For the first time since the city’s final Bele Chere in 2013, several streets of downtown Asheville were closed to vehicles for a festival on Sunday — but it certainly didn’t feel like Bele Chere. Open Streets Asheville Festival, a free, pedestrian-friendly, family event, brought out attendees in droves.
Xpress attended this first-time event, which included all of Wall Street and connecting sections of Patton Avenue, Haywood Road, Otis Street, College Street and Church Street. A section of downtown felt like a suburban neighborhood cul-de-sac on a holiday. Community members gathered outdoors, enjoying a variety of activities.
The streets were filled with kids and adults laughing, playing games, creating art, riding bikes, skateboards and scooters. There were also over 100 health and activity vendors, such as Violet Owl Wellness offering free yoga, LEAF Community Arts with free interactive art and mural paintings, Buncombe County Special Olympics with its Young Athletes’ Obstacle Course, and the Buncombe County Partnership for Children presenting a “pop-up adventure playground” allowing kids a variety of materials to construct and decorate their own personal play area using cardboard boxes, plastic tubing, tarps, sheets, paint and more. Open Streets Asheville Festival also offered attendees free massages, bike-skills clinics, soccer clinics, music, street performers, fencing, gymnastics and dancing.
“I love how it transformed the city into one big playground,” said mother Paula Reed, who was attending the festival with her 7-year-old daughter, Jamie. “We’re having a great time,” enthused Jamie’s mother.
Festival attendee Trinity Harris said, “It’s great to see so many kids having fun, playing out in the streets together. It shows a sense of community. And it’s free! Can’t beat that!” she laughed.
Nine-year old attendee Sean Atkins said his favorite part about the festival was “riding bikes everywhere, playing the games and the science experiments,” referring to the interactive experiments at the Asheville Museum of Science booth.
Vendors also seemed to enjoy taking part in the festival. “We felt great, we had fun!” declared Asheville Jam founder Adele at the festival’s end. Asheville Jam (www.ashevillejam.com) performs and teaches a variety of dance forms, specializing in contact improvisation. The group performed during the festival in the intersection of College and Haywood streets.
According to the festival website, Open Streets Asheville is “a concept hailed by the City of Asheville in its 2015 Asheville in Motion Plan. After years of discussion among city visionaries and advocates for community health and active transportation, planning began in 2015 with leadership organized by the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC).”
Visit www.ashevilleopenstreets.com to learn about future events, as well as information about Sunday’s event.