Where the Streets Have No Lanes (OccupyStreet)

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Yesterday, Sunday Streets returned to my neighborhood. After making an early stop in May and traveling through different San Francisco neighborhoods all summer long, this glorious celebration of streets without motorized traffic came back for its season finale to The Mission District. On a picture-perfect autumn afternoon the diverse and irreverent community I’ve been calling home for 15 years did not disappoint, sending waves of raw joy through the carless streets…

Sunday Streets, The Mission, May 8, 2011

This one was the biggest one ever. To give you an idea of just how massive a shutdown this street party was, here is the event map…

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We’re talking 20 major city blocks here closed to traffic. OMG, the world’s going to end because nobody can get to where they want to go or do their shopping, right?

Well, except that what used to be one parking spot is now ten…

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But I digress.

As always, bikes ruled the streets…

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second only to pedestrians…

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and swing dancers, of course…

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until the band pedals in and everyone stops…

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This is great stuff, we all know it. If we’re going to be serious about climate change and a whole host of other environmental problems, this is what we have to work towards: Design our cities and towns so that it’s possible for people to live their lives, go about their business and entertain themselves and each other without cars. “Access by Proximity” is the key word for our species’ survival and I’m sticking to it!

However, I’ve said this many times before, and since I don’t like to sound like a broken record, I’d like to look at it through a different frame…

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When I hear OccupyWallStreet I can’t help but hearing Occupy Street. I see what happened here in the streets of San Francisco on eight Sundays this year as a manifestation of the hopes and dreams of all the folks taking to the streets in cities and towns around the world. The cry for accountability on Wall Street and economic justice is also a cry for being heard, being counted, being a part of the democratic process. And really, what better place for democracy to truly take place in a meaningful way but right in the street? People sharing public space together, in close contact, interacting with one another, that is the house upon which a vibrant, participatory society is built upon, and while OccupyWallStreet has been pointing out what’s gone wrong in that department, Sunday Streets is a glimpse into what democracy could and should look like.

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To me, there are parallels between Wall Street executives sitting in fortified towers behind tinted windows, isolated from the rest of us in a world of their own imagination, and us sitting in our cars, minding our own business in closed boxes, driving through each others’ streets and neighborhoods without having to get out and experience one another’s spaces and realities. It’s like that famous wall Roger Waters evokes, and no matter what side you’re on, your soul still withers as long as it’s there.

So while I’d like to see the current protests and discontent lead to specific measures like banking regulations, better oversight and a fairer distribution of wealth, I also know that there are no quick fixes and systemic changes have to be accompanied by a long-term vision of what that change we wish to see should look like. To sustain the energy and momentum of the occupations, we have to keep occupying the streets while evolving toward and embodying the ideals we aspire to.

This means not only getting to know our diverse neighbors…

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bringing together all generations…

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and co-creating our own music…

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but making those wishing to represent us come out into the street and listen and learn if they want our votes.

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If you don’t come out to play, you’re only staring at a wall, no matter what side you’re on.

16 responses to “Where the Streets Have No Lanes (OccupyStreet)

  1. What a beautiful and soulful recap of yesterday afternoon. My favorite part, however, is the piece you can hear but not see (until the last two or three seconds of the video): watch closely on the right side and you’ll see a little girl on corner near holding up a sign yelling her little heart out for the masses to stop for lemonade.

  2. I live on one of the streets closed to traffic for Sunday Streets and while hanging in the street, I met several of my neighbors. Typically, I can go months without even seeing them, even though we live within 25 feet of one another. Talk about grass roots community building! Sunday Streets is elegantly simple; therein lies its power. Thank you to everyone who makes Sunday Streets happen!

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  5. I hope the world is reading this. Thank you Sven for sharing the story. It was the first thing I read this morning, and now I feel like it really is going to be a great day!

    (ps. and the little lemonade girl was like a backup singer for the band!)

    • Thanks Ruth. I do feel like there’s at least enough good news in the world than bad news, but our minds focus on the bad like moths to the light. Actually, Ode Magazine just started a positive news wire at http://odewire.com/ which consolidates all the encouraging news of the day that usually end up on page 16 of the newspapers.

      The lemonade girl was awesome, so much energy and determination. I hope she becomes an advocate for good causes when she grows up. :-)

    • Albertus, if you ever make it to SF we’ll go to one. Would be great to meet you and play in the streets together. Lots of found objects here too, some better than others… ;-)

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