Sunday, June 13, 2010

Street as Sidewalk

One of the things about living on a busy street in a downtown neighbourhood is that there are always people outside. I have gotten used to opening my front door and being immediately caught up in a stream of people on the sidewalk; however, I was unprepared today when I went out to buy cat food and stepped right into what was a fairly robust street festival.

It's always a bit strange when you see a street, usually reserved solely for cars, taken over by hordes of pedestrians and sticky-fingered children. For one, I got a perspective of my street that I have never seen before: right down the middle. It's a view of the road only seen from those in cars or those navigating Google's street view. Normally, as bipeds, we aren't treated to this perfectly symmetrical cleaving of our streets, having to choose one side or the other to walk on, and it's quite pleasing to the eye to be able to stare right down the middle to the vanishing point.

It's funny, too, that when the streets are closed to cars people still tend to gravitate toward the sidewalks. It's as if streets have some intrinsic centrifugal force that spin the pedestrians out towards the edges. The thing is: people like order. We like knowing that on escalators you stand right and walk left. And street closures, by definition not-ordinary, upset this order. They're chaotic. People bump into each other not because they work against the stream, but because there is no stream. There's just a bunch of people walking. Slowly.

And I like interacting with the street in a way that I normally can't. It's a good reminder that streets don't simply have to be a way to get around, but can be a place to gather. I never realized how fast I walked down the sidewalk until today, when, as I slowly made my way down the five closed blocks, I actually noticed buildings I hadn't even seen before. Usually, I'm in search of a can of beans for dinner, powering through slow-walkers and dreaming of having my own personal jet pack. Or at least wider sidewalks.

I went out later as the festival was in take-down mode. Vans, cars, and trucks wound their way slowly through the stragglers on their way to be loaded up with disassembled tents and BBQs. Seeing your street closed to cars is kind of like seeing someone naked for the first time. I'm not sure if I'll be able to look at it quite the same way again.

No comments:

Post a Comment