The Debut of Open Streets Detroit: PHOTO ESSAY

This Sunday saw the much anticipated Detroit debut of the popular city event series known as Open Streets. Taking a page from similar events like Portland’s Sunday Parkways or LA’s CicLAvia, Open Streets has pushed more metropolises return street use from automobiles back to human beings.

The idea is hardly radical considering the ways in which urban streets have been used for thousands of years prior to the take-over of cars and trucks. While the focus of Open Streets is on fun and recreation, it’s not hard to see how commerce and political speech also flourish in spaces not monopolized by metal machines.

From the event page: “Currently over 200 cities worldwide have established on-going and highly popular Open Streets events. The recent surge in cities creating temporary street parks is widely credited to Ciclovía, a weekly event in Bogotá, Colombia that opens over 70 of miles of city streets to citizens for outdoor physical activity. This event beginning in the mid-1970s and continues to this day with tremendous success attracting up to 2 million participants weekly.

Detroit’s route stitched together two of the city’s most iconic neighborhoods: Corktown and Mexicantown, running in a single strip down Michigan ave with a slight jog onto Vernor. Along the route were your typical event staples like bouncy castles, foursquare, art making, and children exploring their newfound streetscape.

Businesses enjoyed a splurge of foot traffic, and utilized the additional space on many blocks by extending their merchandise beyond the confines of the narrow sidewalk. No longer constrained by cars, sidewalk chalk could be seen everywhere, containing everything from kids’ drawings to anti-gentrificaion slogans to quickly washed-off vulgarities.

Click any image for full resolution.

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Like numerous other open street events I’ve attended, the first hour or so seemed a bit sparse in attendance, especially this being the first of its kind in Detroit. But sure enough, as more neighbors and travelers found their way to the route, the streets began to fill. Not too much though, as there was almost never a moment when navigating by bike began precarious. Compared to a few Sunday Parkways where over 30,000 choked the streets and made riding virtually impossible, Sunday was a pleasant middle ground.

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The route wasn’t without a few hinderances. Where it crossed over a massive freeway interchange there was little signage directing people a block over to a pedestrian bridge. I found myself suddenly forced to share the road for several blocks with cars coming off two exit ramps, much to my dismay. This being the debut, I’m sure organizers will improve directional signage in the future.

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Judging from a wealth of positive media post-event, Open Streets Detroit was by far a success. Here’s hoping the city continues to reclaim its roads for people as it works to rebrand itself as a cycling city. Be sure to make it out to the next round of fun on October 2nd, same time, same place.

See you in the streets.
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