In recent years, more and more initiatives try to counter the important role of the car in urban streets. Projects like PARK(ing) Day and Neighborhood in Motion show how the removal of cars affects the urban space and the mindsets and lifestyles of the residents. Ghent has another bottom-up approach where 16 residential streets were transformed into collectively created spaces for no less than 2.5 months.
It all started in 2013 with a bunch of enthusiasts who were busy with the Ghent policy concerning the future of mobility. In order to make people feel what a difference it makes when streets are used by people instead of cars, they came up with the idea of ‘Leefstraten’ which translates as Living Streets. Leefstraten is an experiment that enables inhabitants to transform their street into a place they’ve always dreamed of. By removing the cars and finding other places for parking, new space came available that were turned into places with slides, hen houses, petanque courts, pop-up bars and a lot of astroturf and picnic benches.
One of the most interesting elements is that the process is led by the inhabitants themselves. All the locations have a different outcome resulting in a different use or no use at all. The inhabitants all have their own ideas on how to use the street, which makes up a very local decision making process. The first things that come up are the parking spaces which are a necessary first step. Harder are the personal arguments concerning peace and quiet in the street, especially in the evening.
When everything comes together and a street is turned into a living street, there is hardly anyone who doesn’t feel satisfied! Not only because of the new claimed living space, but also because everybody had a say in the process. The success in Ghent has led to initiatives in different cities across the Netherlands and Belgium, but seems suitable for every city with inhabitants that want to create places for people instead of cars.