Two years ago world renowned leader in livable communities, Gil Peñalosa, was invited by the Comox Valley Cycling Task Force and the Comox Valley Cycling Coalition to imagine how the Comox Valley could become a truly ‘people-friendly’ community. Mr Peñalosa met with local community leaders and presented to a packed Native Sons hall on examples of how communities designed for people can function differently from communities designed for cars.
Citing research and tangible examples, Peñalosa explained how communities built around the automobile discourage active forms of transportation, contribute to the trend in North American obesity and other negative public health outcomes, create unsafe spaces for people, including vulnerable users such as children and seniors, create sprawling land use patterns and associated expensive infrastructure, as well as exercise a heavy toll on the environment.
Imagine Comox Valley was inspired by the tangible examples of the creative use of public space and initiated the Valley’s first and second Car Free Sundays as one of the identified “easy actions” recommended out of Peñalosa’s visit.
“In most communities, roads are our most expansive and expensive public space,” says Andrew Gower, board director of Imagine Comox Valley. “Imagine Comox Valley (ICV) saw an opportunity to host a Car Free Sunday as a tried and true event to raise awareness about our collective vision for these spaces and to physically bring people together. It was a lot of fun, we literally had people dancing in the streets!”
Car Free Sundays were held in both Courtenay and Cumberland in the fall of 2011 and again in the spring of 2012. The events inspired live music, chalk art, tango in the streets, stilt walkers, community booths, skateboard demos, garage sales, store specials, roller derby demos, restaurant deals and many other initiatives. While ICV spearheaded the event by organizing the road closure permit process, the event was community-driven and was successful due to the participation of numerous businesses, sports groups, artists and musicians, community animators and organizations.
“We had our share of controversy over the event,” acknowledges Gower. “We know that some residents felt it inconvenient that certain roads had restricted car use, but overall the feedback over the event was quite positive. And the road closures were limited to half a day. I’d say we were successful in raising awareness about a community service that is easy to take for granted.”
Despite this success, ICV will not be hosting a Car Free Sunday event for 2013. Instead, the group is using the Elevate the Arts event in downtown Courtenay to provide examples of creative uses of public space such as a temporary installation of a half pipe and a number of temporary ‘parking stall’ parks. ICV will also be providing an opportunity through the ‘Start Here’ community engagement arts project for residents to describe how their public spaces could be ‘enlivened’ to contribute to their quality of life.
‘Start Here’ is a community engagement project developed by CVAG in partnership with Imagine Comox Valley, the North Island College Fine Art Department, Highland Secondary, Elevate the Arts and a number of community animators. The highly interactive display will be housed at CVAG and uses a range of media to explore individual and group perceptions of the Valley. ICV will be contributing ‘Be Heard - Masked or Unmasked’, a videography opportunity that enables people to tell their stories. Participants are invited to sit in a tent where they have the option to wear a mask, and tell their story and vision for the Comox Valley to the video screen. Similar to a ‘speakers corner’, the installation provides a seemingly intimate space where imagination can let loose and visions are held. The ‘data’ from the entire ‘Start Here’ event will be used by ICV to create a multi-media presentation of a co-created vision that may be available at CVAG and other venues in the future.
“ICV saw a tremendous opportunity to harness the creative ideas from the community through the Start Here project,” says Pieter Vorster, board director of ICV. “Our organization’s mission is to help people re-imagine the Comox Valley as a truly sustainable place, for everyone. In order to help do that, we have to have a baseline ‘snapshot’ of what people care about in their community and what they think about on the day to day. Start Here will provide data for that snapshot.”
ICV intends to host a Car Free Sunday event in 2014 and will showcase the information that was collected during this year’s Elevate the Arts and ‘Start Here’ project.
Article by Phillip Round, as posted on canada.com – June 26, 2012
Was the latest Car Free Sunday in Courtenay too much of a pain in the saddle for local businesses and residents?
City Mayor Larry Jangula certainly thinks so – but to be sure, he suggested last night that every merchant and resident along the three closed-off streets should be asked for their opinion.
He said that for around $2,500, an independent survey could be commissioned which would help guide council decisions on whether to approve similar events in the future.
Jangula said that contrary to what some people were suggesting, he believed “quite a few people were very upset” – including several businesses that were negatively impacted by the road closures.
He gave two specific examples, but said there were others who had contacted him. The owner of Comox Taxi on McPhee had, he suggested, been vilified for criticizing the initiative; and Appletree Market on Fifth was virtually shut down for a day, much to the concern of its owner.
Not only had Courtenay Council authorized significant lengths of road to be closed, but the council had also contributed around $1,000 to a $4,423 budget to help fund the initiative, and he questioned whether it was money well spent.
While the council would in due course receive a report from the organizers on the event and its impact, Jangula said human nature dictated that it was bound to present a positive picture.
So he wanted to launch an independent survey to obtain a complete cross-section of views.
But Coun. Jon Ambler said the total budget of over $4,000 did not all come from taxpayers; some of it was from merchants and businesses that were supportive.
And he added: “I’m not sure I want to spend $2,500 for a survey about whether we should have spent $1,000 on this. That doesn’t add up.”
Along with Coun. Doug Hillian, Ambler expressed support for a full debate on the subject at a later date, after the organizers had inputted their considered observations to City Hall.
“To debate this right now would be just pooling our ignorance,” said Ambler.
It was not as though a decision needed to be taken quickly – there were, he noted, 350 or more days to the next potential Car Free Sunday event and no commitments were being made by anyone at this stage.
Councillors agreed to await the report from the organizers before debating the issue further, with Jangula urging anyone with a view on the issue, particularly if they were in the affected area – mainly McPhee, Fitzgerald and Fifth Street – to make their opinions known.
His survey idea was not taken up.
© Copyright (c) Postmedia News
People of the Comox Valley,
This past Sunday the 2012 Comox Valley Car Free Sunday took place successfully, with enthusiastic participation from a significant number of Courtenay and Cumberland residents and a variety of businesses. This initiative was organized by the not-for-profit organisation ‘Imagine Comox Valley’ and enthusiastic community partners and sponsors. Everyone in attendance, including volunteers, musicians, families, vendors and artists, enjoyed the positive atmosphere. Many expressed what a joy it was to be able to celebrate our streets in a ‘people-oriented’ way, which was encouraged in the form of music, dance, sports, visual art and play.
Photo by Alex Dunae.
“The celebration of public spaces and their role in contributing to the vibrancy and livability of a community is a key goal of Car Free events around the world”, says Nancy Hofer, Courtenay route-activity coordinator. “Car Free events are a world-wide phenomenon intended to raise awareness of the multiple users of our streets. We as a society spend a lot publicly on our road infrastructure but not everyone agrees with the prioritization of automobiles above other transportation modes. For many, an event like this is a chance to explore an alternative vision and make a statement about what is important to them in their community.” In keeping with this sentiment the Comox Valley collaborated with the people organising the Car Free event in Vancouver (http://www.carfreevancouver.org) to establish some solidarity in this movement.
Imagine Comox Valley (ICV) spearheaded the event by organizing the road closure permit process. “We mainly take care of arranging the permit, insurance and marketing, the community groups and businesses do the rest by coming out and using the streets in ways that inspire them,” states Andrew Gower, of Imagine Comox Valley. “Car Free Sunday is not Anti-car”, Gower stresses, “it is a day to acknowledge positive alternatives and encourage dialogue in a creative way. Many of us volunteers use cars regularly, but would also like to have more viable options for getting around, including for our children.”
Imagine Comox Valley fully intends to make the event an annual one, following the strategy of communities like Kelowna, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and St. John’s. “We can only make this event better in the future,” says David Frisch, Volunteer Coordinator. “We have received a lot of feedback and will be doing everything we can to make Car Free Sunday more fun for 2013. And it would be nice to not have to rely on so many volunteers. We want to ensure everyone gets a chance to enjoy the event – that’s the whole point!”
The organisers have received feedback that suggests a smaller route may be more effective in Courtenay, both in facilitating road closures and condensing activities and participation from community groups, and will take this into strong consideration when planning for next year’s event. From Cumberland the feedback was that an alternative date may be more conducive to participation, as the village was winding down from multiple bicycle-related events.
In Courtenay things kicked off at noon with a 3km fun run, some Comox Valley Kickers road rugby at 16th and Fitzgerald, street-skiing, garage sales at MvPhee and Cumberland Road, street dining from Union Street Grill and Grotto and a whole lot more. With an almost constant stream of people in the downtown core area, the sight on 5th Street was something to behold. Around 4 pm things started getting more quiet and the organisers began the volunteer appreciation events in and around the Zen Zero parking lot, featuring donated refreshments and snacks by Heavenly Goodies and live music organised by Lightburn Productions.
Mayor Leslie Baird along with Councillors Roger Kishi and Connor Copeman Tie the Ribbon to close the street and open the event.
The Village of Cumberland marked Car Free Sunday with their own twist – as they often do. Residents celebrated their love of their bikes as part of Bike Month in Cumberland with a family bike festival and neighbourhood party. A rousing game of bike polo rolled for the whole afternoon – and was played mostly by folks who had spent hours on their seats at 12 Hours of Cumberland Race on Saturday. VAST led a wonderful participatory street art project in the middle of the intersection at 3rd & Dunsmuir; volunteers offered a Bike Safety Rodeo to hone the skills of wee bikers and then the kids all decorated their bikes and had a parade down the middle of the road. It was a laid back day on wheels for Cumberland, and the Village looks forward to more community building events like it.
The organisers would like to express their deepest gratitude to everyone who volunteered their time to assist with directing traffic and making it possible for everyone to enjoy the event safely. Also to the generous sponsors whose contributions made the event possible and to the local governing bodies for their support and assistance. Finally, to each and every person who came out to enjoy the day with other members of our community, told a friend about it, posted a note online, shared a picture or simply just supported the idea in principle - every bit contributed to another successful Comox Valley Car Free Sunday, cementing this as an annual occurrence.
If you want to be a part of Car Free Sunday 2013, you can get involved by:
- Signing up to be a volunteer by visiting http://imaginecomoxvalley.ca and completing the sign-up form available there or contacting the volunteer coordinator David Frisch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Signing up to be a sponsor or vendor, which can be done by sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
The organisers are looking forward to working with their community on the 2013 Annual Comox Valley Car Free Sunday and would be happy to provide anyone interested with additional information or answer any questions. They can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Imagine Comox Valley is a registered not-for-profit organisation comprised of a group of Comox Valley individuals who have taken on the mission to achieve the legislative and regulatory changes required to ensure a sustainable future for the Comox Valley. Find out more about us…
The organisation focuses on 2 major events as a means to stimulate and inspire Comox Valley residents: