Open Streets TO a success!

Crowds gathered to watch the Brampton AcroRopers in action... before jumping in and trying it out for themselves. Photo by Laura Bincik.

Toronto's first Open Streets pilot a success

From acrobatic skipping demos to Tai Chi, young and old got into the action

Story by Tammy Thorne

Photos by Tammy Thorne and Laura Bincik

Open Streets TO is a phenomenon that is taking hold in big cities all over the world. Started in Bogota, Columbia, 20 years ago to help the population get physically active by letting people pedal, walk, jump, run and play in streets that would otherwise be clogged with car traffic, it is now held in over 100 cities worldwide. The family-friendly and accessible event is meant to encourage physical activity without the need for special equipment.

Thousands showed up – eventually – on Sunday, August 17, 2014, for the first Open Streets event in Toronto. The event started at 8 a.m. – before the subway and most shops opened – and so it really got rolling just after 10 a.m. before ending at noon. The short duration was due to bureaucratic challenges at City Hall, including (most obviously, and not surprisingly) our current mayor’s distaste for public street closures, apparently particularly ones that promote physical activity and don’t involve raising money. But that is exactly the point: This is an accessible event that you do not need money or any special equipment or registration to participate in. It also allows Torontonians to dream about what it would feel like to live in a world-class city that features permanent pedestrian malls -- like most major cities have. The next Open Streets TO will be held on August 31.

Bike Share Toronto (seen above left in action) provided bikes for those who wanted to roll instead of stroll.

Events included: yoga, power walking (but, no Prancercizing - not that there's anything wrong with that) ping pong, walking tours, art making, beat-boxing, dancing, Tai Chi, snacking, and, of course, biking!

But for me, by far one of the most interesting interactive events of the day was hosted by the amazing Brampton AcroRopers. These elite young athletes put on unique acrobatic skipping demonstrations that got everyone from toddlers to seniors jumping and laughing. Skipping is a great cardio workout, but it also involves strength, endurance and concentration. Competitive skipping is very popular in the U.S. and in the U.K. In Ontario, we have nine competitive teams, including the AcroRopers, but none (yet?) in downtown Toronto.

The turners use cloth ropes while Julie shows off her speed. (The world speed record was 194 jumps in 30 seconds: an amazing 388 revolutions per minute. At that speed, the rope moves at 130 km/h.)

Since it is an affordable and accessible physical activity that anyone can do (you just need running shoes and ropes) it seemed like a great fit for Open Streets. Participants and visitors were nostalgic and shared memories of childhood Double Dutch skipping fun while developing a new-found respect and recognition for these incredible athletes right here in the GTHA.

Mother and daughter skipping together.

Julia Whyte is co-president of the AcroRopers along with her husband, David. Their 14-year-old son, Jake, is one of the AcroRopers and has been on the team for 6 years. He started when his older sisters were on the team. The family got involved after attending a Heart and Stroke Jump Rope for Heart event was held at their school.

Yes, Sarah is jumping with a single rope while also skipping "Double Dutch" - inside two larger turning ropes.

Ages range on the AcroRopers team from about 7 to early 20s, and Whyte says the small teams of 4 or 5 really build friendship, leadership and teamwork skills. “It’s a camaraderie I haven’t witnessed in other sports. We have kids in other sports, including hockey, and for skipping there is a real mixing and mentoring that draws the younger kids in, I think.”

Jersey, Sarah and Thomas jump in unison during a group routine.

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Whyte hopes that Canadian competitive jump rope teams will compete more on the international stage and maybe one day participate in the Olympics. (Currently, there is no international body governing competitive skipping and as judging is different in the U.S. and Europe, that creates challenges in becoming an Olympic sport.) The AcroRopers have competed in World Championships in Florida and Washington states. The team has been around for 20 years.

But if it is so fun and so accessible why don’t we see more kids Double Dutch skipping in schoolyards and parks in Toronto?

Brad Cianco, president of the Ontario Rope Skipping Organization says, “Double Dutch originated in the U.S. and... it was big with the inner-city kids because of the cost; it is cheap and they could do it on any flat surface.

The reason that it is not as popular [as it used to be] is because kids don't go outside any more to play. The electronic age is upon us...video games and computers and everything else.”

But can skipping make a comeback?

“Sure, once the kids come back to having fun and wanting to play outside again.”

And herein lies the beauty of Open Streets: Get outside, have fun. No other ingredients needed to get a bit of exercise and feel good.

Even if our current mayor can’t recognize these simple facts, thousands of comfortably shod families, hundreds of cyclists, and dozens of dogs did.

Congrats to everyone who helped make the pilot project a great success.

Big thanks to the 300 volunteers that made the day possible!

Thank you Open Streets TO volunteers.

Too bad one of the “issues” with getting the event off the ground was the exorbitant costs associated with weekend event policing. Seems odd that having police direct traffic would be something that would stop citizens from enjoying the peace.

More photos from the day:

Green machine!

Kids kids kids!

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Pooches loved open streets.

Woa!

Fancy freestyle leg work.

Jumping is Thomas, turning (facing) is Jersey and Julia. (Ashley, seated, is a volunteer.) Standing to the right is Sarah. And someone strategically wrote "FordsLastDay.com" on the sidewalk - they sell buttons and celebrate the coming end of the current mayor's term in office.

Kristyn Wong-Tam, City Councillor for Toronto Centre-Rosedale, (below) was instrumental in bringing this initiative it to life.

Congrats to everyone involved! The next Open Streets TO is August 31.

Chalk art by Angela Bischoff.

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Related on the dandyBLOG:

CBC report: Streets open to people not cars

Bike Plans in Other Cities: Montreal, Bogota and NYC

K9 commute: Riding with Rover

Connecting Parkdale to the Waterfront

Winter bike spotting: Kristyn Wong-Tam

Vancouver Velo-city recap

 

 

 

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One response to “Open Streets TO a success!”

  1. jnyyz says:

    Great pictures! We had a small group tour the whole closure area by bike from about 8:30 to 10:30.
    http://jnyyz.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/openstreets-to-by-bike/

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