I picked up a book from the library last week, “The Great Neighborhood Book” by Jay Walljasper and Project for Public Spaces. Here is an excerpt discussing the origin of woonerfs:
… residents of one neighborhood were fed up with cars racing along their streets, endangering children, pets, and peace of mind. One evening they decided to do something about it by dragging old couches and other furniture out into the roadway. They positioned these objects in such a way that cars could pass, but only if they slowed down. The police soon arrived on the scene and had to admit that this project, although clearly illegal, was a good idea. Soon the city itself was implementing similar plans of its own, called woonerfs (Dutch for “living yards”), on streets plagued by unruly motorists.
One can only imagine the response of politicians and engineers if these neighbors had meekly come to city hall to ask permission to partially block the streets. They would have been hooted right out of the building. By taking direct action, however, they saved their neighborhood and brought comfort and civility to cities around the world.