Home to dozens of restaurants and storefronts, Jamaica Plain’s Centre Street normally boasts a steady stream of traffic, especially since pandemic restrictions loosened.
But on Sunday, there were no cars to be seen. Instead, thousands of people from the neighborhood and beyond converged on the street, which was closed to vehicles, to partake in the city’s inaugural Open Streets Boston festival.
“We walk up and down the street all the time, but we’re always fighting with cars to do it, so it’s nice to see people out and about, especially after the pandemic, and see the streets come alive,” said Khalilah Jones, 27, who’s lived in Jamaica Plain for five years.
The Open Streets Boston series is a summer pilot program that blocks off streets for neighborhood festivals from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said in June. The events are modeled after previous city-sponsored road closures, such as the annual Open Newbury Street, but are part of a separate city initiative to advance racial equity goals by hosting closures in communities with large populations of color.
The next street closure will be held Aug. 6 on Blue Hill Avenue and the third on Sept. 24 on Dorchester Avenue. They’re part of efforts to reimagine transit in the city, amid increases in traffic and T-related frustrations, city officials said.
The Jamaica Plain closure spanned roughly 1.4 miles from Jackson Square to Centre/South and featured an array of activities and vendors — many in the middle of the road. Kids played games and climbed firetrucks, families explored assorted food trucks, and cyclists and rollerbladers zoomed by as speakers blared music from Afrobeats to Ariana Grande.
Outside George’s Shoes, a store celebrating its 100-year anniversary, Wu told reporters that several city departments have worked on planning the event since she took office with a goal to “provide a big boost for communities.”
“We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to experience our streets as spaces for people and places where families can have fun and be safe,” Wu said.
Several Jamaica Plain residents said they were excited to see their neighborhood, home to a diverse array of people, highlighted in the first event.
“It’s a town inside the city, and our kids have been here since they were born, so we’re close with many of our neighbors,” said Tim Kelleher, who came with his husband and two kids. “Jamaica Plain is really representative of a lot of different kinds of people.”
Elwaleed Abu and Eiba Eltay moved to Jamaica Plain with their daughter Maya last week and said Open Streets was a great introduction to the community.
“We love seeing the new people ... and this can help the local businesses because we’re discovering more as we’re here,” Abu said, as Maya danced to Latin music.
Not all attendees were area residents. Brittany Haynesworth, of Brighton, was in the neighborhood for her 2-year-old son’s soccer game and decided to stop by. They ended up staying for hours.
“He was born during COVID, so this is the first time he’s actually able to get out and not wear a mask and see all these different people,” Haynesworth said.
Businesses along the street saw an uptick in customers as visitors to the event stopped in to see what they had to offer.
Adina Habib, a 16-year-old Jamaica Plain resident who works at gift shop “On Centre,” credited the Open Streets event for the increase in business, saying, “It’s definitely giving us flashbacks to the holiday season.
Others, like local grocery store Stop and Shop, participated directly, handing out tote bags and encouraging passersby to take water bottles, fruit, and granola bars.
Erica Mintzer noted that she and her family planned their summer vacation around attending the event.
“It’s been a great chance to come out and see all our neighbors, the businesses, walk in the middle of the street,” she said.
But her son had a slightly different view.
“The streets being open aren’t the best part — I like all the food trucks and the activities,” added 9-year-old Jack Mintzer-Goldberg. “We should do this every week.”
Anjali Huynh was a Globe intern in 2022.Follow her on Twitter @anjalihuynh.