Last weekend a couple of local events attracted lots of people to come together and have fun in public spaces - in the process meeting neighbours and friends. This set me thinking about the way we use our streets and public spaces for community events.

On Sunday the hugely successful Myddleton Road Market saw hundreds of locals in the much loved Bowes Park street spending time shopping, eating, drinking and chatting together - as well as playing table tennis and relaxing in the community garden.

The focus was the brilliant local market and a great array of interesting stalls - but all up and down Myddleton Road (and in the middle of the closed street) groups of people were stopping to talk, introducing friends, comparing purchases. Making connections.

Having the Community Garden and Green Gym to spill out into made it feel more like a festival than a market - a wonderful atmosphere.

It was genuinely a festival atmosphere on Saturday afternoon at the annual Palmers Green shopping festival - where I ran into people who I hadn't seen for ages and had time to stop and catch-up.

This was another event where the road was closed to the usual traffic and instead was given over to people: milling around, chatting, passing the time of day ... as well as playing music and dancing!

Another local event on Sunday - although  I didn't attend - was the Fathers Day, "Draw on the Pavements" afternoon in Devonshire Road, Palmers Green; this was organised by residents in the street as part of their campaign to make the street a car free play zone.

They have published some wonderful photographs on their Facebook page. Sadly they were unable to close the street at the weekend and the initial application to Enfiled Council to close the road to traffic on occasions as a play street has been knocked back - I hope they will pursue the claim and provide a lead for other local streets to put up a no entry sign for a couple of hours once a month and have fun playing with the family -and neighbours - in the street.

As a kid I spent a lot of time playing in the street - you know the cliches: jumpers for goal posts, street lamps for floodlights. Sounds like a rose–tinted scene from a bygone era, but this sort of thing, alongside  folk memories of Jubilee street parties and the like, are part of the glue that binds neighbourhoods together.

The stories we tell each other about the places we live are often based on the unusual, the one-off and out of the ordinary... I love the idea of special occasions providing liminal spaces were people have "permission" to act in a different way ... like simply walking in the streets free of cars. Roads occupied by pedestrians have a more human scale and a relaxed feel.

However "taking over the streets" is at one level a very political and challenging thing to do - as we have seen in Istanbul's Taksim Square in recent days.

In the early 1990s a political movement "Reclaim The Streets" staged spectacular and extravagant parties "obstructing" public roads to make the point that it is vehicle traffic, not pedestrians, who are causing an obstruction, and that by occupying the road they are in fact opening up public space.

There have been calls for car free streets for almost as long as there have been cars - The Pedestrians Association, was formed in 1929 and was renamed Living Streets in 2001 They campaign to ensure it is safe, and enjoyable to walk around our neighbourhoods.

Our local events last weekend were a long way from protest movements - but it was an absolute joy to be spending time in local streets that put people first.

Let's have more of the same?



As a suggestion of what a play street might be like - and the impact it can have on local residents have a look at this video below from a play street in Bristol.

Playing Out from Playing Out on Vimeo.

Views: 703

Comment by Sarah Richardson on June 21, 2013 at 20:56

Yes, let's get out the chalks on the pavements even if the streets aren't closed! Walking along the streets and playing out humanises them. It is a political act- try Notting Hill Carnival in the summer if you haven't before. Once people are out of their cars they love it!

Comment by Richard McKeever on June 23, 2013 at 7:30
This weekend the city of Bristol is holding the first of a regular "car free Sunday" to open up the city centre to pedestrians...
Comment by Alan Sitkin on June 25, 2013 at 22:59

Achilleas, Yasemin and I are working with two groups in West Bowes to fund street parties later this summer, certainly it's a top choice for allocating Enfield Residents Priority Fund monies. The friends involved will announce dates shortly, it's great that more and more people are blocking the streets off from traffic. If only we could achieve this more often! Big prize being to reduce the number of cars on the North Circular! Smog was the basis of our argument against Pinkham Way. But it's a big battle.

Anyway, I've been a fan of Reclaiming the Streets since the mid-1990s so it's cool seeing them referenced on this site.

Comment by Lindsey Berthoud on June 26, 2013 at 10:34

Lovely post, Richard, and I agree that having Myddleton Road closed to traffic, and pitching the market stalls by the garden and green gym was brilliant. I'm sure lots of people, like me and Pete, walked up and down the market several times, chatting to people, and loitering by the Pimms tent. Also, loads of people were going into the furniture/toy shop next door to Londis and I've never seen people in there before! I hope more traders on the Road get involved in the next market. I think Vrisaki missed a trick not even having a special board out, tempting people in for lunch, while the queues were so long for the curry and gyoza! 

Love the drawing on the pavements too. Any intervention that humanises our streets or makes people look at them anew is a good thing. 

Comment by Richard McKeever on December 19, 2013 at 13:41

Its great to see tht this week Haringey Council have extended the Haringey Play Streets initiative across the whole borough. The pilot scheme operated last summer and saw selected roads in Harringay and St Ann's wards closed once a month. The new scheme will allow residents to apply for closures with no charge to apply - or to close the road - subject to approval and based on traffic flow and residents support.

Full details and an application form are on the LB Haringey website

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