July 15, Colombo: Colombo's first ever open street concept day saw residents reclaiming their streets from Green Path to Independence Avenue on foot, bicycle, skateboard and rollerblades.
Jointly organized by Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, CarFreeCMB was initiated to offer people a chance to experience everyday Colombo through a different lens and to promote a healthier and more sustainable urban lifestyle.
The CMC chose a relaxed Sunday morning to offer up this experience, keeping with tradition from other Car Free Days in the region in cities such as Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Taiwan, and Gurgaon.
A number of free community-led performances and activities were scheduled across over two kilometers of cordoned-off roads during this time, with easily accessible alternative routes provided for regular Sunday morning motorists.
There was something for everyone - thrill seekers and yogis, children and grandparents, the active and even the artistic. The Torrential Rollerblading Club together with Workout.lk marked their presence with speed skating stunts. Amateur cyclists were given the opportunity to learn from and meet like-minded individuals, following a spectacular bicycle parade by Colombo's most notable cycling groups: Triathlon Club Colombo, Pedal Pushers, and Spinner. Non-profit charity TandemVision were also present, raising awareness on paracycling as well as educating the public on their work in enabling the visually impaired to cycle through free rides by TandemVision pilots. To top it off Spinner and Lumala were also on board to provide basic cycle repairs, bike upkeep and assistance during the entire event. Participants could also rent bikes to use during the event from Spinner at a nominal fee.
Fitness buffs were treated to sessions in the Krav Maga defence system by Master Wijesiri, Zumba by Dharshan, and the team from Colombo Night Run kept the spirit of running high. Workout equipment was made available for all courtesy of Quantum Fitness, on the open streets the yoga mats were rolled out for Kundalini Yoga by Uta Gunawardena, and wellness was given centre stage by the Sri Lanka Health QiGong Association.
For kids, The Little Gym, an enrichment and physical development center for children, conducted sessions of 'serious fun' with parents joining in.
Kids also partook in a Scavenger Hunt with teams competing against each other in a fun-filled, action packed session. Budding Picassos explored their potential with a UNICEF-facilitated art session for children guided by university art students. Older art aficionados on the other hand browsed a showcase of artwork by local artists.
Keeping with CarFreeCMB's theme of environmental consciousness and sustainability, the Good Market with its many home-grown vendors -namely Selyn Fair Trade, MA's Happy Kitchen, Flow Health Bar, and Rubees Natural Bees Honey, among others- offered plenty of healthy food options, organic produce, and ethical-trade wares, placing local commerce at the forefront. Stalls by JustGoodness.co and Innocent Foods also did their part in promoting a healthy consumption culture by providing the nutritious fuel needed to energize all active participants during the day.
Staying true to its objective of being a disposable plastic free zone, people were encouraged to bring their own water bottles, with bottomless refills provided by Frosty Water. Parking was made available for participants, and roads that were closed off were re-routed to allow for an entirely safe pedestrianized environment. Garbage bins placed at the venue by Cleantech ensured that streets remained litter-free.
"Although the first of its kind in Colombo, CarFreeCMB was met with an encouraging response," said Rosy Senanayake, Mayor of Colombo. "This is a fun and encouraging way for us to explore the streets that we experience every day- usually while stuck in a tiring traffic jam-in a new way. Cities around the world regularly host these car-free Sundays to benefit their residents. It's a great way to get some exercise, meet new people and enjoy some fun activities on a Sunday morning."
Car-Free Day (CFD) is a global movement held in many countries and across many cities. Ambassador Joanne Doornewaard was keen to trial a fun, safe opportunity for residents to reclaim their streets on a relaxed weekend.
"This car free morning is a pilot to see if what works in other tropical cities could also be enjoyed in a small part of this beautiful city on a Sunday morning for all its people. I have received such a positive response from residents who appreciate the safe, spacious, and exploratory environment created to engage in recreational activities," she said.
"I also feel that it's a great opportunity for us to come together after what we experienced as a city a few months ago. Let's hope we see more of these events happening on Sunday mornings in the future."
Through the inaugural local edition of the event, Colombo's residents and its visitors were given the perfect opportunity to reimagine their city car-free, enabling them to explore the roads and learn a little bit more of how they too can alter their lifestyles for the better.
In addition to a supportive public, the success of CarFreeCMB was made possible by its main sponsors, John Keells Properties and Hirdaramani Group, partner Anim8, and supporters Cleantech, Frosty Water, Siyath Gowin Plus, Workout.lk, and Spinner; all of whom led by example, working together to address these vital public health and related issues, including pollution control, sport promotion, as well as youth and community engagement.