Adam Greenfield, NEN Media Director
[Our visit to Sunday Streets in the Mission is now a NENtv video episode! Watch it here. Our second NENtv Sunday Streets video "Is Sunday Streets Good or Bad for Local Businesses?" is also now online.]
Back in 1974, when the US and other so-called developed countries were going full steam on the automobile-enabling binge of the twentieth century, Bogota, the capital of Colombia, did something amazing. Nonprofit organization Procicla convinced the city to close several main arteries to traffic and open up the space to pedestrians and bicyclists. The Ciclov’a was born. The program grew over the decades to encompass over 70 miles of streets for 7 hours every Sunday, complete with exercise, yoga, and music sprinkled through the city. After more than 30 years, Bogota’s Ciclov’a is still leads the world.
In 2008, San Francisco dipped its first toe in the CiclovÃa pond with “Sunday Streets”, a very limited version of Bogota’s program. Despite the long-running success of CiclovÃa, many groups, including merchants, were wary of street closures and thus Sunday Streets was reserved to two occasions running 9am-1pm on the main route from Chinatown to Bayview-Hunters Point. The event was a huge success. Thousands of thrilled people turned out – and merchants actually did better business.
This year, Sunday Streets 2009 was expanded to six events running across three routes – the waterfront-Bayview, the Mission district, and Golden Gate Park-Great Highway. I’d have to invite you over for banana bread if I told you why I missed the first route but I caught the Mission and Golden Gate Park-Great Highway routes. I’ve seen few things that rival these events.
The Mission route, which I’ll share with you in this blog post, started on 18th & Dolores Street but spent most of its length on Valencia and 24th Streets. Valencia Street is pretty wide and there were stretches where not much was happening. Of course, all of a sudden I’d run into a random streetside DJ or an MJ Thriller dance-off and the atmosphere would be back on.
But to me, the best part of Sunday Streets wasn’t “stuff happening”, it was the human element. Tiny toddlers inching along on rainbow-colored trikes, show-off cowboys on 6 feet-high custom bikes, happy folks on 6-person mega-cycles, crazy skaters on sparkly wheels, dog-walkers ambling along like there wasn’t a crazy party going on… a bit of everything all over the place. Chaos and I liked it.
The real home run was on 24th Street, a better-suited venue for people-watching with its narrower width, greater shade, and more storefronts and cafes. I thought I knew this street but I don’t have enough fingers to count all the new shops, cafes, and classic Mission murals I must have sped past a million times.
Crowd density went up notches on 24th. I could have sat there for hours, feasting my eyes on all kinds of people. If life in the car lane can make you cynical, this brings you back, thinking “Forget what I said the other day; I really do love people”. And if you feel your daily life can be rather racially/culturally monochromatic, Sunday Streets in the Mission could perk you up.
On a final note, although community-building is my main bag, I’ve got to mention the Mission merchants. My friend, Livable City’s Susan King, one of the main organizers of Sunday Streets, tells me of reports from numerous merchants that business was better than ever during the Sunday Streets events. If this was true, and I’ve no reason to doubt it was, and the merchants help push for more people-centric uses of the public realm, I can see a vibrant revolution just over the hill.
More soon on the next instalment of Sunday Streets…
[Update 2: Watch our second Sunday Streets-related video "Is Sunday Streets Good or Bad for Local Businesses?" to delve deeper into the economic side of the event.]