After having already engaged with various members of the Woodstock community, the purpose of Talking Streets this month was to take the first step to move into the planning phase for Open Streets in Woodstock. Our co-host for the evening was Rashaad Martin of the two-year-old Woodstock Community Outreach Forum, which works with local residents to transform Woodstock through small changes and initiatives. As he put it, "to turn Woodstock from the place where we live to the place where we want to live". High on their priority list is making streets safer through traffic calming measures and pavement improvements, as well as cycle lanes amongst others. Open Streets is seen as an opportunity for neighbourhood activities that cater for kids and teenagers, who have expressed dissatisfaction with recreational options in the area.
The group set off along Albert Road with each participant bearing a slip of paper containing a specific question about key aspects of an Open Streets day to generate discussion along the way. People expressed different opinions which constructively challenge our assumptions about public space and ultimately inform any planning process. A significant debate was held around how activities on the day should be organised and whether defined activity zones should be created. How do we strike the balance between spontaneous intervention and providing a framework that facilitates activities. Is there a danger in undermining the concept of 'open streets' by being too prescriptive? We also discussed the potential of Open Streets to unite businesses along certain stretches of the street, through collaborative activities that are mutually beneficial.
After a short walk and the arrival of rain, we moved the discussion into the welcome shelter of Daddy.O, a shared workspace and venue inside The Old Biscuit Mill. As we explored different ideas about engaging with the Woodstock community and all its layers, it became clear that there is opportunity and necessity for us to look carefully at what is already happening on the streets. Who is using that space? How do they use it? What stories do they have to tell? How can Open Streets capture these stories?
Similarly, participants helped us identify another opportunity to serve as a link up amongst the different stakeholders found in the Woodstock community (residents - old and new, businesses - old and new, schools, NGOs, faith-based organisations). Open Streets could help unite all these co-existing layers. The key is to be mindful to avoid becoming another form of displacement for the community, inviting outsiders in without celebrating the existing local community.
This valuable discussion helps to inform the next steps taken in planning Open Streets Woodstock. As well as holding a larger public community meeting, one of the more exciting of these next steps will be a creative one in the form of a contest. Stay tuned in to hear about getting involved!