Sunday September 25th was Norfolk Car-Free Day, part of an intenational movement that enables people to experience streets free of motor traffic. Matt White of Car-Free Norwich reports on the day’s events
After the brilliant but damp Kidical Mass ride on Saturday, we were lucky to have a dry and sunny day – perfect for street fun! Residents in different parts of the city came together to share food and skills, play games, and get to know each other.
People on Britannia Road, Havelock Road, Highland Ave, Highland Road, Lincoln Street, Tillett Street and Vincent Road all applied to close for the event, which gives residents a chance to experience the streets where they live without traffic.
Tillett Road’s residents used the opportunity to hold a Play Street event, with lots of children – and adults! – playing games in the road, drawing chalk art on the tarmac, and getting their faces painted. It never gets old seeing children tentatively leave their homes, gazing open-jawed at the fun going on outside, before joyfully throwing themselves into it too.
“Other than speaking to neighbours, and sending off the application, we didn’t really have to arrange anything” said Fern, who was behind the Tillett Road event. “The Play Street was deemed a success by everyone involved! It surprised me how little effort was needed to make such a positive community event, and how as soon as we closed the road to traffic, opportunities for play and fun opened up (that felt impossible to imagine in its usual function). We’re already thinking about the next one!”
Vincent Road’s creative and vibrant street party featured live music, bike repairs, arts and crafts, plant swapping, Norwegian waffles, games, and a barbeque.
The event also coincided with the first Pop up Parklets Day, organised by the Parklets Campaign (formerly the London Parklet Campaign, which went nationwide in 2022). Residents across the nation were encouraged to engage in some ‘gentle activism’ by creating temporary ‘parklets’ – small communal areas that take over an unused parking space, to give neighbours an inviting area in which to get to know each other, and to demonstrate how our streets could be better used.
Community activist Liam Calvert created the city’s first pop up parklet back in July on West End Street, and brought it back to mark Car-Free Day. Residents on Albany Road in NR3 also joined in with their own beautiful temporary parklet comprising cargo bikes, plants, drawing – and (of course) tea!
This was the fourth annual car-free day in our region, which started with Norwich Car-Free Day in 2019. The event is supported by Norfolk County Council, and aims to build stronger communities, reduce social isolation, and encourage people to think about how their streets are used, and how they could be improved – all while enabling more sustainable transport options. Unsurprisingly, these events are also brilliant for active travel, as evidenced by the amount of children constantly cycling, skating, and scootering, not to mention running, jumping, dancing, footballing, badmintoning…
The only small disappointment was that the number of streets that applied to host Car-Free Day events was down from the high water mark of twelve in 2021. The reasons for this are unclear – it could just be that people are so deflated after a tough few months, and with a cost of living crisis really about to really kick in.
But these events can be very cheap to hold – with no admin fees for street parties on Car-Free Day, or for play streets at any time of year. So we’re hoping that more neighbourhoods will consider getting involved in the future. In challenging times we especially need strong communities. And reclaiming the space from cars – for the benefit of all people – can really help to foster new friendships and build vital connections. See you on the streets!
Norfolk Car Free Day 2023 is due to take place on Sunday 24th September – get it in your diary, and start plotting with your neighbours!
Play Streets can take place at any time of year – Norfolk County Council have pledged to improve their application form to make it easier to apply for events on multiple dates at a time, as repeated events bring more community benefits. More information on Play Streets can be found at https://playstreetsnorfolk.org.uk/.
It isn’t currently possible to ‘officially’ create a parklet in our area – but we’re hoping that Pop-Up Parklets will help pressure Norfolk County Council to introduce a parklet policy by showing the level of community support. Residents are encouraged to write to their County Councillor to demand a parklet policy: this Possible tool makes that dead simple. More information on parklets can be found at https://www.theparkletscampaign.com/.
Keep up to date with the campaign by subscribing to our free monthly newsletter.