Dedicated to pedestrians, car-free weekends on Dundas Place offer many opportunities to enjoy Downtown London.
Nicknamed the Forest City, London has no shortage of outdoor, nature options for recreation. Parks and trails are a great pick to relax and reconnect with the natural world. Since late July, though, Londoners can count on another kind of leisure activity with car-free weekends on Dundas Place.
A slow-paced stroll through the three blocks between Talbot and Wellington, right in the middle of the pedestrian-only street, may be as pleasant as a walk in the woods, and though you may not reconnect with nature, you might be revitalizing your bond with something equally important: community.
“We are trying to add to the existing atmosphere and to feel connected,” says Dundas Place manager, Savanah Sewell. “What makes a community is its people and their stories, and we have so much of these here in Dundas, from business owners to residents. It feels really special to see the community coming together here.”
A car-free fall
According to Sewell, car-free periods were being considered even before Dundas Place was finished, attached to special events. Besides the community aspect, car-free weekends came up as a way to help businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and to make social distancing easier.
“The patios could be extended, which was good for restaurants. It is all so new, this was the first summer we didn’t have any construction. People are very receptive and this is encouraging,” Sewell shared.
Because of that, the initiative, originally intended to last until the end of summer, was extended to October 16, when the patio season ends. Hours also have been extended. Now the space is car-free from Friday at 4:00pm to Saturday at 5:00am, and from Saturday at 4:00pm to Monday at 5:00am, including all day Sunday. Similar closures during winter are not totally off the table.
“Snow removal is a big thing, of course, but we’re thinking about it. We ran two surveys with businesses and one online, open to everyone. The feedback has been positive,” says Sewell.
During weekends, the sidewalks of Dundas have been transformed into a stage for many artists. On September 12, DJ Dahjah set up his mixer and turntable in the block between Richmond and Clarence to entertain passers-by. It was the third time he performed there.
“These weekends are a very good idea. Sometimes we see things like this in bigger cities, and it’s great to have it here,” said the DJ.
In the following block, between Clarence and Wellington, musician Hubert Orlowski was playing his keyboard at Dundas Place for the second time.
“Even with COVID, it’s still cool to enjoy the facilities and the street. We feel freer to explore the space,” said Orlowski.
Jennifer Martino and her daughter Pearl went to Downtown just to enjoy Dundas Place. They were having fun to the sound of DJ Dahjah’s music.
“I love outdoor spaces and the fact that this is a family-friendly event. I believe the only times I’ve been in Downtown since the pandemic were for car-free weekends. My daughter is amused with the possibility of playing in the middle of the street,” Martino shared.
Kanwaljeet Singh was playing in the thoroughfare with his toddler child, savoring the last days of summer.
“This is a good idea, but I think they could make it livelier, so more people would come,” he says, as his interaction with his child itself brings more life to Dundas Place.
A promising future
Singh has a point. However, the pandemic postponed a lot of plans to 2021. Nonetheless, Savanah Sewell is actively thinking of ideas to make Dundas Place fulfill its potential.
One of these ideas was the Vintage on the Block, an open-air vintage market that happened on August 29 that showed a glimpse of Dundas Place’s true potential. It was organized by Dundas Place vintage stores Filthy Rebena and Dugout Vintage.
“Savanah suggested us to do some kind of market. We partnered with Dugout Vintage, invited different vendors and that was it. It was amazing, we had a whole different vibe,” says Natalie Bradshaw, co-owner of Filthy Rebena.
Bradshaw and her associate, Darlene Davis, opened their business six years ago. They have been through a lot of changes in the last couple of years. During the construction of Dundas Place, they moved to another location on Richmond Street. They returned to Dundas Place last February.
“Dundas Place has a ton of potential, we are optimistic. That’s why we moved back. The people who are running it are very open-minded, I’m sure they’ll do a great job,” Natalie added.
Flexible as a flex street
Safety is top of mind for Sewell, even more after the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Ontario led to a rollback in the number of people attending social gatherings across the province.
“[The street closures] are here to encourage folks to make space, enjoy the core and be safe. Over these weekends, we’ve been able to see what Dundas Place can be down the road. If we’ve learned one thing in 2020, it’s that we truly have to be flexible and as restrictions evolve we want to ensure we’re doing our part too,” Sewell said.
So, wear your mask, keep social distancing, and enjoy the atmosphere of a car-free weekend on Dundas Place, which hopefully will become a trademark experience for London in years to come.
Feature photo by Ivan Kasahara.