Opening Streets

Much like this earlier post, I want to address a common use of language that has been bugging me of late: that around “closing” streets to hold events. It is a convenient term we use in a City to organize traffic management, emergency planning and engineering needs, but it is wrong. It implies that our streets are only there to serve people driving along them, or for temporary storage of your vehicle while you are off doing other things. There is so much more we can do with our streets when we stop worrying about “closing” them, and start creating better ways to “open” them.

Last weekend, I was at the New West Pride Street Party on Columbia Street, where two lanes of road was indeed closed for 10 hours so that people could walk, sit, talk, drink, dance, shop, share, eat, sing, and celebrate. I defy anyone to look at this picture of Columbia Street (which I borrowed from Bif Naked, because her view was better than mine!) and tell me that street is closed:

A photo posted by Bif Naked (@missbifnaked) on

This weekend, we are doing it again, with 70 food trucks and (if last year’s event is any evidence) tens of more thousands of people will be enjoying themselves on Columbia Street. These are not just New Westminster people, but folks from around the region coming to New Westminster to add to the vitality of our downtown, support local businesses and entrepreneurs from around the region, and hopefully discover that Downtown New Westminster is a great place to spend some time, not just a place to drive through.


I also noted a news story this week about the Royal City Farmers Market plans to move uptown for their winter market season. The story mentions “Belmont Street will be closed to traffic from 11 am to 3 pm”. This statement is only true if you define “traffic” as cars. I am willing to bet that there will be more people using Belmont Street for those 4 hours every second Saturday than on any other day – it is just that the “traffic” will be on foot. By being on foot, they are more likely to stop, to shop, to talk to their neighbours and enjoy a laugh. People can, just with their presence, bring several hundred square metres of dead asphalt to life by making it a place of human interaction and commerce, not  just a place for cars to drive and park.

Language matters, so let’s stop talking about a day where tens of thousands of people flood onto our streets as a “Road Closure”; let’s start calling it a “Street Opening”.