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Monday, August 4, 2014

Creating Social Space at Summer Streets

Last weekend, my neighbor won a hotdog eating contest on 204th Street. It was a great use of residual space.

News 12 Bronx

Especially in cities, space is a four dimensional problem. Any space is comprised not only by the physical attributes of its length, width, and height, but also its location in time. Spaces can expand or contract; sometimes they can be set up and be taken down entirely. In the case of transportation spaces, they have periods of peak demand, which require more space that what is necessary during off-peak times. Normally, the full right-of-way remains in use for transportation at a low level of utilization. However, with active management and creative programming, it is possible to capture leftover space and put it to use for social activities. Enter Summer Streets.

The center of the Grand Concourse was closed to traffic for Boogie on the Boulevard

On Summer weekends, the New York City Department of Transportation, with considerable assistance from the New York Police Department, closes sections of streets throughout the city. Otherwise, these streets have sleepy volumes of traffic. Sometimes, they can become more prone to dangerous speeding with the light traffic volumes that present drivers with wide-open pavement to race across. Constraining the capacity of the street network has no negative effects on traffic, and may improve safety. It certainly creates the space for great activities that help bring communities together.

TA volunteers collected petitions
(photo by Elisabeth von Uhl)
Yesterday, I visited two Summer Streets locations in The Bronx. The center lanes on the Grand Concourse were closed between East 165th and East 167th Streets (a total of four blocks, with McClellan Street and Tudor Place inserted before 167th). East 204th Street was also closed between Bainbridge and Webster Avenues.

Boogie on the Boulevard was the result of hard work by Transportation Alternatives' Bronx Committee and was sponsored by the Bronx Museum of the Arts. The hard work by Transportation Alternatives volunteers to collect signatures on petitions for Boogie on the Boulevard was an activity that helped to build community by itself. The resulting events on the Concourse created a space for the community they helped to build.

Bands played music, kids jumped rope and played hoola hoop. An impressively broad range of organizations put out tables to discuss their services or publicize the causes they campaign.

Cars gave way to jump rope and hoola hoop in the center of the Grand Concourse

Velo City was there and posted some awesome video:

The Summer Streets events on East 204th Street are in their fourth year. A combined effort of the local community board and a loosely organized business community on a neighborhood shopping strip, the events extend the community life beyond the sidewalks into a more active place where the neighborhood can come together.

These have included activities like the hot dog eating contest my neighbor won, music and dance performances, a bouncy house for the kids, information about fire safety from the FDNY (and scores of kids running around in plastic fire fighter hats!), horse carriage rides, and a whole host of other community-building opportunities.

Kids line up for the bouncy house Additional, temporary infrastructure becomes necessary for the crowds, but even this can become taxed

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