Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Cities provide something for everybody...when they are created by everybody

Toronto neighborhood corner store - re-imagined
Today is America's Independence Day - the time for celebrating a government by and for the people. Sadly, local governance seems a long way off in the rhetoric that comprises this election season. So for solace, I turn to local governance on the street in the form of placemaking.

There are plenty of amazing street designs, laneway experiments, and examples of tactical urbanism that enliven and activate the street. The more people who walk and enjoy what Jane Jacobs called the street ballet the easier it is to humanize our neighborhoods and reduce fear and crime. This is the magic that is placemaking.

But did you ever notice how some versions of placemaking seem too expensive for the average person? Who has the time or money to redesign a laneway or install fancy lights, landscaping and pavement treatments?


An answer surfaced on recent trips to Toronto and Colorado Springs. The former took form in a small corner convenience store in a Toronto residential neighborhood.

Sitting areas, barbeques, relaxing space for socializing - A corner store with a purpose 
After suffering a burglary last fall and installing window bars, the owner decided to explore some inventive placemaking of her own. She transformed the front and side of her shop into a mini-market and outdoor gathering place and then invited locals to enjoy.

Inside the store she brings in local artists and artisans with samples of their work. With a vested interest in seeing their own work, and the chance to visit with others, locals and families frequent the corner store and create their own neighborhood nexus with very little cost to the storeowner.

Walls for local artists to show their stuff - free of charge!


Another answer appeared along a downtown laneway in Colorado Springs. In this case locals used color and paint to enliven an otherwise dead space.

Colorado Springs laneway made fun with paint highlights
Rather than an alley with dead spaces, poor lighting and droll walls, these shopowners painted walls, installed local art, and used overhead colored LED lights to bring some energy to the space. When a few people located their shops along the alley, the space turned into a social gathering place.

Dull wall space transformed with paint
It really is not difficult to trust locals and work with them in coming up with ways to turn spaces into places. Jacobs said it 50 years ago: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and when, they are created by everybody.”

Adjacent restaurant getting in on some laneway action with colorful ad-art