An unsuspecting Bathurst Street in Toronto was treated to a civic make-over one Sunday by merry pranksters Streets are for People. The four-lane artery is under repair and traffic is reduced to one slow-moving lane. This leaves three lanes available for public fun. “In legal terms, the street is called a public right-of-way. Construction stops on Sundays. We have every right to occupy the unused space” explains co-organizer Michael Louis Johnson.
Walking north through large pylons and broken pavement, the scene unfolded like some surreal post-oil dreamscape. Many strangers gathered around a giant 3 x 3 metre scrabble game, further up, an antique pedal organ, in a lane freed from cars, with more people singing together around it.
Further still, where the pavement was completely broken and there was only dirt, the perfect place for a game of croquet – “under the cobblestones, the beach!”
Up on a patch of new concrete beside suspended steel tracks, revolution rockers the New Kings played to a happy crowd of 50 who danced with children, in the middle of the street.
In the song Street Fighter, Michael J. dreams of a possible future “in a world of peace and tranquility, we’ll find the time to take it slow, without the rush, the noise, the crush of the cars, and the go, go, Gooooooo….” And this was it, temporary as it was, that world we all want to live in.
“When streets are given back to people as an extension of their living room, not just a place to move and store cars, amazing things can happen,” said Shamez Amlani of Streets are for People. “That’s what streets have been for many thousands of years.”
After four hours of fun and games, Toronto Police responded to one complaint that “kids were playing in the construction site.” The party was disbanded peacefully until Johnson began heckling the cops for blocking the road and causing a traffic jam. They put him in handcuffs and drove him home. No charges were laid.
As evening fell the front window of the Keep Six Art Gallery became a movie screen and a few dozen people spread blankets and pillows over the road and passed the popcorn as they watched Le Depart, a short comedy about guerrilla bike activists the Urban Repair Squad, followed by the 1938 Frank Capra classic, “You Can’t Take it with You”.
Every bus-rider and car passenger traveling up Bathurst St. that beautiful Sunday saw the mundane concrete road temporarily transformed into a community playground. For those who took the opportunity to step into the street and join the fun, even when Bathurst is returned to four lanes of choking, congested traffic, they will remember that one day when the space was liberated, returned to the people, and how much fun freedom can be.
See photos on flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/ttyrtle/2665257893/