Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Random Acts of Urban Playfulness

Cities have personalities. For far too long, Saskatoon’s personality has been somewhat schizophrenic. The riverbank has been a green oasis in the midst of a rather bland city – downtown streets lined with anonymous banks and office buildings and urban highways with generic strip malls and parking lots.

I’ve started a wish list of random acts of urban playfulness – small, defiant gestures to draw people out of their cars and onto the streets of downtown Saskatoon.

Food Trucks and Pop-Up Shops
City Hall is surrounded by green spaces that are hugely under-utilized. Let’s turn them in to people spaces by inviting food trucks and food cart vendors to park beside City Hall with creative, lunch-time offerings.

Let’s hold a food truck festival on a week night with buskers and craft stalls and displays.

Let’s hold an outdoor Christmas market with hot chocolate, music and dancing to keep us warm whatever the temperature.

Let’s set up pop-up shops on vacant lots or coffee shops in parking spaces.

Role Models:
Vancouver has greatly expanded the number and type of food trucks and carts on its streets.


It’s Time to Rethink ‘Temporary,’ a New York Times editorial, provides numerous examples of temporary architecture – from a mobile church in the Netherlands to retail stores in shipping containers on vacant lots. (Photo via The Brooklyn Paper)

Parklets convert parking spaces into mini green spaces and gathering places. It’s a temporary measure that can quickly create people places.

Bus Mall Opera
The discussions around public transit have become monotonous complaints about inadequate service or under-utilization.

Let’s lighten the mood by staging a performance on the bus and in the bus terminals.

Or we could host a progressive dinner and travel from one location to the next by bus.

Role Models:
Opera on the Edmonton LRT

Nashville’s Transit Week Progressive Party

Alleys for People
There are a number of alleys linking 2nd and 3rd Avenue (one beside Souleio, another beside Art Placement). What if we cleaned them up and pedestrianized them?

We’d have space for an art exhibit or a restaurant terrace or a green walkway.

We could invite the public to cover the pavement with colourful chalk drawings.

Face painting and games could turn the space into a children’s playground one afternoon a week.

Role Models:
Vibrant Alleys in California (photo credit: Brian Ulaszewski)

Alleys and Lanes in Melbourne, Australia

Green Roofs and Urban Farming
A bird’s-eye view of downtown Saskatoon is grey and boring. How can we transform roof tops or parking lots or boulevards into green spaces? Can we transform some forgotten corners into urban farms?

Role Models:

Start small! Small places of anarchy in Tokyo

High-tech greenhouse on the roof of a Vancouver parking garage

It’s your turn. What random acts of urban playfulness spark your imagination?

Note: I wrote this article before reading Public Spaces, Activity and Urban Form, Phase I of Saskatoon’s City Centre Plan, and it supports my random ideas. If you haven’t taken a look at this report yet, do. It’s easy to read, lots of visual explanations, and very interesting. Now Saskatoon just needs to follow through on these great ideas.

Next: Cooking up a Storm: Expanding Saskatoon's Food Culture

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