When Motors Aren't Allowed in the Motor City

On a cool early fall afternoon, thousands walked, strolled, jogged, peddled, and cruised their way over the almost-four-mile-stretch in an event that effectively stimulated all five senses and intertwined a diverse community enjoying the leisurely pace of the Open Streets experiment. Live bands and DJ’s coupled with the sounds of conversational banter and children playing street hockey echoed down Michigan Avenue as participants were encouraged to visit local merchants that would usually go unnoticed by consumers in vehicles driving by at the speed of traffic.

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When we slow down, amazing things happen. That is the sentiment behind the Open Streets initiative that has already been established in over 100 cities in North America, and has had a couple of successful trial runs in Detroit. On September 25th and October 2nd, 3.7 miles of road normally designated for vehicular traffic was completely shut down in order to promote inclusive fitness opportunities and foster community connections.

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Supporters of the initiative were invited to participate in this free event by walking, running, biking, rollerblading, or skateboarding the designated streets throughout four Detroit neighborhoods. The inaugural route began around Campus Martius in Downtown, through Roosevelt Park in Corktown, and continued through Southwest Detroit, past Clark Park, ultimately culminating at Boyer Playfield at Livernois and Vernor.

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The Open Streets initiative was lead by the DTE Energy Foundation and featured over 75 partners on hand providing free-of-charge recreation and entertainment options to the differing range of participants, including exercise demo classes, yoga, kick-boxing, dance workshops, dog-training classes, and soccer clinics lead by the Detroit City Football Club.

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From training wheels and strollers to crossovers and double-Dutch, the diversified representation of Detroit in age, color, race, and interests was in full force as visitors and locals alike intermingled and moved at their own desired clip throughout the vehicle barren roads. Some stopped at every booth or tent that sparked their interest, while others took in the sights, smells, and enjoyed the feeling of openness as they jogged by with headphones in, moving to their own rhythm.

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As the city of Detroit continues to grow with visitors and residents alike, it is initiatives like this one that will essentially raise the appreciation for a city that was once viewed as a place to come down to, and leave quickly. Whether people were in town for a sporting event or traveled down to the city for work, many did not desire to stay much longer after their dedicated reason for being in the city reached its conclusion.

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Opening the streets, especially ones with the width of Michigan Avenue, gives pedestrians a chance to experience the city at new angles and at a different measure while also discovering new dining, retail, service, and entertainment destinations in an inclusive atmosphere that does not restrict individuals to the walls of their motor vehicle.

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While Detroit will forever be the Motor City, an alternative title we are eternally proud to represent, to experience the streets of Detroit without our prized automobiles dominating the street population was a welcomed change of pace.

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