The Dutch city of Utrecht has installed a slide (or what they humorously call a “Transfer Accelerator”) at a local subway station. Often we talk about successful public space project “activating” spaces and this happens through movement, engagement and conversation and this slide accomplishes all three. How fun! And what a wonderful way to spend time waiting for a train or to slide your luggage instead of carrying it down those stairs. = )
Watch a video about the Transfer Accelerator below:
Cities like New York and San Francisco have lead the way in the transformation of our largest public space, our city streets. They have successfully created comfortable, vibrant and welcoming public plazas constructed efficiently and inexpensively by using paint and temporary materials. These plazas can help calm traffic (decreasing incidents of pedestrian and cyclist injury and fatality), encourage walking and cycling (contributing to personal and public health through exercise and the decrease of carbon emissions from cars), and can benefit local businesses (because when you create an attractive space, people are more likely to linger and patronize nearby shops and restaurants.
The hallmarks of these public spaces are their location (converting redundant or wide streets in areas that already have high levels of commercial, pedestrian or cyclist activity), their customizable nature (moveable seating and chairs are always preferable because you can feel comfortable to sit alone or in large groups), and their accessibility (no stairs, adjacent to crosswalks and sidewalks, lots of seating options, shade and visibility).
Los Angeles, with it’s warm weather, wide boulevards and high levels of pedestrian activity in certain neighborhoods could be a perfect playground for these types of public spaces. Last year the Los Angeles Department of Public Health received a grant to decrease obesity rates in Los Angeles and together with the Department of City Planning, they decided to put that money towards Los Angeles’ first street-to-plaza conversion project.
This particular location was chosen because a) the community had been asking for a pedestrian plaza in this area for over 10 years, b) there was already a twice-weekly farmer’s market in this location so the street already had consistent pedestrian activity; and c) as previously mentioned, the street is redundant and sandwiched between a small triangular park and popular businesses whose patrons were usually crowding the tiny sidewalks with bicycles and belongings.
Sunset Triangle Plaza is a one-year pilot project. Early next year community members, city agencies and elected officials will determine whether or not the plaza will become something more permanent or be converted back in to a street.
Street-to-plaza conversion projects can be hard to visualize if you’ve never seen or experienced one before. The wonderful thing about creating temporary demonstration projects is that they allow a city to inexpensively transform public space so residents can see for themselves just how transformative these types of spaces can be.
Public space guru Jan Gehl has said that “we shape cities, and they shape us” and as a community-based urban planner, I have spent the last eight years learning as much as I can about how our public spaces are designed and how that design (or lack thereof) affects our behavior. Our public spaces are where we meet, socialize, play, relax, transport ourselves and congregate – but with varying degrees of success. It’s my belief that our public spaces should be accessible to diverse users, activities and modes of transportation, and help contribute to a more equitable and interwoven city.
Vibrant and connected public spaces can improve community health through exercise (from walking and biking), reduced pollution from cars, provide traffic calming by slowing speeds and reducing the number of cars, and improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. They can contribute to economic growth (successful public spaces can increase patronage of local businesses) and be conducive to community engagement and empowerment by bringing neighbors together to talk, exchange ideas and express themselves through art and culture, protest or collaboration on local projects.
In the absence of successful public and civic spaces, our neighborhoods become disconnected from one another and we live in segregated spaces, separated by our differences in physical ability, transportation options, language barriers or perceptions of safety or exclusion. Despite these barriers, public spaces are so important to our sense of “community” that residents of neighborhoods that lack accessible public space will transform their home, block or entire neighborhood by expressing themselves through public art, importing culture in innovative ways, and meeting up with friends and families wherever possible (garages, markets, sidewalks, front yards) to socialize, celebrate and feel comforted.
Our inaccessible public spaces can be reborn into accessible spaces through (often inexpensive) urban design changes that can be enjoyed by a diversity of people instead of a select few. My objective is to use this blog as a platform to highlight formal and informal projects that are reflective of their neighborhood, creating a better quality of life and ultimately, helping to create a more accessible city.