The Minnesota State Fair rivals a European pedestrian zone for car-free fun. (Credit: Steve Lyon under a Creative Commons license from Flickr.com.)
An inspiring prototype for more sustainable, shareable, enjoyable cities rests right under our noses in communities across the nation, particularly mid-America.
In fact, millions of people in farm states pay an admission to amble through car-free districts animated by cafes, beer gardens, music performances and the enduringly interesting parade of people passing by. Locally grown food is all around, some so fresh that it is still on the hoof.
This is no chi chi idea of a pedestrian district imported from Germany or Italy. It’s a homegrown model for how to improve safety, health and pleasantness in the places we call home.
Skeptical? Well, I was just there a few weeks ago in Minnesota, and through the years have delighted in the lively streetlife of similar spots in Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois.
I’m talking about State Fairs. But the concept works equally well with County Fairs and Renaissance Faires. These rustic American traditions approximate the experience of Old World pedestrian zones.
And these are not the only places people eagerly gather en masse to enjoy life without the hassle or harm of traffic. Indeed, a similar pastime represents the fondest dream of many American families—to visit a theme park like DisneyWorld, Busch Gardens or Six Flags.
When you stop to think about it, many of our cherished memories are formed in places where people come first and cars are banished outside the gates.
So why don’t we make fairs and carnivals more of a permanent pleasure that we could visit throughout the year—a fun-filled combination of a county fair, public market, street dance, carnival, art festival, horticultural exhibit, ciclovia, and community-rooted trade show?
And while we are at it, we could liberate theme parks from the captivity of their surrounding parking lots by moving them in the heart of town where folks could easily bike, bus or stroll there.
It would look, in essence, like a European, Asian or Latin American pedestrian zone but coming entirely from our own way of public life.
And if opponents howl that Americans would never go for that sort of thing, tell them to visit Disneyworld or the local county fair.
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