St. Louis Open Streets set to be model for national movement

Events have the potential to offer public health and community benefits

Open Streets Initiatives, a movement growing around the United States, open urban spaces normally reserved for cars to people, providing a safe environment for socializing and other activities. The goal of the events is to promote healthy living and community building.

Researchers at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, evaluated the 2011 St. Louis Open Streets Initiative to examine participation in the events.

St. Louis Open Streets, held over two weekends in Oct., brought bicycling, walking and other diverse events to streets in Old North St. Louis and The Grove neighborhoods.

“With over 1,800 participants in 2011 and leadership from the mayor’s office, St. Louis has the potential to become a model and leader in the Open Streets movement,” says J. Aaron Hipp, PhD, assistant professor of public health at the Brown School.

“Open Streets events allow cities to showcase its infrastructure and neighborhoods from a different vantage point and to new populations. Riding a bike or walking down a street that you may otherwise drive or bus down brings an entirely new perspective. People realize how close destinations are by foot and bike, such as the market, restaurant, park and school.”

Brown School researchers looked at how participants spent their time at 2011 St. Louis Open Streets events.

Hipp and Amy Eyler, PhD, research associate professor at the Brown School, found that St. Louis Open Streets attendees spent an average of 108 minutes at the events.

On the economic front, 73 percent of participants spent money at a restaurant or store on the event route and 68 percent became newly aware of a store or restaurant during the event.

Eyler and Hipp also found that at least 94 percent of the participants felt that Open Streets events are welcoming to everyone, strengthen the community, are safe and positively change people’s feelings about the city.

“Neighborhoods are showcased during these events,” Hipp says

“Over half of the participants are from outside the city, much less the neighborhood. These participants will certainly identify new areas to explore and hopefully feel pride and a sense of safety and togetherness in the city and region. These goals are ambitious, but all of these have potential and I think our results show this happening already.”

St. Louis Open Streets face a number of challenges moving forward.

The demographics of the 2011 participants do not match those of the City of St. Louis.

“Moving forward, Open Streets needs to be promoted to segments of the community that were underrepresented in 2011, particularly the African-American community,” Eyler says.

“Marketing and outreach activities should go through trusted community partners such as schools, neighborhood organizations and advocacy groups.”

Hipp and Eyler also are building a campaign to encourage participation by urban youth and families in 2012 Open Streets events in St. Louis.

To view a report on St. Louis Open Streets, visit

Chris Casey, staff member at the Brown School’s Health Communications Research Lab, designed the report and served as a co-investigator on the project.