I really enjoyed this video and story about this public space along a street in Montreal and how and why it was transformed.
In NYC, at Bloomberg’s Times Square, in the public “pedestrian plazas,” the seating is not set up so people interact with one another (it keeps people in their respective ‘group’). At Washington Square, the popular seating alcoves sprinkled along the perimeter on the Eastern end of the park were in jeopardy of being obliterated by the city’s redesign. (More on that in a minute.)
Many of the Bloomberg Administration’s public space initiatives amidst the streets appear more geared towards accommodating tourists than the people who live here in the city.
Yet in Montreal, accommodating the community was the goal which led to a brightening of the area overall.
From StreetFilms Blog, A Montreal Intersection Morphs into a Wonderful Public Space:
On a Bixi bike excursion to get some ice cream in Montreal, my wife and I stumbled upon the intersection of Fairmount Avenue and Rue Clark, recently upgraded with colorful new street furniture, traffic calming treatments, and a two-way protected bike lane. The space is teeming with street life. When you arrive at this lovely place your first instinct is to stop, sit down, and enjoy.
This intersection is a prime example of how a neighborhood street should cater to people. All local streets should strive to make pedestrians feel welcome, slow traffic speeds with physical infrastructure, and provide art and greenery wherever possible.
This feels very Jane Jacobs! She loved lively streets and neighborhood interactions and diversity.
From an earlier post here at this blog (2008), “Last Call, Bohemia. Or, as Jane Jacobs wrote, the benefits of “the strange:”
In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs wrote, “To be sure, city areas with flourishing diversity sprout strange and unpredictable uses and scenes. But this is not a drawback of diversity. This is the point, or part of it. That this should happen is in keeping with one of the missions of cities.”
Back to the seating alcoves at Washington Square — Removed in the Bloomberg Admin’s initial plans for the park, after public hearings in March and April 2009 on WSP Redesign Phase II before the Landmarks Preservation Commission(LPC), community members spoke passionately in favor of retaining the alcoves. The Community Board and Council Member Alan Gerson were against losing the alcoves. (When LPC members had asked why these seating alcoves had to go, the city responded that they attracted “activities that are undesirable.”) After pressure by the LPC (responding to the community outcry, tho’ they did not – notably – respond a few years prior and thereby switch course on the moving of the Fountain), the Parks Department at last agreed to reinstate four of the original six alcoves in the plan.
Most of us heard at the April meeting that these seating areas would remain the same size. Instead, the alcoves were reduced – notably at the largest alcove along Washington Square North. The original design’s promotion of unique interactions was lost. And in certain pathways in the park, you’ll note that the benches are never directly across from one another — that removes another potential means of creating interactions with your neighbors.*
It seems like Montreal has the right spirit here.
In the comments at the Street Films blog, one of the Montreal public officials wrote in to say that the city didn’t really spend a lot of time publicizing this effort as they are more into action than p.r. How unique!
And maybe once Mayor Michael Bloomberg learns this colorful, creative, welcoming public space is a hit in Montreal, he’ll bring the idea here.
(*In rereading this LPC post from 2009 where the number of benches in the park was addressed, I wonder if, once WSP construction is ultimately completed, there really will be 487 benches at the end of the day. ?)