I’ve been a little suspicious of Vancouver’s experiments with car-free days on Main and Commercial.  I love block parties, but I’ve never really seen how they were supposed to make people’s lives less car-dependent.  But Frances Bula, reporting on the problems the Commercial one is having, points to a different problem:

But as city politicians, planners and car-free advocates are learning, it may be wrong to assume you can shut down any street and a vibrant pedestrian culture will emerge.

“It’s just not like Europe here, where they have their passeggiata or whatever,” says Eileen Mosca, a long-time resident and community activist on the Drive, referring to an Italian tradition of evening strolls.

“Maybe we’re just not the culture for this. It sounded like a great idea, but in real life, do you really want to walk down the middle of the street with nothing going on?”

To create a pedestrian culture, you need pedestrian spaces.  But you can’t normally make an instant pedestrian space by just shutting a street down for a few hours.  Those great European piazzas and Platzen are pedestrian spaces all the time.  People aren’t walking “down the middle of the road with nothing going on.”  The “middle of the road” is filled with public art, benches, and seating for cafes and restaurants.  And that stuff is there all the time, all year round, so that walking through the square and maybe picking up a falafel isn’t some special summer event you need to plan for.  It’s just how you live your life.

My hunch is, Vancouver would do better to pick one two-block stretch in a dense neighbourhood with a decent coffee shop and restaurant scene–Main? Denman?–and make it permanently car-free.  Let it become a part of life in the neighbourhood, not just a handful of summer Sunday afternoons.

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