I must have been going a million miles an hour, and I probably hit the ramp with at least the force of a locomotive, because when I hit the ground and rolled across the pavement, I felt like I had probably misjudged my stunt, and badly. The ramp my buddy and I made was just a piece of plywood nailed to a couple two-by-fours and my daredevil antics tumbled me over the handlebars of my BMX bike. I laid out on our front grass holding my broken arm for a few minutes before I had the courage to tell my parents what happened. I’m sure they rolled their eyes… boys.
Swayze Crescent: it was the street where I broke my arm and where we ripped out an old tree stump with my mom’s car and a rope. Where we had our block parties and built snow forts. Where we tried to catch a rabbit, unsuccessfully. Where we built science experiments. Where my bike was stolen and where I first talked to a girl I liked. Where we loaded up the canoe one top of our Chrysler Cordoba. It was a street that holds memories because we used it for more than just driving. We lived there. It was our street.
Neighbourhood streets are for people. People make the city. We do not lay pavement and build houses for any other purpose than to have a safe and welcome home for the people who live there. Whether we’re playing street hockey, walking our dog, going for a jog, or sitting on the curb eating ice cream, streets are for you and your neighbours to enjoy. What is a street? A street is for people to go about being themselves.
Fred Kent, writing for the Project for Public Spaces, said, “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.” Today many cities develop their infrastructure and roads by giving priority to cars, and not to people. A 2012 study from the University of Illinois found, “people living in low-income communities are less likely to encounter sidewalks,” and some communities do not have sidewalks or connected pathway systems. When we lose sight of why we build cities, streets, and neighbourhoods, we may end up creating communities without the important elements that people require, in order to walk, meet, and connect. Jane Jacobs wrote that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” When we believe that streets are only for cars, we forget that everything about our city was, first and foremost, made for people.
In the Covid-19 era, we are learning that our streets are more important than ever. Streets are a conduit for people to enjoy their lives and build community together. We decide to own and use our streets for the good of those who live there, it is a choice we make.
Next time you walk through your neighbourhood, ask yourself, “What is my street for? What is it being used for, and by whom?” It might be the open door we need to enjoy and experience our city anew.