It’s been five months since my last public confession :) After five insanely busy months, I have the time to breathe and update those on what I’ve been consumed with.
For almost three years, I had been persistently and patiently working on two dream projects of mine: to bring the first ‘Open Streets’ to Columbus as well as piloting Columbus’ first ‘parklet.’ For those reading this that don’t know, ‘Open Streets’ is a free initiative that temporarily closes streets down to autos and opens them up for people to engage in fun, healthy activities like yoga, biking, breakdancing, and more. It’s all about experiencing streets as public spaces. When I was a kid, I played in the streets ALL the time. I rode my bike with my best friends and that’s just what we did. These days, streets are too dangerous. Playgrounds are built far away from the streets because the dangers of motor vehicle speeds and distracted drivers have reigned supremacy.
The ‘parklet.’ A ‘parklet’ is when you convert on-street parking spaces into ‘people’ spaces. I remember having this conversation with my friend Liz over two years ago. We met for coffee and I said, ‘Liz, I wanna pilot a parklet and I want to use one of your places.’ Without hesitation, she said, ‘absolutely.’
As one of my favorite people says, ‘Sometimes you have to turn things upside down to get them right-side up’ (Fred Kent). I whole-heartedly believe this with every ounce of my being. My two dreams projects did just that, turned things upside down. When it comes to parking and road space we’ve given too much to the vehicle that when we try to do what’s right and step in and change it, people go cray! The idea of closing downtown streets to cars to let people of all ages and abilities ‘play’ in them raised eyebrows. No matter if I came to them showing them the data of other cities putting on ‘Open Streets’ and how ridiculously successful it was/is. Successful from a public health angle. Successful from a business economics angle. Successful from a community engagement angle. Successful from a broader encouragement of multi-modal transportation. ‘Open Streets’ has transformed cities across the U.S. Aside from the hard data, I had the privilege of experiencing Los Angeles’ ‘CicLAvia’ last April. When you think Los Angeles, you think of boxtox and traffic; ‘carmaggedon.’ Los Angeles’ CicLAvia / Open Streets has been such a raging success that they put on 3 / year and close anywhere between 6-12 miles of Los Angeles streets. That is not a typo people. The one I experienced last April, tens of THOUSANDS of people came out and participated in playing and owning their streets – free from motor vehicle danger. What resonated with me, as I stood in the middle of Wilshire Blvd was that so many families and people of all ages and backgrounds wanted to come and have a safe place to ride or play. There aren’t enough safe places to ride and we just don’t slow down enough to appreciate our environment. We have the ability to change our built environment when we realize the TRUE potential. That’s why Open Streets has been so important to me. I’ve seen what it does to people and cities.
After almost three years, organizations such as People For Bikes, Transit Columbus, Jeni’s, New Belgium Brewing, Capital Crossroads SID, Columbus Public Health , CD 102.5, Mt. Carmel East, Eccolyfe Designs, CDDC, Skreened, ID2014, and the Great Photobooth; stepped up to the plate and said, ‘we get it and they all invested.’ On Sunday, September 21st, Columbus joined the long list of other Open Streets cities. We closed 0.8 miles of downtown Rich St. I have to say it was a fantastic FIRST Open Streets for this city. Columbus still has a long way to go in order to be a contending ‘bike-friendly’ city. We’re making great progress but we have a long way to go. We’ve heard nothing but positive feedback about Open Streets Columbus. Our goal is to aim for ‘2’ Open Streets next year. Success with an initiative like this cannot come overnight. It must be recurring so people understand the concept and purpose. With all the people and kids that came out and enjoyed the day, they now understand why Open Streets is so effective and successful. All of those people will be future cheerleaders- spreading the Open Streets Columbus love as we put on future events.
I loved seeing how many kids were there. I loved watching the parents not have any fear b/c that fear had been removed. People laying a blanket out in the middle of the street b/c they could. Getting people to look at their streets differently; seeing their streets as public spaces instead of only cars and parking is why Open Streets is so effective.
Here are some fun photos from Sept. 21st:
We had about 18 high school students from the Mosiac school volunteer. They loved it and we loved having them!
Early on jenga users
So many people loved having the Rich St. bridge all to themselves. Headstands, hangtime, biking, breakdancing, ska
The comment above is the reason I have fought for Open Streets for so long. This is exactly how we want people to feel.
Switch gears to the ‘Columbus Parklet Project.’ We had the great opportunity to unveil Columbus’ first parklet at the great Independents’ 2014. Getting more eyes and butts in the parklet would only help generate more buzz for the 30 day pilot over at Dirty Franks downtown. It sure did. It just so happened that unveiling the parklet at ID2014, was the same weekend as Open Streets Columbus. Needless to say, I was stressed, excited, anxious, and hopeful. No NEW project would be complete without its obstacles and we sure had some of those. But, you push through and you take every moment as a teaching moment which I did.
The parklet was a great success at ID2014. The following week it was moved outside of Dirty Franks Hot Dog Palace where it’ll be there for one month for the public to embrace (hopefully). Again, this is a concept happening in other cities that are getting people and businesses to re-imagine the potential within our city streets. Over 82% of drivers are single occupancy. You drive your car to Dirty Franks, you park right out front and its YOU…one person. You remove that parking space, convert it to ‘people space’ allowing people to sit, eat their lunch, converse, and just be visible to other drivers passing by, you automatically create buzz. If you’re a business owner giving people a place to sit and stay for while, chances are they’ll spend money. The idea of the one month pilot is to introduce the concept to both the people of Columbus and business owners. The sky won’t fall if you remove one parking space usually taken up by ONE person and you convert it to where 12+ people can share and enjoy it. We’ll collect data over the month during different times of the day as well as public feedback. Thus far, its been super successful (minus a few haters and there always will be). The Columbus Parklet Project had great support from businesses such as: MKSK Designs, Dirty Franks, Kaufman Development, Creath Landscape Design, Drift Industry, DRAC, Eccolyfe Designs, Columbus Eye, Square One Salon & Spa, and Wolf’s Ridge Brewing. What really catches my eye is that every one of these businesses has nothing to do with the other. They all come from different backgrounds yet they all see the Columbus Parklet Project as a great, fresh concept and are willing to invest. Our goal is to get buy-in from this 30 day pilot to where we are able to expand and build new parklets with new designs in different parts of Columbus. These small ‘interventions’ within our streets can become ‘destinations’ for people. Parklets are part of the ‘lighter, quicker, cheaper’ strategy that many cities are embracing. When people can be a part of a project from beginning to end there’s more personal investment that happens and a sense of ownership and pride.
I had some incredible people step up to help make this first parklet a reality: Ryan, Michael, Carey, Jess, Jerry, and Sarah.
Here are couple photos. I encourage you to take a jaunt over to Dirty Franks within the next month. Purchase a dog and have a seat in the parklet.
Setting up before the big ID2014 weekend.
And those are two of the projects I’ve been up to:) These two projects have meant so much to me and I believe that with time and iterations of both, the people of Columbus will embrace. I look forward to both Open Streets Columbus and the Columbus Parklet Project expanding and becoming initiatives that people support and want to be a part of.