What is pop-up urban planning?
According to a recent Globe and Mail article, “pop-up” urban planning is a “smart” and “savvy” form of urban experimentation. It allows municipal governments to experiment with urban revitalization projects on a temporary basis. This allows city planners to try out new projects without committing the city’s or tax payer’s money.
Yonge St, with is crowded sidewalks, is a prime candidate for revitilization. Image courtesy on Daily Dose of Imagery.
Typical pop-up projects include the temporary installation of a café or retail store. The purpose of such projects could be to try out a restaurant or retail concept or to gauge the interest and spending habits of a specific neighborhood.
Now, municipal governments and urban planners are employing the use of these projects with a slightly different strategy in mind. The utility of these pop-up projects for city planners is straightforward – such projects allow city councillors and urban planners to gain public support for the revitalization of a given street or city area, to circumvent city hall in some cases, and to amend any flaws in proposed projects before they are furthered.
This innovative new strategy is taking off around the world and many cities are enjoying a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape as a result.
Success around the world
From Paris to our very own city, municipal governments and city planners are embracing the idea of pop-up planning projects.
Pop-up urban planning has its origins in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was first employed there in the 1950s. At that time, the city was debating whether to close Strøgert Street to oncoming traffic. The residents of Copenhagen did not approve of the idea, so the government decreed that they would close the street experimentally over the Christmas holiday. The street has remained closed to all but foot traffic ever since. Copenhagen is now considered one of the world’s most pedestrian-friendly cities.
Modern Stogert Street. Image courtesy of The Globe and Mail.
For a modern example of the benefits of pop-up planning, we can look a little closer to home. Take New York City, for example, which is home to one of the most renowned practitioners of pop-up – Janette Sadik-Khan. In 2009, Ms. Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, closed Times Square to vehicular traffic – installing pylons around the site and a smattering of lawn chairs within.
Lawn Chairs in Times Square. Image courtesy of The Globe and Mail.
While some drivers complained, no one could argue with the statistics that Ms. Sadik-Khan collected through the duration of the experiment. Indeed, as a result of the closure, revenues for businesses located in Times Square rose by 71%, while injuries to motorists and passengers in the area dropped by 63%. It was also found, through the installation of 13,000 GPS systems into taxicabs, that northbound trips in the area of Times Square were 17% faster as a result of the project.
Ms. Sadik-Khan was also the mastermind of the installation of several public swimming pools on the streets of Manhattan last summer and the creator of a public park in a Brooklyn parking lot. Sadik-Khan said, in a recent interview in Esquire magazine, that she wants people to understand that a public space can be transformed in a matter of days.
Public Pools on the Streets of Manhattan. Image courtesy of Esquire.
These projects often do not require funding from the coffers of local governments, she proves. Sadik-Khan executes most of her projects without city funding, scrounging together the cash from a myriad of other sources and exempting herself from asking for permission to implement her urban visions.
How will pop-up urban planning affect our fair city of Toronto? Just ask City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam about her vision for Yonge Street. This fall, Wong-Tam will propose her vision to the Toronto City Council and will use the idea of ‘pop-up,’ with its temporary nature to help get many councillors on-side.
A recent press release on Wong-Tam’s website revealed that in January 2011, the newly elected Councillor began to consider ways to remedy the declining vibrancy and character of Yonge Street. Wong-Tam cited the destruction of the Empress Hotel as a catalyst for her interest in preserving one of the most iconic streets in Canada. Indeed, the fire provided residents, store owners and City Councillors alike with a cruel reminder of the fragility of the Yonge St. landscape and its history.
Earlier this year, Wong-Tam commissioned a study on preservation tactics for Yonge Street. The report was co-authored by Marianne McKenna of KPMB Architects and Ken Greenberg of Greenberg Consultants.
Councillor Wong-Tam unveiling the results of the Yonge St study. Image courtesy of Toronto Sun.
The report prioritizes several projects to revitalize Yonge Street, including: transforming the streets to make them more pedestrian-friendly and boost retail sales, expanding subway access with the creation of a new Ryerson station at Gould, and the encouragement of street markets, street-vendors and entertainment.
Perhaps most pertinent to this article, though, is the proposed reduction of Yonge Street to two lanes between Gerrard and Dundas. The lane reduction will reduce vehicular traffic and make this strip of Yonge more pedestrian-friendly.
Rendering of a two lane Yonge Street. Image courtsey of The Globa and Mail.
Prioritizing pedestrians just makes sense as pedestrians outnumber vehicular traffic on Yonge St. by a whopping 250%. Indeed, Yonge St. sees an average of 53,000 pedestrians in just 8 hours. As Ken Greenberg states, “pedestrians are literally falling off the sidewalks at busy times.” Wong-Tam asserts of her vision that it “embraces a new urbanism and one that comprehends a Yonge St. in 2011 that currently is not well served by narrow sidewalks.”
Pedestrian traffic outnumbers vehicle traffic on Yonge Street by 250%. Image courtesy of Toronto Life.
Wong-Tam will ask the city to test-drive her idea as a pop-up pilot project. The strip of Yonge Street outlined above will be reduced to two lanes through the use of removable landscaping. The trial will be commitment-free and relatively inexpensive, which will hopefully make it more friendly to many of the vehicle-philes that currently comprise the city’s administration. While Wong-Tam has the support of city heavyweights such as the Yonge Street Business Improvement Area and Ryerson University, she acknowledges that the pro-vehicle mayor and his administration will be tough to convince.
What are your thoughts on the plans for a revitalized Yonge St.? Would you be more or less interested to live in the area if it was revitalized to be more pedestrian-friendly? We welcome your comments and would be delighted if you chose us to help you find a condo in the area. Don’t hesitate to call Broker of Record Kaive Wong if you need help with your condo search at (416) 929-1660.
Cityscape. Kristyn Wong-Tam is pushing an ambitious revitalization plan for Yonge St. Toronto Life. July 2011.
Reynolds, Chris. Study says Yonge stretch should be narrowed. The Toronto Sun. 6-Jul-2011
Taddeo, Lisa. Janette Sadik-Khan: Urban Reengineer. Esquire. The Brightest: 16 Geniuses Who Give Us Hope.
Unknown Author. Councillor Wong-Tam launches Yonge Street Planning Framework. kristynwongtam.ca. 14-Jul-11.