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Broad Street Crossing and the Green Wall of Shame, Part 2

May 20, 2010

The topic of this post is the “Green Wall of Shame”… aka the parking garage that connects to Broad Street Crossing on Broad Street in downtown Regina.

For a primer, see my previous post where I talked a bit about this history of this project: what used to be there and what exists now.  I touched on what I feel are some of the problems with this development (that it is not conducive to increasing walkability).  The current Downtown Plan, approved in late 2009, proposes that parking garages should be designed in one of two ways: either there needs to be active frontage along the sidewalk with parking tucked in behind, or the parking garage needs to be stacked on top of active ground level frontage.

Source: Regina Downtown Plan

They also suggest remediating  existing parking garages with screens and/or art.

As I mentioned in my previous post, had Broad Street Crossing been proposed since the downtown planning process began it would have followed these design principles and we wouldn’t have the “Wall” to contend with.  However, the fact of the matter is that Broad Street Crossing and the “Wall” are here now so we might as well deal with it… right?  Right!

So today I’d like to present a few ideas for remediating this space in an attempt to make a more walkable space.

My main issue with the “Wall” is that it is counter-active to encouraging pedestrian activity when the rest of downtown is trying to increase walkability.  However, in addition to this it sticks out like a sore thumb and is not particularly attractive… but it doesn’t have to be.  The way I see it, the problem with the “Wall” is two-fold:

1)      It is a huge concrete wall, and;

2)      It is trying to pretend that it is not a huge concrete wall

The photo is a little dark, but for a look at it in afternoon light, check here.  The mural that currently exists tries to mask a large span of concrete in some sort of forested scene, and I think it is safe to say that it fails at doing so.

As my starting point, it seemed like there were two options to remediate this space and deal with the above-mentioned problems.

1)      Put something up that actually makes it not just a concrete wall; or

2)      Accept that it is a concrete wall and try to make it the best damn concrete wall it can be!

***

1)      Put something up that actually makes it not just a concrete wall.

This was my initial thought the first time I saw “The Green Wall..”.  Why not instead of painting greenery on it, you just make it green?  There is a lot out there in the way of wall gardens, and it might be possible to secure lattice to the structure and let vines do the rest of the work – greenery can soften the city and urban vegetation can be a welcome sight.

Or, if there are issues with affixing a structure to the parking garage, another option that I mentioned in a post about urban subversion, is moss graffiti.  Paint some interesting designs on the wall with liquid moss and let it grow (I didn’t take the time to actually render this option completely in photoshop, but here are some cool photos of this concept).

While these options have some potential, not everyone wants to maintain vegetation or a regular basis.  So, the other option:

2) Accept that it is a concrete wall and try to make it the best damn concrete wall it can be!

Simple right?  Lots of cities have large spans of concrete.  It is what street artists dream about at night – making concrete less boring.  So – perhaps we just need to find a style of painting that works well with this wall.

This is a piece of street art that I thought was fun while living in Montreal.

It seems ideal for a large span of wall without getting too chaotic (you know, to accommodate people with simpler sensibilities).  Again, embrace what you have and find something designed for it, and someone who knows how to do it.

However, after rendering these options, they both struck me as just as obtrusive as the original.  This wall still looks massive, unattractive, and isn’t improving the pedestrian realm.

So – what was it?  Was it the bold colours?  Colourful street art can be nice in moderation when done well, however, if done poorly or to excess the subtlety of the city may be overtaken and street art may seem out of place.

But more than colours, it really is the scale that is overwhelming (just like the scale of the current mural). Having nearly half a block as one homogenous slab is never good – it accentuates the size of the wall instead of minimizing it, and isn’t scaled for the pedestrian realm in which it sits.  So, really the best solution is to break the space up visually.

Both the idea of embracing subtlety and breaking the wall up into pieces reminded me of this cool project in Toronto:

This mural, by artist Richard Mongiat can be found on an underpass along Bloor Street.  The concept is simple and the result is almost graceful – a concrete wall with intricate designs and silhouettes painted in shades of white and grey.  The muted colour palette works with what the city offers instead of trying to rage against it – the resulting designs almost feel organic to the space.

Additionally, blocking the area into sections, the mural makes the large span of concrete of the underpass seem intentional and not out of place.  Again, with this type of option the idea is to not avoid the walls concreteness but instead embrace it and use it to our advantage.

Voila – just by breaking up the space it becomes more interesting for pedestrians (it gives them something new to look at every few feet).  Now, obviously these ideas are not perfect – and perhaps some of them could be combined for even better results.  Instead of a monoculture of vines you could have different varieties of plants growing on the wall in sectioned pockets; the sections could be used as comic panels to present a piece of sequential art; heck, the sectioned areas don’t even need to be painted neutral tones – they could be super colourful (even green!).

In playing with these ideas, it got me excited about all of the possibilities out there.  It’s important to talk about spaces that don’t work for us that aren’t going away anytime soon.  Instead, we need to find ways to remediate them and make them work for people.

At the end of the day, this parking garage is not great planning, but in the very least it can give back a little bit of interest with a bit of thoughtful intention.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2010 4:06 PM

    Great ideas. I loved to read this post. It is great to see people thinking about and being invested in our public spaces. The moss art idea is really cool – Do you think something like that would fly in Regina? Do you think it would be something you could see Downtown?

    Regina Downtown is working on ideas just like these in an effort to support the vision of the Downtown Neighborhood Plan.

    This summer our organization will have played a pivotal role in commissioning 3 new murals Downtown on our neighborhood properties.

    Feel free to email me if you want to chat more about this post.

  2. wourliem permalink
    May 20, 2010 8:28 PM

    Great renders Laura!

    I meant to comment on the Urban Subversion post about how wonderful the moss graffiti is. It would be lovely to see something like that combined with your final render.

    Your point about the obtrusiveness of colour is a good one. This wall is difficult to just blanket one colour or another. The current wall is green, too green in some ways. To replace the current wall with something red or blue, or even a monoculture of plant life (vines) doesn’t really change the space as anything but a big wall.

    Separating the wall into different sections, like the Toronto example, gives the viewer something new to look at every few meters and thus chops up that space.

    As far as car storage Gardens on Rose looks like it might be the first project (Capital Pointe may beat it but that’s underground parking) to incorporate a brick podium facade to contain parking. Just as the downtown plan suggests.

  3. Brent permalink
    May 25, 2010 11:56 PM

    This was a good read. I just commented (complained) to my wife a couple of days ago about the eyesore.
    I completely agree that something should be done to take attention away from the wall not to it. Let’s hope someone hears our plea and we see some action.

    Also your idea of the moss graffiti is cool. I would love to see some of that pop up somewhere in the city.

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