One common issue for urban households is lack of leisure space. Often, urban development emphasizes car traffic over pedestrian accessibility, Los Angeles is a case in point; it’s very difficult to move around the city without a car. For kids, this often means more time spent indoors than exercising and spending time with their friends outside. This issue is compounded with kids who live in more dangerous neighborhoods, where parents may not feel comfortable letting their kids play outside alone.
However, the city of Bogota, Colombia has been taking a novel approach to solving this issue for decades. They established the Ciclovia in the mid-1970s, closing dozens of miles of streets to automobile traffic every Sunday, and setting up exercise classes and other activities allowing people to get outside and exercise.
Since then, cities around the world have tried to emulate the Ciclovia. Paris closed 400 miles of road to cars last September in the Journée Sans Voiture and Ottawa closes 32 miles of roads every Sunday from May to September, which they call Sunday Bikedays. Bangalore, Cape Town and Mexico City have all hosted similar events successfully as well. And since 2008, San Francisco has, too.
Sunday Streets SF, a program under the nonprofit Livable City, began as a mayoral initiative under Gavin Newsom in 2008, with only two events along the waterfront per year. Ten years later, the program has grown to organize 10 events held throughout San Francisco annually. Recently, the Tenderloin neighborhood hosted 7,000 people for a Sunday Streets event. Three miles of streets were closed off to allow space for kids to ride bikes, do arts and crafts or simply run around without needing to worry about traffic. Program manager Katy Birnbaum said this especially benefits neighborhood kids.
“In the Tenderloin especially, were there are a large number of school-age children, the Sunday Streets’ visit to the Tenderloin is a welcome chance to stretch their legs,” she said.
The initial idea behind creating these events in San Francisco was to combat climate change as well as address health disparities among residents of San Francisco’s poorer neighborhoods. However, Sunday Streets has grown beyond this, striving to collaborate with hosting neighborhoods to reflect the culture and needs of the community. In organizing everything from the live music to the medical services offered by the Department of Public Health, nearly every aspect Sunday Streets is curated with the unique needs and culture of the neighborhood in mind.
In hopes of catering to hosting communities, Sunday Streets SF is conscious about creating a safe space for attendees. They ensure that SFPD has a minimal presence, using volunteers to monitor the area and only call for police intervention in the case of an emergency, as well as curating a heterogenous mixture of activities throughout the areas to create inclusive spaces for all who attend, whether they be a business employee to a homeless person. `
Looking forward, Sunday Streets SF hopes to create a “network” of sorts, Sunday Streets can organize with teams throughout San Francisco to maximize availability of public recreation events. While only hosting 10 events annually in San Francisco, Sunday Streets SF hopes to establish a continuing and more widespread presence, and in the process improve the lives of San Francisco urbanites by reducing car emissions, encouraging healthier eating, and increasing opportunities for children and adults to exercise outside.
If you are interested in volunteering or giving feedback, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 415-344-0489. If you don’t have access to a computer or telephone, you can also simply walk to the information booth at any of the events for a schedule and volunteer opportunities.