PPS public spaces workshop

Monday Oct 1 2007, I attended a workshop sponsored by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The FCM Walkability and Placemaking training seminar was presented by the Project for Public Spaces. PPS is an organization from New York “dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build communities”. It was a pre-conference workshop at the Walk21 conference in Toronto.

In a side conversation before the workshop began, I spoke with the presenter, Fred Kent, about the PPS presentations I had already attended and his work helping Surrey improve the public spaces in Whalley. He said he knew White Rock. He stayed at the Ocean Promenade on Marine Drive while he was working in Surrey. He was impressed with much of the waterfront. However, I thought it was interesting that, when here, he wondered if there was more further out… more than the waterfront. He didn’t know there was an uptown area.

Following are some of my notes from the workshop.

People in the community create a sense of place. How do you facilitate it?

He enjoys working with librarians. They seem to have a great interest in creating great public spaces. Libraries are gathering places, sources of knowledge.

Transportation systems are the strongest influence on public spaces.

What would happen if a city had 10 places, each with 10 things to do? “Amenities to make a place are critical.”

Traffic engineer Hans Monderman says, “you can’t have anything less than excellence.”

“Traffic is a social problem, not a design problem.” – Mental Speedbumps

Good public spaces need intrigue, uncertainty and humour – also from Mental Speedbumps.

“Here the road allows us to be oppressive and the oppression of others increases aggression” – Kent

Another participant and Kent commented on how frustrating it is to be spending lots of money on traffic calming trying to get people to slow down in their own neighbourhood, to not tear through their own neighbourhood.

He explained that, often, problems were created by transportation engineers by answering a question that is only concerned, or primarily concerned with accommodating vehicle traffic. “You don’t solve transportation problems with transportation professionals.”

He later said that the time to bring in transportation engineers is after it is known what type of street is desired and have them work as part of a comprehensive design team.

“Iconically designed public spaces that no one wants to use” are a problem. Success is a sense of neighbourliness.

If you plan for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic.

**Note to self: check out Richard Louv**

Over the past 30 years, the radius of children’s play area has shrunk – this is the “antithesis of progress”.

A plaza needs active edge uses. “Blank walls are an end in themselves. They declare supremacy of the building over the person” – William H. Whyte

Involve the community upfront to define the problem, define the space.

“Ignore the parking because parking is a symptom.”

Focus on the details, the “nooks and crannies.”

Signal to drivers that they are entering a pedestrian priority area – that the use is changing – through signage, bike lanes, sidewalk changes, etc. It will result in changes in driver behaviour.

“Parks and public spaces are essential to a city’s happiness.”
**Note to self: check out Enriques of Bogata**

Cities should be more open to testing things, being innovative, trying on ideas temporarily.

Use parks and recreation programming to get people back into the streets.

Parks are not just open spaces, they are gathering places – active gathering places.

Parks need to reach out beyond their boundaries.

The Octopus card in Hong Kong is a transit payment card that can also be used to purchase newspapers and coffee. The convenience of multiple uses encourages public transit use.

**Question to self: what would happen if we had a full time librarian but no library?**

Public parks could have commercial use – more uses in parks gets parks more use, creates more activity, give reason to be there and stay. Most parks now seem to have “shallow use”. The ‘no commercial’ ideology is not working.

We took a walking tour of several Toronto streets, two parks, and a few lanes. How the spaces were being used, the weaknesses and opportunities of each were discussed. One thing that was very interesting to me is how dramatic it could be from one block to the next, and especially that the perfect places (meticulously designed and manicured) were the boring streets (and devoid of people).

Sometime soon I will post pictures of some of these spaces.

Power of 10:
• A downtown needs 10+ major places/destinations
• Each neighbourhood needs 10+ places/destinations
• Each place/destination must have 10+ things to do

• Layer uses to create synergies
• Connect places to create a district
• A district needs 100-1000 things to do
• Things/events need to happen simultaneously (I think he actually meant to say “consecutively”) and over time
**Note to self: google Peckham library**

When asked about the significance of the number 10, he admitted that it was arbitrary. He picked it simply to provide a benchmark goal.

Government should not be running (programming) public spaces. Parks events should have funding streams that goes on and on – stable funding and management – not subject to political whims or shifting funding priorities.

This appears to be a contradiction from what they said earlier encouraging City programming to create activity in public spaces. From the context of the conversation, I am assuming that he is now talking about large, significant, recurring festivals and public events.

“Happiness is the ultimate goal.”

Transit needs destinations – routes that are focused on connecting places or destinations – to help shift transportation away from cars.

It’s about process. This is about NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING!!

Throughout the day, they repeatedly talked about process – that you can’t assume a solution that worked somewhere else will work the same way here, or start with a particular design goal in mind – that the solution depends entirely on the context, the problem and context is best defined by the local businesses or residents or people who use the space, and that the solution should also be found through a process of consultation. They weren’t advocating any particular design treatment or method, but rather a public consultation strategy for finding urban design solutions.

“Developers will do what we ask them to do. But we don’t ask them to do enough because we’re scared they’ll go away.”

One Response to “PPS public spaces workshop”

  1. ld Says:

    Visit ld

    when members of a community take it upon themselves to do something, it’s because they care. they know intrinsicly that government is bogged down with red tape and process, a time waster. Sometimes it’s just quicker and easier to move the stone yourself, than wait for a committee to schedule it into their workplan, discuss it endlessly, bring it before council, vote on it, wait for operations to determine cost and usability, and then they move the stone.

    A recent example is the guerilla gardeners around the city. People here like to garden. We see spaces which we’d like to play with – so we do. The Peace Arch News writes about it, and actually contacts operations – the public taking work away from union workers. Where is the insight here? Why was there no mention of the idea of the parks department developing adoptable gardens in public space? I’ve adopted 5 spaces along johnson road – no permission asked – just took the action – no government subsidy requested to purchase winter blooming pansies – just wanted to add color and dimension over the winter months to the neighbouhood – the ladies who garden in the parks – they see a space they’d like to play with – capitalize on their natural willingness to play in public space and create a “public garden adoption agency” – the moment you ask me to pay a fee – for the “priviledge” I walk away.

    What if Johnston road from north bluff to thrift became a car free public space?

    Seniors on scooters would have a safe route to get from point a to point b. Us pedestrians would not have to breathe in the massive volume of cancer causing carcinigens from car exhaust. Noise pollution would be reduced dramatically. What if every condo sold, came with a golf cart for residents to get around in. What if every road created was automatically created with a bike lane – what if bike lanes were also scooter lanes? Sidewalks are not always wide enough to accomodate safe manoverability of pedestrians, baby strollers and scooters. If building heights is controversial – imagine how vocal people will get when “their” road is taken away.

    What if there was a wall available for public painting. If I feel the desire to paint – some may call this graffitti / vandalism but if there are others who want to express themselvs artistically in public – capitalize on this “public mischief” and give us space – the rock will always be a medium for true love to be expressed in black marker – its a given.

    Look at what us hooligans are doing – why are we doing it? Your answers may lie there, on how to engage the public in space usages.

    Libraries have always been cool! Don’t tell or everyone will want to go to the library.

    Pedestrianization is a cultural mindset change which is not funded by the oil or automotive industry. Slowing down, getting out and exercising is also a cultural mindset change. taking time to say “goodmorning” and smile to total strangers as you pass them on the sidewalk is a pedestrian mindset – the car mindset is to speed through the yellow light because the car driver is more importan than anything else. They complain because they have to pay to leave their 2 tonne metal purse in public space. They look down their noses at people who consciously choose not to own a car, not to support oil wars, care about the environment. I save 1000$ per month because I don’t have car payments, insurance payments, gas, etc etc.

    Why is there not even a wooden/cement park map in each postage stamp park – showing the way between parks? Showing where the other parks are? Showing the “stairway” trails?

    Good for you to attend these lectures – my friends had really positive responses to their presentations at step 21.

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