Friday, July 25, 2008

Williamsburg Walks

I'd like to take some time today, on the last day of business of Rochester's Midtown Plaza, to get away from the mainstream media a little bit and see what kinds of actual events are incorporating compulsory motoring backlash either subconsciously or consciously.

Even the organizers (or at least the promoters) of the Williamsburg Walks event characterize it as an "experiment." I suppose this is in true in the sense that streets are generally not closed to what the general public considers their primary purpose, carrying automobiles. What I think this reminds us is that in a world not driven by convenience or big box commerce, automobile traffic is not synonymous with vitality or health of a district.

What the Williamsburg Walks entails is a closing of six blocks of Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn to vehicular traffic for seven hours per day on four different Saturdays, including the next three. It is built upon the concepts championed by Jacobs of the street as its own place, a physical setting, an outdoor room. She characterized the daily routine as observed from the windows of her home as "the street ballet." This is similar to that in a sense. Unfortunately today, natural behavior has to be mandated, structured, and permits required.

Organizers hope that participation is significant enough to make all saturdays on Bedford Avenue respect the pedestrian. An ordinance would be passed which hopefully would become an afterthought as simple as alternate parking schemes or bridge weight limits.

I've linked to a film (had a difficult time with the embedding for whatever reason) that captures the spirit of the first Williamsburg Walks. The interview I found most interesting and most relatable was the woman who said she passed through this corridor quite often, rarely if ever stopping to really appreciate the built environment. Now she notices cheese shops and restaurants that had been there all along. I've also found that when we as people move at human speed, rather than machine speed, we start to really absorb the details and the beauty and attractiveness inherent in the details.

I wish the best of luck to the Williamsburg Walks and sincerely hope that as people realize alternatives to personal transportation dependent on synthesized energy, these street scenes become all the more common in our Great American Cities organically, that is to say without securing variances or other municipal acknowledgement.

Here in Rochester a different type of street event, but one that takes place all over the country is planned for today. Rochester's Critical Mass chapter is like others in the U.S., a monthly ritual formed with the intention of asserting the right of cyclists to use the city streets. A large pack of bicyclists travels together around the city starting at the Liberty Pole at 6PM on the last Friday of each month.

Last month was my first time participating in the event and we had an excellent crowd of about 65 bicycles and one rollerblader. Today is shaping up to be rain free so if you have no plans for tonight, its not too late to put air in the tires and join us. The idea is not to be antagonistic ultimately, it is a promotion of safety and reminder to share the road with non-armored forms of transportation. I'll be back Monday with the River North Focus Area of the downtown plan. Enjoy the weekend!

1 comment:

mike said...

I'm one of the co-sponsors of williamsburg walks and I'm heartened to hear your take on the event- I've been trying to get people to call it an event that "opens the street for pedestrians" not one that "closes the street to traffic".

I think the local residents and businesses generally like the event so far (there was some fear about not being able to park for deliveries, but it's all worked out so far.

good luck with all your mission in rochester- it's a tough town to convince people of the need for urban life.