I’ve been waiting to write about the City Centre Square, the new plaza on 12th Avenue, reserving judgment until it is near completion. I think that day is coming soon, so I am taking the opportunity to share my thoughts.
A few weeks ago I had a conversation about the just opened space in the picture above on the SW corner of Scarth Street and 12th Avenue. The metal tables, with a flickering Tholian Web suspended above made for a strange sight. We were trying to figure out what the heck people would do there.
Well, now we know it’s where people occupy Regina.
The Occupy protests for social justice have been springing up around the world. When people in Regina came to meet, in all of Victoria Park it was this place they chose.
Occupy Regina feels like a vital opportunity to create a dialogue in this city about the most important issues. It is a chance for people to meet, talk to each other and build social capital. There will, no doubt, be many negative comments as the protest continues but I hope that those who disagree take some time to join the discussion and talk to the tenters.
That’s right, tenters. People are sleeping over night, in freezing temperatures, in Victoria Park.
Occupy Regina is the first significant attempt to define the plaza as a place of protest. In my experience of the space, there has been a good number of people strolling the right of way, engaging in conversations about the development. The City Centre Square has certainly got people talking.
Perhaps I should start with what I like about the square.
The corner plaza, despite some bewilderment on my part, is an effective gathering place. I believe people will regularly hangout here because it gets people out of the pedestrian way, where they can linger and talk.
Another positive is people are using the sitting areas on the South side of the Plaza, where the paving stones loop into the park. The light pillars, numbering four aligned in front of the seating area, are also ok by me (even if they remind me of Italian Futurism).
There are some nice grass and tree chill-out spots near the Southern edge of the Plaza. Skateboarders like this area because the concrete barrier holding back the park soil is just tall enough for grinding a board along.
On the negative side; shade screens. These are meant to replace trees (the trees wont grow) but they mostly function to block out the Gordon Block. Well, for the time being, Prairie Dog (here) reported recently that Harvard is looking to knock over the Gordon Block, removing the only functional retail space on the new plaza.
The Gordon Block had just been spruced up with the empty store fronts given a make over. The window displays are reminiscent of the Downtown Art Windows project RUE was a part of last winter.
Unlike art windows, however, these covers are neither artistic nor a creative use of space. Rather, whoever’s produced the signage has taken the idea of art windows and turned it into a branding opportunity.
The Gordon Block does seem doomed (sooner or later) which is unfortunate because it has a great three-story scale. A three-story scale can be easily done in a new building, yet somehow, rarely gets accomplished. The quality of materials and craft are likely to be worse in a new building. Just look at the entrance way frieze in the picture below…oh wait, the shade screen is covering it.
The right of way should be open to traffic soon and that could change the public engagement with the plaza. So far, people have been able to wander through without even curbs to step up to. How will people take to being stuck behind shade screens when walking along the North side of the street?
Another issue is the lighting. Mid summer, the Plaza did not have its lights ready and there was a period where at night the two block stretch was totally dark. Talk about unfriendly, unsafe spaces!
Now, the lightsabers and spot lights on the shade screens alternate between colours in the evenings. The four large pillars provide the majority of on street illumination along the 12th-Cornwall axis.
For the most part, the lightsabers and pillars are alright but the shade screen lights look like a mix of a discotheque and death camp.
Now we have lights we can bring on the vehicles. I actually saw someone mistakenly drive down the Plaza already. I think they made a wrong turn out of an alley. The funny part was how offended all the pedestrians seemed, how this vehicle was deemed an unwelcome intruder. It was the opposite of Regina’s car culture; a driver looked upon with disdain by pedestrians.
July 12th 2009
September 6th, 2010
September 29th, 2011
October 15th, 2011
Planters have been added, seemingly to help delineate the vehicular right of way from everything else.
With only the stage area on Cornwall Street left to be completed, the City Centre Square is almost done. Winter and cars should make for some interesting conversations in the months ahead.