One of the first areas I take people when they visit Toronto is usually Kensington Market – that dense grid of narrow streets stuffed with fruit and veggie stores, cafes, colourful vintage shops, and taco joints.
It’s fun to navigate the market, threading between parked or slowly moving cars, crossing from one side to the other with just a casual glance over the shoulder. Kensington has a lively energy to which many other neighbourhoods aspire. It’s a neighbourhood that has found its pedestrian-friendly groove.
You won’t find special paving here, or curbless streets, or bollards, or any of the other tactics designers and planners now mobilize to make other areas pedestrian-friendly and people-centric. It Kensington it just kinda…happens.
Still, in an article published in the Toronto Star, urban affairs critic Christopher Hume argues that banning cars from Kensington is the “obvious move” and the area is a “battleground” between cars and people on foot? A battleground? If any neighbourhood in Toronto can least be described as a battleground between cars and people, it’s Kensington Market. More of a slow dance, really.
Pedestrian-only Sundays are great, but I would hazard a guess that they’re great because they’re pedestrian-only Sundays and not pedestrian-only all-the-times.
Go to Kensington and watch the main streets. Cars go slower, people spill off of the sidewalk and walk in the road or cross back and forth. This is Kensington’s special sauce. By removing an ingredient you risk ruining it.
Pedestrianization is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
The desired end is usually a lively, comfortable, safe place that people like to go and hang out. Sometimes removing cars is the way to do it. Ryerson’s Gould Street is a great example of an area that has flourished since cars were banished and people allowed to flood into the space.
But sometimes it’s the slow mix of cars and people and bikes that makes certain areas what they are. Go to Boston’s North End and you find the same thing. Narrow streets with people spilling out of Italian restaurants, cars winding their way slowly through it all. It works because everyone understands that people come first.
We have something really special in Kensington right now, something that emerged on its own, over time. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
photo by Diego Torres Sylvester on Flickr (cc)