Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ciclovia brings the "magical good" of public space to a city

By Michael J Morris

Enrique Penalosa, referencing Jan Gehl, the brilliant Danish urban planner  tells us that a great city is where people want to go out of their homes and where we all feel not excluded. 

Rhonda Winter, in an article in ecolocalizer.com in July 2009, 'What is a good city?' refers to Gehl's thinking while discussing the merits of Ciclovia, the brainchild of the former visionary mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Enrique Penalosa. Ciclovia has now become an integral part of community life in cities around the world.

Referencing Jan Gehl, Penalosa said: "A great city is one where people want to go out of their homes. Public space is a magical good and never ceases to yield pleasure: we should pay it a lot of attention. Public good prevails over private interest. A great city is where we all feel not excluded."

And he added, to my delight as one who walks everywhere I go: "The quality of sidewalks in a city is a most telling thing. Just as a bird needs to fly, fish need to swim and deer need to run, we need to walk."

When Penalosa was mayor of Bogota, a city of about seven million people, 120 km of the city's streets started to be closed to traffic every Sunday for seven hours for the hugely popular Ciclovia.

On some Sundays Ciclovia attracts1.5 million citizens who came together to walk, bike, play and socialize. They have continued for about 30 years now.
In her article Winter argues that how an urban environment is planned, designed and constructed greatly influences how we live, get around and interact. Ciclovia has been a major factor in changing Bogota in a society where walking and biking are becoming more important.  

Penalosa also cautioned that doing what benefits everyone in the name of the public good requires real political leadership and risk.

"I want to emphasize the things that make people happy are not very costly, but they are politically difficult," he said.

He also noted: "I would say that the great city is not the one that has highways, but one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can go safely anywhere."
Mom and I circa 1947 Chapleau

When I was a child, I was able to travel safely around the community on my tricycle and later my bicycle. As I walk about Cranbrook BC where I now live,, and turn back the clock, there is no way I would feel saf. As I watch vehicles roar by me on Victoria Avenue, Second Street North and The Strip for example, I get the feeling all the drivers want to be in the Indianapolis 500.

However, recently I have been delighted to see an increased RCMP presence about town, including a speed counter sign on Second Street North.

Back to Ciclovia. As I read more about it, I thought -- this is something that might work in downtown Cranbrook.

By other names some of it already occurs -- the Farmers Market, Sam Steele Days, the two major parades a year and the Children's Festival. 

I discovered that Winnipeg, Manitoba, holds a Ciclovia, in the downtown area, and looking at a map of the boundaries for the event, and having lived in the city at one time, they really do close it down for one day, for "a free eco-friendly, healthy, lifestyles festival". It is sponsored by Downtown Winnipeg BIZ with support from many stakeholders.

The activities include a wine and cheese festival, kids' activities, animal rest area, music and cardio on the stage (live music followed by a fitness class on the hour all day), a live art zone, book readings, story telling, a chill zone (Yoga, tai chi, massages), a bike show, farmers' market and the list goes on.

In Bogota, Ciclovia is held every week while in Winnipeg it is only once a year, but no matter how often, they bring people from their homes and none are excluded, which serves the public good, but in so doing, private interests, (i.e. businesses) also benefit.

Imagine if Ciclovia happened in your downtown in public space, where the "magical good" would occur as Jan Gehl suggests, and citizens would focus on those things that bring us together, rather than divide us throughout the city, in all we do.

Penalosa again:  "Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people."

Think about the possibilities. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me. My email is mj.morris@live.ca.

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