Saturday, July 19, 2008

News story: Streets Are For Picnics

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, July 19, 2008.]

A function for construction
Take the space over for a street party!

For the past three weeks, residents along Bathurst Street south of Dupont have been dealing with road construction. Last Sunday, the three lanes of construction were taken over by Street are for People, a public space advocacy group that provided a gigantic Scrabble board, bands and a croquet course in the middle of a dug-out street car track as part of its fifth annual Streets are for Picnics event.

Neighbourhood resident Anne Birnie-Lefcovitch, who's "frustrated" with the construction, appreciated the event. "I think this is great," she said. "Usually Bathurst is an eyesore."

Shamez Amlani, co-founder of Streets are for People, also responsible for the popular Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market, said the event began as "a small, little fun afternoon goof-off," but it has become an annual tradition.

Among the attractions during the party was Adrian Rockman, a budding rapper named Mayo, who joined the New Kings for a spontaneous performance.

"That's the best way to do a concert because everyone's driving by and can see you," he said. "You just have the sky above and it's just dope."

The day brought Scott Macdougall back to his childhood. Playing a game of gigantic Scrabble, Macdougall got some help from an unexpected source. "People were driving by, reading my letters and giving suggestions," he said.

While local residents had a brief respite from construction that will continue until the end of August, Amlani hopes events such as this will inspire Toronto to follow the leads of other international cities.

"Bogota, Colombia, is a shining example," he said. "They invented this thing called Ciclovia, where on Sundays they make huge swaths of the downtown core car-free. The mayor's philosophy is, 'We're a poor country, but we can do things that will raise people's quality of life.' It's a mentality shift. It didn't cost them anything."

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