Monday, September 12, 2011

Urban Repurposing – Sunday Streets as Conceptual Art

Fulton Street - Sunday Streets - September 11, 2011

I have to confess that I had a lack of enthusiasm for Sunday Streets when it started back in 2008. I kind of assumed it was just another street festival. San Francisco loves its street festivals. You can find one happening just about every weekend for nearly six months of the year. And while they vary by theme and neighborhood, they all begin to feel the same after 20 years. Actually, that was my reaction after living five years in San Francisco.

Sunday Streets is a very different thing altogether. With Sunday Streets you get a whole piece of a neighborhood closed-off to traffic. Usually about 20 blocks are emptied. Street Festivals are much more compact and usually very crowded. It’s a different energy at Sunday Streets. While there are small crowds of activity at different spots, there is none of that get-me-out-of-here feeling most crowds give me.

A few friends have asked me “What’s there to do?” It’s hard to answer. It’s more just about hanging out and enjoying the space. Running into friends and neighbors. There are tables here and there from different community groups and there are some fun activities for kids. There is some music and dancing. But unlike the street festivals, the bands that choose to play, might find their biggest crowds come from toddlers. Yesterday, across from the police station on Fillmore Street a band called Rin Tin Tiger was playing (good band name). Their Facebook Page indicates they often get hassled by the police for playing on the street. It was nice to see them getting to perform without trouble across from the station. It’s kind of the essence of what Sunday Streets is all about — repurposing the streets for play.

If you have ever perused the library’s historic photo collection, one thing you quickly notice is how empty the San Francisco’s streets used to be. I live on a busy street with three lanes of traffic. It’s one of San Francisco’s one-way, “freeway” streets. Photos of the street from the 1920’s show a street with plenty of parking spaces and few cars. Could the City of the past be the City of the future? Not that I see Sunday Streets as being anti-car — it’s more about showing us an alternative. Streets without cars.

The removal of cars and emptying of streets for other purposes, even occasionally, transforms the space. San Francisco has many people who feel they are quite clever heading up to the Nevada desert and installing an urban space called Burning Man every year. For me, the real act of art is creating open space out of urban streets.

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