Calgarians looking to ditch their tires and play in the streets, both figuratively and literally, can do so starting this weekend in Inglewood.
Calgary’s oldest neighbourhood is bringing back Car Free Sundays, first trialled last year, for the rest of the summer.
The goal is to give visitors a chance to slow down and enjoy the shops, entertainment, and even some pop-up events.
“Car Free Sundays is a fun way for us to experiment using the roadway in a different way, and the businesses themselves are encouraged to activate the streets,” said Inglewood BIA board chair Dan Allard.
“There’s no specific programming that’s organized, which is the fun part. There’s a lot of businesses that are taking that to heart, and they’ve got something planned for each Sunday.”
Roads will be closed to vehicles from 9 Avenue SE from 11 Street SE to 14 Street SE on August 14, 21, and 28, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Pop-up activations happening throughout summer
Allard said that some of the local businesses are encouraging patrons to chalk up the sidewalks outside of their locations, while others will be holding themed street activations. Others still will be holding outdoor live music.
He said last year, as part of the music mile, there were ukelele lessons held outside, and DJs holding impromptu dance parties with roller skaters.
“We expect this year to see more of that but a little bit more amplified, because last year was a little bit tepid as people weren’t sure what to do with it necessarily,” Allard said.
One of the activations planned for August 14 by Knifewear Calgary is a hot dog grill with a cultural twist.
“We’re gonna be grilling up hot dogs on the sidewalk over Japanese charcoal to demonstrate some of the Japanese grills that we sell, and we’ll have knives that people can try and test for themselves,” said Nathan Gareau with Knifewear Calgary and Kent of Inglewood.
Allard invited people to come down, roll with the surprises, and even bring a game or two to play in the middle of the street.
“If they want to bring down spike ball, or ladder ball, or any game they would normally bring to a park: bring it to the middle of the street and see how fun that is.”
“The people get to do whatever they want with the street. It’s a take-back-the-street event, so come and get creative.”
Similar street events held in Canada, internationally
The idea came from street use in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Kelowna, and even Copenhagen.
“This type of thing exists in in Vancouver and Toronto of course, and and they do it in a bigger way where they lock down the street for the whole summer,” said Allard.
Gareau said that it was a great opportunity for Calgarians to get a more walkable, peaceful experience over a few Sundays in the neighbourhood.
“Some of us go on holiday to Europe, and we see all these beautiful, walkable streets. They’re quiet and pedestrian friendly, just kind of have a small village feel, and it’s really great for us to be able to get a sample of that,” Gareau said.
He said that it was a return to a more historic Inglewood experience that existed before 9 Avenue SE became a major thoroughfare into Downtown Calgary.
“Inglewood was built before the city was really built for cars, it was back when cities were built for humans, which you know kind of makes sense,” he said.
“People haven’t had the ability to kind of peacefully walk, meander, and really take their time getting through the neighborhood.
“It is super cool, and it makes for a different and I think way more fun way to explore the neighborhood.”
Keeping Sunday as the event day because of familiarity
Allard said keeping the Car Free Sunday day to just Sundays was a way to ensure that visitors and residents in Inglewood have the general idea of what is going on, from their experiences with last year’s pilot.
“Keeping it to Sunday’s was important because last year there was some pain points regarding traffic signage, and security for people just moving barricades on their own volition,” he said.
“We’ve got a bigger police presence for people that want to rip through the back alleys without paying attention. Stuff like that is where we’re really tightening up this year, getting way better signage to make sure all of the residents are notified when they’re going to see some increased traffic on the residential streets.”
He said that the traffic shift to 8 Avenue SE from 9 Avenue SE previously has been an issue for residents, including for many of the business owners who also live on that street.
“The cars are such an important talking point, and a polarizing one, especially now you’ve got these intergenerational arguments that are going on at the top of everybody’s political conversations right now,” said Allard.
“We’ve got on one hand, a streetscape master plan that is extremely pedestrian oriented. Then, on the other hand, we’ve got a new bridge that was just made, four lanes to come into the neighbourhood, so you’ve got people at the dinner table arguing for both sides of that.”
Temperature test for local businesses, residents
Allard called this year a temperature test for the community. And although the Car Free Sundays wasn’t created to start car conversations, he said that’s exactly what’s been happening.
“It’s more and more the next generation that wants to see stuff like this. These events are well attended because people want to see the streets used in better ways than just for cars ripping through the neighbourhood.”
Getting visitors to slow down and take in more of Inglewood is a positive outcome from events like Car Free Sundays said Gareau. It’s bringing people down that might not otherwise visit the area.
“What we really hear the most is a ‘wow, I’ve never seen the store before,’ or ‘I’ve ever seen all the cool stuff in Inglewood before,’” he said.
“People that often work downtown, for them it’s a hassle to come down all the way from the burbs, but if there’s something a little more exciting and a little more enticing for them, then I think they’re more likely to show up and spend a day wandering around and supporting the local businesses.”
Allard said this year was really about dialing in the Car Free Sunday experience for businesses and visitors, so they could look at expanding it in the future.
“If it goes just as well as last year, I can definitely imagine this expanding. In all these other places it’s wildly successful, and so far it’s been positive messaging.”