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Can Houston become a walking city? Plan aims to shut down some streets to cars, aid pedestrians

Las Ramblas, Barcelona, pedestrians
Imagine a weekly pedestrian promenade akin to La Rambla, Barcelona's foot traffic only boulevard.
Raj Mankad, Rice Design Alliance, Cite magazine
Raj Mankad, editor of the Rice Design Alliance's Cite magazine, is circulating the petition to open up a Houston street to pedestrians once a week.  Rice Design Alliance
Las Ramblas, Barcelona, pedestrians
Raj Mankad, Rice Design Alliance, Cite magazine

"We call on Mayor Annise Parker and City Council to open up a Houston street to pedestrians once a week," reads the first line of a petition that has popped up in my Facebook feed continually over the past week.

Entitled May 1,000 Night Walks Bloom, the proposal is being circulated by Raj Mankad, editor of the Rice Design Alliance's Cite magazine, and is based upon a recent blog post from contributor John Pluecker, a Houstonian who witnessed a pedestrian promenade in war-torn Ciudad Victoria, Mexico. 

Each Sunday evening, Pluecker writes, the city "[closes] off two miles of an avenue between a big park and a stadium. . . [as an] outright challenge to fear and paranoia caused by the war and its massively high levels of violence. A way to rebuild social fabric, frayed and torn after years of madness."

So why shouldn't the same concept be used in the Bayou City to foster a greater sense of community and city pride? Houston residents do seem to want greater automobile independence and a more urbanized lifestyle, after all. 

Westheimer from Shepherd to Bagby is suggested as a possible route (imagine food trucks, street artist and musicians lining the busy thoroughfare); McKinney Street in downtown, anchored by City Hall to the west and Discovery Green to the east; Harrisburg on the east end or Hillcroft Avenue out west of town. The petition also proposes Rice Boulevard between Main and Kirby.

Knowing the city and its pro-business propensity to monetize and commercialize, Pluecker professes to harbor some doubts. He writes, 

Of course, there are a million reasons not to do it; I can already hear the cries. Trash! Parking! Disorder! Danger! But there are so many reasons to do it: we have so few public spaces, so few non-commercial spaces to gather. We have our own work to do to share space, to build a social fabric. To turn streets into pedestrian spaces, not just channels for cars. Normally, we never even get to look at each other. And we should be looking.

Would you take advantage of weekly pedestrian-centric plazas? 

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