By: Jaslyn English and Mary Ann Boateng
On Sunday Sept. 23, McMaster hosted its first Open Streets event – a day in devotion to the idea of closed off streets making a more open community. The event lasted from late morning to late afternoon, running in conjunction with Open Streets Hamilton happening on James St N.
Open Streets Hamilton brings together different communities within the city in an attempt to bridge the gap between residents, small businesses, cultural organizations and special-interest groups.
The McMaster event featured a closed off portion of Sterling Street, turned completely pedestrian for the day, as well as a campus section stretching the length of University Ave. from the student center to the edge of the BSB field.
The Hamilton event is part of a broader movement in various cities across North America. According to its website, openstreetsproject.org, the object of Open Streets is to “temporarily close streets to automobile traffic, so that people may use them for walking, bicycling, dancing, playing, and socializing.”
Hamilton has been running the event biannually on James St North since spring 2010, and this is the first time it has come to the McMaster campus.
Mary Koziol, former MSU President and Assistant to the President on Special Community Initiatives, was one of the organizers of the event.
“We started the project because we wanted to eliminate some of the barriers people perceive to be around campus,” she said of Open Streets. “We wanted a way to welcome community members onto campus and vice versa.”
University Ave. was lined with booths representing several clubs, organizations, and events within McMaster itself. The campus was also equipped with a stage for live performances.
The festival continued down Sterling Street, where booths of many Westdale shops as well as community-based organizations were located. This area of the event promoted the idea of outer-campus community that Westdale provides for McMaster’s students.
“I’ve seen a lot of familiar faces,” said the vendor at the Hotti Biscotti table, commenting on the similarities between this event and Clubsfest, hosted during Welcome Week on the McMaster campus.
Nate Walker, owner and operator of Nate’s Cakes, an eco-friendly alternative to the food truck, explained how vendors benefit from a festival like Open Streets.
“The event provides me the opportunity to know all the university students, he said on Sunday. “Festivals like this are where it’s at… If [it] happens again, I will definitely come back.”
Vendors and community members alike remarked that the event brought the community together, a notion mirrored by McMaster president Patrick Deane’s message recorded before the event took place.
The president saw the event as “bring[ing] down the boundaries between the university and the community” and was hoping for a “cross-pollinating effect” between McMaster and the broader Hamilton area.
While there was a diversity of age groups and walks of life from both the university and neighboring communities, the event failed to grasp the attention of the “broader Hamilton community” that the President was seeking to attract.
“It’s too bad there aren’t more people,” remarked a Westdale woman to her family, two hours after the event had started.
Yet after using one of the every-half-hour shuttles equipped with its own student tour guide, and taking in the atmosphere of the downtown portion of the event, it became evident that a crowdless, laid back vibe was as much a part of the Open Streets project as were the street vendors, and added to the neighborhood feel of the event.
McMaster participated in Open Streets as part of its celebration of the University’s 125th anniversary, but Koziol hopes the festival will continue in the coming years.
“What we are trying to do is a better job of opening our arms and welcoming the community and creating more and more partnerships and a broader network so that people don’t see McMaster as a community in itself but as just one part of this broader tapestry.”