In Victoria, BC, a group of cyclists, urban enthusiasts and neighbourhood activists have been talking for some time about creating a Greater Victoria Placemaking Network to promote creative, citizen-led design and use of streets, plazas and other public spaces. When could we get together, where, we wondered?
Finally, it hit us: take our talk about better streets out into the street. We threw together an urban street gathering on a closed half block of Rockland Avenue in downtown Victoria. It’s a pilot project of The City of Victoria, and is called a greenway, but to us it was a street that was crying out for the human touch.
With minimal planning, we threw together a bring-your-own street event: bring your friends, family, your games, food, drinks, chalk, paint. We created a Meetup group, and a Facebook event, and sent the invitation out. On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon when Greater Victoria and Vancouver Island offered a myriad of festive opportunities, about 45 people showed up. People of all ages, most on bikes, some walking, a couple on scooters.
The kids jumped in right away, of course, drawing chalk art, chasing one another around, and having a good time.
Meanwhile, the adults were having their own fun – throwing a football, playing a bit of badminton, sharing home baked goodies and cold brew coffee donated by 2% Jazz Coffee. The refreshments emphasized the power of food and drink in human gatherings: put out food and people gather. From that came thoughts of food carts and food trucks.
Why not, someone suggested, have the City invite food trucks to park at the ends of the closed roadway? Could some tables and chairs be put out and stored nearby?
What if the nearby YMCA made more active use of the space, or Christ Church Cathedral, which is the great backdrop to this location? Music is another great attraction for people. Could recitals from the cathedral have an “invitation” element outdoors? What about a street piano here, that could be rolled under cover in the cathedral or at the Y during inclement weather?
Our group papered the off-putting traffic bollards with invitations, and wrote welcomes in chalk. Could the City not be more creative and welcoming in its signage? Even for a pilot project like this, a few temporary foam core welcome boards would do so much to invite people to get creative with their shared public space. How do cyclists know this is a cycle friendly ‘greenway’?
As cyclists and pedestrians made their way past our gathering, they naturally slowed. They were curious. We invited many to stop for a coldcoffee and a chat. Many did. But even those who didn’t stop did some thinking, I’m sure, about this previously anonymous space. What’s happening here? What is this space for, anyway?
Also interesting were the discussions afterward on Twitter (@communitymike, @olenanina @rethinkurban), including a dialogue about when and where groups need “permission” to gather.
All of which is one of the points of tactical urbanism, or citizen-activated streets: to get people talking and interacting.
Now, we can think about moving this little urbanism event around: neglected courtyards, scary looking walkways, under used plazas, street interventions – in any city, the possibilities are endless.