollers.
Street vendors and storefronts opened up, spilling onto the sidewalk and road. There were incredible sales, which gave Peterborough denizens a chance to get to know some of the businesses that downtown has to offer. It the hottest day of the year so far, and it was kind of magical.
Peterborough Pulse is the first Open Streets event to take place in the city, organized by the Peterborough Downtown Business Improvement Area (DBIA). Open Streets is a sweeping movement promoting sustainable travel, exercise, health, wellness, and local economies that is gaining momentum across North America with over 100 events under its belt.
Beginning in South America, the Open Streets movement has been alive and well for over 40 years. Open Streets gives citizens a chance to take back their streets for a day, breathing life into places possessed by drivers and cars.
On Saturday, I had the chance to walk along the route of Pulse, and was blown away by the grassroots ground-swell of Pulse. Business participation up and down George Street was almost universal; some businesses provided live music, and there was even grass sod put down just north of Simcoe Street.
People really did come out with bicycles, strollers, rollerblades, and even clown shoes. The intent of he event was for people to come out and experience downtown Peterborough in ways they never have before, and it was a smashing success.
The event stood out because it revealed that it was possible to give sustainability and local business a chance. The whole day felt completely organic and totally logical. Why on earth would we need to drive out to the big box stores on Landsdowne when we have this incredible, thriving pulse in the city right in front of us? It made me yearn for a street that was permanently closed off to vehicle traffic in the Peterborough, similar to Byward Market in Ottawa.
It doesn’t sound so crazy, does it? A cobblestone street where people are free to walk and explore, where local business is free to thrive, where people can meet and bike, where live music can happen around the clock and where no cars can pollute.
May I be so bold as to say, I think Peterborough actually needs a haven away from the commuter lifestyle that threatens to take over the city (*Cough* Jackson Parkway Extension *Cough*). Your move, council.
What Peterborough Pulse showed the community, is that there is room in a modern society to slow down, power down, and support local and live sustainability. What a powerful thing for an afternoon to accomplish, and what an incredible way to strengthen our community.
Peterborough’s downtown really does have a heartbeat. It was measured by Pulse, and it beats strong.
From one lover of the city to all of you, I can’t help but ask for more of the same. Let’s hope!
For more information on the Open Street initiative, visit openstreetsproject.org