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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

“The street is an extension of your living room” Rethinking city streets at Streets are for Picnics

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If streets weren’t lined with cars, what would you use them for? This is the question Streets are for People has brought to the fore with public events such as Streets are for Picnics, which took place on Sunday at Bathurst’s construction site between Dupont and Bloor.

Streets are for People’s genesis was a parking meter party held in July 2002, transforming a parking spot into a communal social space. This one-off good deed led to a series of events, most famously Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market and perhaps most infamously the overgrown car perpetually parked on Augusta Avenue.

“We have streets that were designed for cars,” Streets are for People co-founder Shamez Amlani argues, “and we now have the daunting task of retrofitting the streets for people.” Citing pedestrianization success stories from cities such as Copenhagen, Amlani believes that the scope of his events exceeds the realm of imagination.

Given their history of reclaiming Toronto’s streets for pedestrian use, it’s not surprising that Streets are for People saw potential in a construction site consuming the inner lanes of Bathurst Street. What may have registered in the minds of many Torontonians as nothing but a nuisance and an eyesore was envisaged as a canvas for communal creativity and fun. For a day, Bathurst became a fairground consisting of Scrabble (ala Pedestrian Sundays), croquet, live music and film screenings.

Within ten minutes of arriving I found myself engaged in a game of croquet with a few other picnic-goers, Amlani amongst them. The fact that I was playing croquet in a construction site with a group of people I had just met seemed to escape me until an enthusiastic biker rode by shouting “great idea!” serving as a reminder of the unusual and delightful situation I had found myself in. While passers-by only showed reactions of amusement and it was clear that no harm was being done, I couldn’t help but ask Amlani about legality issues. Was this allowed?


Unlike many other events organized by Streets are for People, a permit had not been obtained for Sunday’s picnic. Croquet was cut short when Amlani graciously complied with a police officer’s request that he pack up the game.

The officers continued driving further north towards the New Kings performance just south of Dupont, and after asking the band and audience to clear the site, lead singer Michael Louis Johnson retaliated with accusations that the cops were not properly serving their community if all they could manage to do was put an end to a free concert at a construction site. He was then forced into their car and escorted home. This was unexpected, as Streets are for People’s philosophy is one of non-violence and their aim is, in Amlani’s words, “a hilarious revolution.”

Although police intervention sullied the afternoon’s festive spirit, everyone’s immediate reactions to it were a testament to Streets are for People’s appealing objective. It seemed inconceivable not to use this vacant space for something productive and inclusive- something that encouraged social interaction and spawned neighborhood involvement. If there’s one thing less appealing than a street that divides a community with lanes of roaring traffic, it may be one that lies completely idle.

At the end of the day I had reached no conclusions about what I would ideally use my city’s streets for, but the seed of this inquiry had certainly been planted in my imagination. I left wondering what the city might be like if we began to see our streets in this same light – as an extension of our living rooms.




  1. Haha… this is all great. Just be sure to yell “CAR!” when appropriate.

  2. I can’t believe I missed all this! I was walking around my neighbourhood on Sunday, but I try to escape the construction warzone that keeps me up at night.
    I live on Bathurst St, just north of Davenport with my bedroom window privy to 24/7 construction. I say 24/7 because this year, the city has agreed to permits that allow construction to happen on Bathurst (and other places I assume?) through the night and they sure work way past 11pm, midnight, 1am, 2am… leaving me to cover my head and ears with blankets in the dead of summer. Yet, during the day, they are nowhere to be seen.

    I cannot believe the cops would try to shut down citizens trying to reclaim the space that has hindered their lives in so many ways.

  3. This reminds of the scene from the documentary Contested Streets of New York a hundred years ago when the streets were the living room / front yard / playground / market place for the community. Cars or horse and wagons made their way through, but only very slowly.

  4. Hey, that’s me with the palm tree! Great party as always… love those car-free streets 🙂

  5. Looked like fun, now if we could get city council to keep their promise and give us the bike lanes that are desperately needed.

  6. Magda> streets have also made many lives better too. Great photos.

  7. Wonderful uses of the space. It was a hot day when I discovered the construction (on my visit to Toronto), but if I had had an umbrella and a chair, I might have sat and watched people go by.

  8. Interesting that the police shut down the free concert – I wonder what the charge was and within which law that they acted. It would appear that no one’s safety was being compromised by this event.