Car Free Vancouver Day is tomorrow (Sunday, June 17/Father’s Day) and there is one event in particular that I hope will be well-attended: the SFU Philosophers’ Café “Street Life” discussion on Main Street at East 13th Avenue, 2:00-3:00 p.m. Moderator Terry Lavender, a PhD candidate at SFU’s School for Interactive Arts and Technology, will lead the conversation: “Before the age of the automobile, streets had many different types of users. Can our streets be reclaimed for the public realm while still allowing for efficient transportation?”
The inclusion of this discussion in the line-up of events at Car Free Vancouver Day’s festival sites is important. It reminds us that Car Free Vancouver Day is not just a single day where we party and leave private vehicles parked. Gathering together on our streets is political even if we’re there to watch some of the music acts (like Headwater on Commercial Drive, The Evaporators on Main Street or Reid Jamieson on Denman Street) or participate in activities like dancing, street hockey or knitting. When we take to the streets with our neighbours we are challenging car culture. We’re building community. We’re reminded that Less Cars = More Community / More Community = Less Cars, in the words of the original message of the first car-free festival in Vancouver.
Car Free Vancouver Day began in 2005 as the Commercial Drive Car-Free Festival: “[The Drive] launched the first community-driven Car-Free Festival in Vancouver as a response to the provincial government’s Gateway Program, also known as the Port Mann/Highway 1 Improvement Project. Organizers also wanted to create a community festival at a time when there were few such events in the city. The Festival was wholly volunteer-organized and presented… It was an enormous success, bringing over 25,000 people out to celebrate the community and party in the street” (Car Free Vancouver Day About page).
Today, Car Free Vancouver Day remains 100% volunteer organized and run and the purpose of the day is still about taking over the streets and reclaiming them for communities. Matt Hern, one of the co-founders of Car Free Vancouver Day writes in his wonderfully thought-provoking book, Common Ground in a Liquid City: “[It] is eminently possible to push [Vancouver] and any other city away from car culture. If we want a city of neighbourhoods that is built for people, it is blindingly obvious that we need fewer cars charging around, and that future is something we can build. If we don’t, who will?” Let’s think about this tomorrow and make it an opportunity to consider our transportation choices and how we can work together to return public space to people. And let’s continue the discussion and action in the days that follow.