Open Streets - Pt 3
Play is like a language we can all talk, but one we rarely use to speak together. Open Streets provides us with a space to talk. Open Streets gives us space to play.
Open Streets is a global project that supports cities to claim back streets for people by closing them to cars. Edinburgh started a trial of Open Streets in May and ran until July before pausing for the completion of Summertime Streets and the Fringe. It's October now though, which means Open Streets is back this Sunday.
I've written about Open Streets twice before, so I guess you could say this is now an ongoing series. In part one, I spoke of the joy and calm felt by friends and me, and the hopeful direction this project could take us in. In part two, I talked with business owners and members of the public to determine if the most common criticisms (loss of custom, increased congestion, and lack of accessibility) had merit.
It seems fitting that Edinburgh has recently been set upon by creators of Fast and Furious 9, as part three on Edinburgh's Open Streets is all about family. (That's a tenuous link and a terrible joke based on this compilation video from 2017)
I've been a child in Edinburgh, and cannot recall a time my parents said with any enthusiasm "let's go to the Royal Mile!" In fact, in my experience, the Royal Mile is an area actively avoided by people and families who live in Edinburgh. The high street is too congested, the pavements are too narrow, and it's full of those things people seem to loathe unless they are one - tourists. When my nephew was over to visit in July though, Open Streets was on, and we knew the Royal Mile was where we wanted to take him.
Emmet being 5, there are only really two things my nephew wants to do:
Borrow someone's mobile phone to watch 'mystery egg' videos.
Charge about outside and play.
Vicki (my wife) and I much prefer the tearing about outdoors option. With Emmet on my shoulders, we set out on foot towards the Royal Mile in search of breakfast and things to do.
My nephew takes after his aunt and uncle and is always excited about bikes. Open Streets catered well for this two-wheel obsession and we were happy to see that right outside our chosen breakfast spot was the charity Play Together on Pedals.
This group encourages young families to get into cycling by providing bikes and tuition on how to cycle confidently and safely. Emmet wasn't too focussed on the safety part, but he had the confidence part nailed. After some patient tuition from one of the volunteers, Emmet reluctantly learned how to squeeze the brake to slow down and turn. His cheeky grin didn't leave his face the entire time he was on the bike. He was having a lot of fun.
Bikes are so much fun to ride, even as an adult, I understood the joy he was feeling. The memory of it is something I'm reminded of whenever I ride my bike to work through Holyrood, charging down the hill at the end of the high road. Going so fast all you can feel is the wind in your face, and all you can hear is the air rush past your ears. It's magic, and makes commutting to work something to look forward to!
While Emmet was zooming about on the bike, my in-laws arrived, and our party grew from 3 to 6. Emmet's joyfulness is infectious, and his desire to play was soon shared by the rest of us. We headed from the Pedals site at New Street to The Royal Mile proper in search of something for us all to enjoy.
Open Streets does well to cater for all ages, and in no time we had found an area dedicated to circus skills. There were diablos and hula hoops, and all sorts of juggling to try. Emmet being so young, he didn't quite have the necessary expertise - nor the patience - to launch a diablo into the air or to juggle. While my nephew struggled a bit, my older relations had a blast. In fact, every adult taking part in the circus skills looked to be having a brilliant time. Being an amateur photographer, I took great joy in capturing the faces of concentration and excitement.
For me, it's hard to look at these photos and not grin at the expressions caught. Open Streets is an excellent opportunity for play and a beautiful reminder that it is an activity not exclusively for children.
Play is Essential
As Open Streets began to wind down, my family's appetite for play showed little sign of doing the same. Emmet was full of energy, which may have been due to the magic of youth, but was more likely to be as a result of a load of fudge he got to eat. He and his mum started having a water fight, which came with gleeful laughter all the way down the mile. Outside parliament was where our day ended, and it's where I captured this photo.
You can't buy that happiness. You can't force it, and you can't fake it. All you can do is provide a space for it to happen and hope that it does.
Edinburgh's Open Streets is more than just a few 'Road Closed' signs and some volunteers, and it's certainly not a scheme designed to pander to tourists. It's a value shift, it's putting people above cars, the way any urban area should. It's creating space for people to get to know one another, our communities to thrive, and for kids and adults alike to play. Play is essential. Play is like a language we can all talk, but one we rarely use to speak together. Open Streets provides us with a space to talk. Open Streets gives us space to play.
Thanks for reading.
p.s. Sunday the 6th of October (i.e. this Sunday) Open Streets returns and Vicki will be running a breeze ride. Breeze Rides are cycling events for women, ran by trained volunteers. If you’re interested in taking part, and want to learn more Vicki can be reached on twitter @violatricky!