Sunday, September 16, 2012

Car-free Sunday

This morning, I woke up, and it felt different. Odd. Weird.


Then my boyfriend commented that today is an auto-free day. Ahah!

As a city dweller who grew up in a more suburban, almost rural environment, I miss quiet, reflective days. I miss sitting on a fence listening to the wind in the trees. But today, I don't miss the countryside as much as I normally do. Brussels is a very green city, with plenty of parks and trees and people-spaces, but today without the cars, it's blissful. It feels quiet and calm and restful, tranquil and pensive. And there are so many people. People on rented bicycles, walking, playing with their children in the streets.
Car-free Sunday in Brussels (Reuters)
As it was such a lovely day, we walked into the centre. The main street in front of the royal palace had been turned into a farmyard, with hay strewn over the cobbles and farm animals in wooden pens. All the city kids were pointing and shouting in fascination. The park beyond was transformed into a farmers' market and fairground, with the most delicious smells coming from various food stalls, and the words 'artisanal' and 'handmade' written everywhere you looked. Picnic stands in front of the palace, a temporary bandstand with live music - and so many more people than I usually see. It actually felt like the city became a community for a day. (Public transport is also free on a car-free Sunday).

Ljubljana historic centre - a car-free zone!
Everywhere we went, people were using the streets as pedestrians pushing prams, as cyclists, as a playing field. It reminded me a great deal of the centre of Ljubljana, which is now a permanent car-free zone, and such a pleasant and relaxing space because of this. What used to be pavement is now totally taken over by outdoor cafes and projects like 'Reading under the trees' - a free outdoor library encouraging passers by to sit down and pick up a book or magazine. It is beautifully quiet - the only noise marring the babbling of the river and the gentle hum of conversation is the music blaring from various bars - and shows, as does the car-free Sunday in Brussels, just how pleasant a city can feel, and how much more community can develop, when the cars are put away and the city is once again the domain of two-legged (or two-wheeled) people.

Do you have a similar initiative in your city? Why don't you think about starting one?

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