By the time I got home on Sunday afternoon, my was brain humming with the sensation that I had been to some far away destination: a place that was safe, cool, hot, hip, foreign and friendly – all at the same time. Would you believe that my “travel high” came from a simple stroll down Agricola Street?
On Sunday, I took my bike-enthusiast six year old daughter and my active one-year old son to Agricola Street for the Switch: Open Street Sunday event. She rode, we strolled. We were hoping for a relaxed, social afternoon, where we could enjoy our local community, meet up with friends and neighbours, and not be forced to spend too much money. We were well rewarded.
Heading South from the Hydrostone Market, I felt uneasy as my daughter ventured past the first Police barricade, riding her bike in the middle of the “oncoming traffic” lane. But today there was no traffic, thanks to Switch: an organisation of partners that liaise with the cities of Halifax and Dartmouth to sometimes open up our city streets to a greater variety of transportation modes … by way of a festival-style celebration.
At Almon street a friendly (kilted!) volunteer held us back for the lights at the crossroad, and then stopped my daughter to check her helmet. He showed me the “3-2-1” rule for helmet fit. No more than three fingers should be able to fit between the helmet and the eyebrows; two fingers in a “V” formation represent the way the two helmet straps should sit around the ears, and only one finger should be able to fit between the helmet strap and chin.
Floppy helmet fixed, we continued to where the real action was.
Between Almon and Cunard, we joined the flow, meandering through small crowds of pedestrians, performers and merchants. The atmosphere was sunny, slow and relaxed – somewhere in between a flea market and a street party. White markers along the entire stretch indicated where a bike lane could be (although Halifax City Councillor Jennifer Watts confirms that there are no currents plans to install a bike lane on Agricola). Monday’s METRO paper said that 2,000 people attended the event. It felt busy, but open. There was plenty of room for everyone.
Every so often the street would be entirely taken up with a performance: A large group of belly dancers, a circle of white-clad Capoeira dancers, kicking and rolling to the beat of a drum; an amazingly talented group of young breakdancers (or maybe they are called B-Boyz?), and plenty of pop-up clothing shops, some just a single rail outside a tall brightly coloured house: Agricola’s signature.
By this time I had forgotten all about cars. My daughter’s newfound confidence allowed her to ride ahead, maneuvering expertly through the small crowds, and speeding back to tell me of something or someone she had just seen: “Mummy, so and so’s here, and he’s from my school!”. We stopped outside Jack Nauss’s bike shop (is it the oldest in Halifax?) and in less than a minute, a kind technician fixed my daughter’s faulty front brake – for free.
Reminded of my mission to stay frugal, I steered my daughter away from the most delicious looking fresh donuts (my foodie friends would later share pictures of these on facebook), and instead, someone sold her a no-name popsicle for a dollar. Later, I was offered a taste of a very yummy brownie, for free. Our spoils were topped by a free pack of smarties, a posie of fresh flowers (free) and a shiny free bicycle bell.
Not a bad day for one dollar!
The aim of Open Street Sundays is not to close streets to cars, but to open them to everyone. As we walked back toward home, I thought of some of the world’s most successful street markets: Kensington Market in Toronto, Portobello Road in London- even the floating markets in Thailand. Many of them serve as main thoroughfares during the day (or during the week), and are transformed into busy, thriving “people-places” during market-hours.
This kind of space-sharing makes sense, and makes me wonder if we shouldn’t open up at least one section of Agricola Street to a market every Sunday. What do you think?
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