SIRI AGRELL | From Friday's Globe and Mail | Published Thursday, Jul. 14, 2011 6:00AM EDT
'Pop-up' urban planning gives cities the freedom to experiment with projects on a temporary basis, allowing innovative ideas a trial run without expensive commitment of taxpayer money. Cities around the world are embracing the idea, leading in many cases to permanent changes in the urban landscape
Rethinking urban planning
The words “pop-up” have become synonymous recently with a smart, savvy form of experimentation. Usually associated with the temporary installation of a café or retail store that operates for a limited time and then disappears, pop-ups are used by chefs to try out restaurant concepts, while brands employ them to gauge the interest and spending habits of specific neighbourhoods.
Now, cities around the world have embraced the idea of pop-up urban planning, experimenting with temporary projects as a way to build public support for an idea, circumvent city hall, or iron out the wrinkles in a municipal pipedream.
The idea was first employed in Copenhagen in the 1950s, when the now famously pedestrian-friendly city was debating whether to close Strøget Street to car traffic. With the public firmly opposed the idea, the city announced it would close the road over the Christmas holiday as an experiment.
It has remained closed ever since.
Today, pop-up urban planning is, well, popping up everywhere, from temporary seating areas in Vancouver to high tech-tourist kiosks in Paris and the surprisingly successful transformation of New York City’s famed Times Square into a car-free zone.
A temporary summer experiment has become a permanent part of the West Coast landscape through VIVA Vancouver, a city-run summer program that creates car-free streets and corridors across the metropolis. It all began with a pilot proposal in 2009 to have roving closings across the city to make different neighbourhoods pedestrian-only.
“Half our budget was dedicated to evaluating the impact,” said Andrea Reimer, a city councillor behind the project. “We wanted to understand all the different impacts: on pedestrians, on stores, on everyone.”
As part of the trial period, the inaugural VIVA Vancouver closed a different section of the city’s busy Main Street every weekend. From an urban planning perspective, it allowed city officials to see which ones created the biggest disruption and how traffic dispersed.
The program is now a permanent feature in the city, and receives funding through the annual budget. But VIVA retains its experimental tone by selecting different neighbourhoods each year through an open application process.
This year’s VIVA closes Granville Street to car traffic and puts a modular seating deck in the Mount Pleasant area of Main Street that will provide free, “no-purchase-necessary” seating for pedestrians. The idea was borrowed from similar pop-up seating experiments in San Francisco and New York.
“I don’t see a future where any street is only used for one thing. We need our roads for movement during the week, but on the weekends, we need them for recreation,” Ms. Reimer said. “By trying things out, it really just makes people rethink public space.”
More at https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/cities-rethink-urban-spaces-with-pop-up-projects/article2097898/