|[Lyndale Open Streets.]|
For those who don't know, Open Streets is an amazing event where the city takes a street normally choked with cars (in this case, Lyndale) and devotes the space to people for an afternoon.
It's only a few hours, but this simple gesture reveals with a flourish how radically street design can change the feel of a city. For a few hours, Lyndale (or Lowry or Central or Minnehaha) magically transform from an anxious-provoking car sewer into an almost transcendent place for people to do anything they please. People walk their dog, ride bikes, do yoga, sell lemonade, or slowly meander around with a loaded handgun attached to their hip. Yes, this year brings us the first ever "Open Carry Open Streets."
Here's a description from the flier:
Join us for this series of open carry social meet up opportunities in Minneapolis & St. Paul! The streets will be closed off to vehicles on the following dates, so we're using this as a perfect opportunity to promote pro-active, positive visibility for law abiding gun owners. Bring a lawn chair, bicycle, picnic lunch or whatever!
Welcome Gun Nuts!
|[The next big thing since recumbents.]|
If it were effective or politically possible, I'd be in favor of closing the gun show loophole, passing an assault weapons ban, and I'd even embrace handgun laws like Chicago's, DC's, or New York's.
But in the real world, I don't care much about guns. For me, its a political dead end. The reason is pretty simple: gun people love their guns more than just about anything. They're one of the most dedicated interest groups in America today. Not only do attempts to regulate not work very well, they almost always backfire. [sic]
Meanwhile, though gun culture has a seriously problematic relationship with race and gender (e.g. George Zimmerman), gun people seem mostly harmless. My conservative cousin is in the NRA and, politics aside, he's a very nice man.
In my experience, open carry gun people are socially awkward, economically stressed, working class white guys who fetishize a particular (f'd up) technology. For these folks, coming out to Open Streets to blink in the sun and enjoy mundane urbanism for a few hours is the best possible outcome. Picture a few carry permit guys emerging from depressing basements filled with boxes of ammo and old calendars, venturing from bunker'd exurbia into the everyday world of an average Minneapolis street filled with people of all backgrounds on a beautiful summer day. The beauty of the city will smack them in the face like a shaving cream pie.
(Of course, maybe I'm wrong; maybe the Minneapolis Open Carry people are huge assholes.)
As Handguns are to Misanthropic Survivalist Culture, Bikes are to Urbanist Millenialism
|[Bike hunting: why not?]|
In other words, if you had a "Minneapolis Pedestrians" rally, nobody would show up. Nobody writes their congressman about being a pedestrian. Walking is not something that gets people very excited.
Frankly, the Pedestrian Committee people seemed a bit jealous of the bicycle group, the seeming ease at which bike activists showed up for meetings. For example, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition has been growing like gangbusters, and they're one of the main forces behind Open Streets. Bikes are politically powerful, bus stops are not.
|[Bikes are the "charismatic megafauna" of urbanism.]|
And that's why bikes are like guns. Just as guns seduce their owners with their efficient design and deadly power, people develop deep emotional bonds with their bikes. Both communities almost pornographically share pictures. Both communities have weird rituals. Both communities are dominated by white men. And both communities have political traction, because bikes can appeal to people in ways that sidewalks and transit funding can never do. If the bike lobby can someday wield a fraction of the influence of the gun nuts, the world will be a wonderful place.
If You See an Open Carry Gun Guy, Try to Smile
Each year in the US, about 30,000 people are killed by guns (including homicides, suicides, and accidents). By strange coincidence, almost exactly the same amount of people are killed annually by cars. (And that's not including the more diffuse public health effects of automobiles, e.g. obesity, asthma, etc.)
To me, Open Streets is about the diverse kinds of life that are possible when we remove the automobile from the center of our lives. It's not about everyone being forced to do yoga or ride bicycles. It's about revealing the potential of our public spaces, our streets and sidewalks. We're much better off in a world where even people that disagree with each other can co-exist in our public spaces. This means welcoming everyone, even if they have an idiotic gun strapped to their hip.
|[People eyeing each other warily at Lyndale Open Streets.]|