Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Public Spaces Worldwide
New Year's Eve in Cartagena, Colombia

Fireworks go off in Cartagena, Colombia for New Year’s Eve. Photo by Louis Vest/Flickr.

If one night out of the year were to demonstrate the value of public spaces for healthy, inclusive cities, New Year’s Eve might be the best example. Many urban areas attract millions of partygoers ever year, eager to ring in the New Year with public events and rich community-level traditions.

Today, we take a look at how a few cities around the world celebrate New Year’s Eve in their public spaces.

A Global Spectacle

Cities around the world partake in New Year’s festivities, joining the common thread of celebrating the new and discarding the old. For example, Central World Square in Bangkok, Thailand is flooded with partiers on New Year’s Eve who are treated to fireworks displays, live concerts, live streams of celebrations in other cities of the world, and a light show. In Colombia, Cartagena and Bogota become hubs of New Year’s Eve parties, with streets being overtaken by pedestrians as midnight approaches. In Colombia, traditions include eating 12 grapes at midnight, making a wish accompanying each one, burning a personified effigy of the “Old Year,” and displaying an empty suitcase to ensure upcoming travels. Many festivities take place in private homes, but streets like Septima (Carrera 7) are also flooded with pedestrians taking part in public traditions.

New Year’s Eve is a manifestation of the value of public space. By fostering safe, inclusive areas for New Year’s Eve revelers to partake in community activities and traditions, cities can showcase their ability to remain attractive cultural hubs.

New York City

New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square. Photo by Anthony Quintano/Flickr.

New York City’s Times Square is a ubiquitous icon of New Year’s Eve. Photo by Anthony Quintano/Flickr.

When New Year’s Eve packs over one million revelers into Times Square for the annual Ball Drop, the city streets will be flooded with the annual influx of partygoers. Historically, Times Square’s New Year’s festivities date back to 1904, the year in which the editor of the New York Times, Adolph Ochs, convinced then-mayor McClellan to name the space Times Square. This event replaced fireworks, for which Ochs was unable to get a permit. Nonetheless, Ochs was able to turn Times Square into the go-to destination for New Year’s Eve festivities, instead of the traditional gathering at Wall Street, where people had usually gathered to listen to the bells of Trinity Church. Ochs re-branded the space in the newly dubbed Times Square, and in 1907 the iconic ball served for the first time as a gathering point. Weighing over 700 pounds, the iron-clad wooden ball marked a new era of use for Times Square as a public gathering space, although Times Square has changed dramatically over the past century.

In recent years, a new focus on people-oriented design has transformed Times Square. The 2009 Greenlight for Midtown Project brought pedestrian-friendly measures, increasing crosswalk times and re-connecting 6th and 7th Avenues. Targeted traffic improvements along the iconic Broadway corridor improved road safety and eased of travel for all modes of transport. New plaza spaces were opened for public and pedestrian use, resulting in a decrease of pedestrian injuries by 35 percent. The rate of public space use also improved: pedestrian volume increased 11 percent in Times Square, and 6 percent in Herald Square. Opening up the space for the people, especially in an area so widely trafficked during events like New Year’s Eve, created a sense of safety and inclusion for locals and tourists alike. Just as the Ball Drop has become more sophisticated over the years, now controlled by an atomic clock—rather than by several men lowering the ball on a rope with a stopwatch for reference—so too have the spaces of New York City evolved to be more people-oriented.

Rio de Janeiro

New Year’s Eve festivities in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Andy Bullock/Flickr.

In Brazil, the New Year activities take place in a slightly different venue, with the masses flooding beachfront areas to partake in Reveillon and the Festa de Iemanjá, which incorporate a series of traditions aimed at bringing luck in the New Year. Many partygoers gather at the highly-trafficked Copacabana Beach, clad in white, joining together on the shores to view fireworks, then partaking in a series of luck-bringing activities including skipping seven waves at the shore, lighting candles, and floating flowers and gifts on the water. Ipanema and Barra beaches also play host to similar events, but traditionally, the majority of the festivities take place at Copacabana. The area, perhaps more famous for the annual Carnaval, experiences an outpouring of locals and tourists into the public areas on the beachfront, creating cause to move the launching areas for fireworks displays offshore onto barges. Accommodating this influx while fostering collaborative traditions, Rio de Janeiro demonstrates its commitment to maintaining open public spaces.

How do you celebrate New Year’s in your city? Share in the comments below!

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