Ok – I know I’m a little late to comment on the presentation of Centre Square Plaza to the Regina Planning Commission (I was forcing myself to take some down time last month). But, I figure a little commentary is better late then never, right? Right!.
For those who may not have heard, Centre Square Plaza is the condo development set to occupy the SW corner of 15th Avenue and Broad Street. Along with condos, the space will likely also include some retail or office spaces in the lower levels. For more details, see the LP coverage here and here.
Overall I’m happy this project is coming forward – that corner has been vacant for a good, long while and it’s time it was put to use. And while condos are no substitute for affordable housing, more housing close to downtown is good news for the downtown plan, and the city, over time. Further, incorporating some retail or commercial space could make the building more useful to the community as a whole and has the potential to continue increasing pedestrian traffic in the area. Which leads me to my only real beef with the project: the ground level space that is shown in the renderings (above image). I hope for everyone’s sake that this concept is just a place holder for a more engaging ground level design – one that is actually at ground level.
I get that bumping the retail up above street level may seem like an interesting idea to the developers and designers, but in reality it disconnects pedestrians from the space which is the exact opposite of what is desired in the end. To quote the developer in this story: “the design is intended to create a pedestrian-friendly environment”; “the intent is to have a very dynamic street presence”. Note to everyone involved: dynamic, pedestrian-friendly spaces need to be approached (and designed) from the perspective of the pedestrian.
With this in mind (and just for the fun of it), imagine yourself walking past this place on the sidewalk: You won’t see an interesting retail display that has been created or people sitting in a coffee shop enjoying themselves – things that do indeed created a ‘dynamic street presence’ and attract pedestrians. What you will see is stairs and a few bushes – it’s isolating and makes people feel vulnerable and unsafe. Unfortunately planning with a design rather than people in mind often leads to these alienating effects which is not good for pedestrians or for business. It isn’t enough to use ‘pedestrian-friendly’ as a buzz-word – you’ve got to have follow-through.
James Howard Kunstler, author of “The Geography of Nowhere” and main guest on the Kunstlercast, gave a great TED talk where he touches on, among other things, the importance of creating good pedestrian spaces. The whole talk is great, but at 10:30 he talks about this particular folly of planning. His commentary is brief but it’s a nice little illustration of what the reality of this particular space could end up becoming if it indeed is developed with this iteration of design. I say we deserve better and that the developers should really re-think this one!
** above photo taken from the LP story here