April 18, 2006

When Pedestrians Take Over the Streets

In many cities like New York and Montreal, streets are regularly closed for various festivals and parades. Things like Montreal's jazz and comedy festivals add significantly to quality of life (despite the annoyance for vehicular traffic) and also often attract tourists. It's much less frequent that suburban streets are closed off for events that revolve around foot traffic. But here, too, such events can attract tourists and add to a special sense of place that makes living in a neighborhood something special.

Yesterday's Boston Marathon showed us yet again that it is indeed possible to turn over our roads to pedestrians from time to time. The Hopkinton-to-Boston route was a 26.2-mile-long outdoor party. In Framingham, there was a multicultural festival after the race ran through. In towns all along the course, people were throwing private and public parties. This is what a slice of Commonwealth Avenue in Newton looked like during the race:

Commonwealth Ave, Newton during the Boston Marathon

Note all the spectators lined up along the grassy area at right. There were numerous lawn barbecues and parties, both in the public spaces and in peoples' front yards. A friend who lives in this neighborhood, far from complaining that her road was blocked and she couldn't drive anywhere for the afternoon, kept commenting how much she enjoyed the sea of humanity. Others were giving away water not only to runners, but fellow spectators who were thirsty.

Patriots Day is a joyous, special time all along the course. And it's no coincidence that the cars are temporarily removed from some public streets that day so pedestrians can reclaim our public space.

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