Streetfilms in Holland: Experience the Joy of The Woonerf

Life on a Dutch play street is simply better. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Life on a Dutch play street is simply better. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

You know how it is: You send Clarence Eckerson Jr. to Holland and you get more than a t-shirt.

You get a clarion call for change.

If you follow Streetfilms on Twitter, you’ve seen lots of snippets of Eckerson’s experience in the cycling capital of the world. But his full-length mini-doc, “Life on a Dutch Woonerf,” focuses on one of the simplest ways to make urban life better: reduce driving speeds on side streets to walking speed. As a result, drivers won’t bother using those roads (except for a delivery or drop off) and everyone else can enjoy their neighborhood.

Woonerf is the Dutch word for “living street” — and you’ll see why below.

Some New Yorkers — especially those who live in Gracie Mansion — might say, “Well, you could never do that in New York City.” But the Dutch model is eminently replicable on the thousands of New York City neighborhood roadways that no drivers need for through travel. Just put down a few benches, narrow the roadway, eliminate the curb and add a zig zag pattern and, viola, livability.

“They do things that make it nice for people to live here, instead of the cars,” one resident tells Eckerson on camera.

Eckerson explained on his Streetfilms site how he came to find this particular woonerf:

When I posted I was headed to The Netherlands once again to visit, as usual I got a lot of recommendations on what to look at. One of the first people to contact me was Rebecca Albrecht, who moved there with her husband Paul from Boston about three years ago and couldn’t be more delighted to live there.

She mentioned she lived on a Dutch play street (woonerf) and when I looked at the photos she had snapped from the window of her bed and breakfast, my first thought was: maybe this would be an opportunity to get a unique angle from residents since I had ridden on so many similar streets in Amsterdam and in Copenhagen, but didn’t want to be too nosy.

When I arrived the street was full of neighbors and children and they wanted to talk to me about their lovely street. But this is not something exceptional as over 2 million Dutch people live on play/living streets. So take a gander but be warned: you will want the same thing for your block.

Play and ride and just be human on a Dutch woonerf. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Play and ride and just be human on a Dutch woonerf. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.


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