Summer Streets a Success!

For the last two weeks, NYC has experimented with an idea of making a major avenue in Manhattan car-free for no particular reason than for the enjoyment of residents and visitors. There were no streetfair vendors hawking $3 tube socks or blended drinks from noisy & polluting generators. Nor was there any excuse like the Marathon or a parade where only invited guests are allowed to run or walk down the middle of the streets.

This was different.

Summer Saturdays purely for locals and anyone who happened to be in town and want to get a little exercise by taking a stroll, jogging, roller blading or biking. It was for anyone of all ages and abilities. There were little children and senior citizens. There were world class athletes and people in wheelchairs. There were people from all over the world and local residents venturing into the middle of the street for the first time without fear of automobiles running them over.

But most of all, there was peace and quiet in the middle of the city and it was not a park - it was Park Avenue, experienced as it had not been experienced in perhaps 80-100 years. No engines roaring, no horns honking, no fear for your life. Just a pleasant place to enjoy a great Summer day in the city.

For generations now, the Summer has been seen as a time to escape the heat, smell and hectic pace of the "the city". But it was not the city itself, but the automobiles (mostly from outside the city) that made the city so unpleasant.

The first two Summer Saturdays in NYC have been a huge success and show the possibilities of simply making a long continuous route car-free. There were dance classes, churches selling lemonade for Katrina rebuilding efforts, families having picnics, people exploring places that only cars previously ventured - like the elevated roadway around Grand Central terminal.

I walked all the way from my apartment on 97th street through Central park and all the way down to Union Square where I enjoyed a wonderful picnic with my wife at the greenmarket. Watch Clarence's video courtesy of StreetFilms and you'll get a little taste of what it was like.


people exploring places that only cars previously ventured - like the elevated roadway around Grand Central terminal

Yeah...the best part was the hidden space invader that I never would have seen if it hadn't been for Summer Streets!

You can see by the machine gun tracks in the wall that he didn't escape his fate by much!

Hmm. Don't point that out to the police, or you'll have the bomb squad and homeland stupidity there in about 20 minutes.

Space Invaders rocks, I love that game.

Here's another one you can all play, and maybe score 100 cowrie shells doing so. With that you could buy half a barrel of heavy sour, or perhaps a beater bike for errands...

Publish Your Green Urban Life, Win $100! publishes its US City Sustainability Rankings every two years. This time around, we are publishing stories from ordinary residents of the largest 50 US cities.

* Live in a major US city? (ie, NYC)
* Into sustainability? (ie, Summer Streets)
* Always on the lookout for green trends? ('whoa Nelly!)

Help us shine some light into your corner of the map
Send us your perspectives (humorous, tragic, ironic) on living green in your gray city.

Good luck, the contest ends September 12!


I love NYC because of the "people energy" that I feel there (also like SF for the same reason).

One of my pet social theories is that people's social paranoia is inversely proportional to their level of social contact. If you just watched the news, you would think that the world is a terribly dangerous place.

Fewer cars + more walking/biking + more mass transit = much saner world

Bloomberg (from a distance at least) is turning out to be a pretty decant mayor.

I think a lot of the vibe in NYC has been eradicated. I live in Manhattan and actually travel to SF at least once a year just to hang out and walk around. SF is hands down the best city in the US now. It often reminds me of NYC in the 70's (much to it's credit). We need more filth,danger and general disruptiveness.


We need more filth,danger and general disruptiveness.

I take it that the San Francisco tourism board will not be touting your unusual endorsement. To what do you attribute New York's relative lack of filth, danger, and disruptiveness? All those spy cameras?

Way to go, NYC!! Where do Manhattanittes keep all those bikes all the time? I never see more than just delivery bikes when I visit. If our Fed Gov had the huevos, they would ask all cities to dedicate some days and a street or two to the same.

Perhaps we are learning from South America?

This also illustrates how quickly we can change behaviors in people by setting up the right set of circumstances. There just needs to be some impetus (local, state, fed gov's).

excellent. Now maybe the oil drum and begin discussions about the real issues involved in this energy issue. Transportation. who says we need the private auto? i read so much about how we are going to invent a new generation of autos powered by electricity, hydrogen, etc. no, the discussion needs to be about real alternatives such as no autos.

My 11 yr old son thinks golf carts and small nuclear batteries may be the way to go.

This is why NYC will always have my heart. What a fantastic and progressive idea and what a beautiful day to see all of those wonderful New Yorkers having a great time and enjoying the fun...

I know NY cabs are iconic, but I hope this will also become iconic! They should do this at least one Saturday a month...

This is so painstakingly Tokyo in 1972 when I visited, the Ginza was closed to traffic every Sunday. That is probably still the case, as it was so popular. Now it seems as if we invented this. That was what, 30+ years ago. Why does it take so long for good ideas to propagate?

I've ridden in the Five Boro Bike Tour several times and at various stages of the tour, FDR Drive, the BQE, and Verrazano Bridge are shut down in a particular direction. Nothing but bicycles as far as you can see in front and back of you... (and lots of exasperated looks from the drivers stuck in traffic in the lanes going the opposite direction)

Each time I get the feeling that it's just such a special experience - definitely in my top NYC memories(and especially surreal after having driven on all of these at one time or another).

I think that periodically shutting down some of these places that up to now have only been known by car is a fantastic idea.

It's nice to see this concept spreading. I wish my city would do it.

It's awesome to see something positive like this event! Closing down a street (or streets) for farmer's markets, parades, marathons, and other pedestrian-scale events create amazing social environments and allow people to actually connect again. It is really encouraging to see NYC doing an event to this magnitude! Keep it up NYC, and may other cities follow your lead!

Congrats to NYC on this - though carfree cities days have been around in Europe for years. I myself participated in two Birmingham Reclaim the Streets in the 1990s including the inner ring road when Clinton was at the G8. And also the UK's main motorway M1 was closed by an earlier RTS.

But let's not get carried away with wishful thinking. This is a mere piddling drop of sanity in a Pacific Ocean of societal insanity. Even if NYC closed that street every day from now on, and lots of other streets besides, it would do little to reduce the daunting problem that hyper-city faces. Such huge buildings are going to be hell-holes once energy shortages bite, especially electricity blackouts turning the lights and lifts off. And how will those millions of residents get their food transported in? These are just some of the real questions this joyful video fails to confront let alone answer.

The intent of the video was not to answer those questions, but I'll take them on. I think people imagine that large cities are somehow unsustainable without oil. Perhaps cities like LA or Phoenix are in trouble, mostly for water and climate issues, but I would not say cities that pre-date the oil age like Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore are in serious trouble. In fact I think people from the suburbs will be flocking back to cities as places you can live a modern lifestyle without an automobile.

Efficient living is the key. People in cities use a lot less energy per capita than their counterparts in suburban homes - less electricity, less heating, less cooling and less lighting - and do not require liquid fuels to get around everywhere. Multi-unit dwellings are just more efficient, which is why they pre-date the oil economy. Pretty much every form of mass transit can be electrified as well.

New York's water supply is gravity fed up to the sixth story and needs some pumping beyond that, but it's much more efficient than a suburban water system over a larger area.

Oh and by the way, we are a year round deep port and have been since the Dutch arrived. We can get food, raw materials and manufactured goods shipped right to our docks, like we have for four centuries. We have almost half of the commuter passenger rail trips in the nation coming through NYC. Our freight rail facilities are significant already, and they can be easily improved (specifically for Long Island).

New York will have its own challenges, but in terms of energy efficient living, you can't beat the pre-automobile urban areas of this country.