Creating a Better Regina with Tactical Urbanism March 20, 2018 · 9 min. readWhile the thoughts and opinions are my own, this article was brought to you by a third party. Also, this article may contain affiliate links.
Last autumn I visited Kingston, Ontario for the first time in about seven years, and while I mentioned I had been there before, I never explained why.
Several years ago I travelled to Kingston to represent Southern Saskatchewan at the NEXT Generation Leaders Forum. The purpose of this international forum was to discuss urban planning in the mega-cities of tomorrow. We had to think outside the box and solve problems like housing, garbage collection, employment, energy and transportation. When the forum was complete, and we submitted our ideas to a panel of judges, my group won the "Global Vision" award for our ideas on improving housing for the future.
For seven years that award and my time in Kingston sat on my bedroom shelf collecting dust, and while the experience was memorable, it never amounted to anything.
This all changed a few weeks ago at a joint workshop between the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District and the Regina Warehouse Business Improvement District. The theme of the workshop was Tactical Urbanism 101, which introduced the concept of improving public space via inexpensive and temporary changes.
Old photographs of downtown Regina show throngs of people walking around outside, filling the sidewalks and streets with activity. If you go down there today, sidewalks are much emptier, and people are replaced by cars. Throughout the Western world, downtown areas have transformed from shopping markets to business sectors. Historic, character buildings have been replaced by glass and steel and cognitive themes were lost to towering skyscrapers. Some of downtown Regina's most iconic buildings – the old City Hall, the King's Hotel, the Capitol Theatre, among many more – were lost during this transition.
Shared spaces that were once a disorganised chaos of cars, trolleys and pedestrians have now been segregated to sidewalks and roadways. Streets downtown now have highway size lanes with speed limits the same rate as major roadways. Today, roads and parking lots take up nearly a quarter of downtown and have people getting in and out as fast as possible, not staying around to linger. This hurts local business, drives away traffic and closes doors.
Tactical Urbanism looks at ways to test out temporary interventions that can inspire permanent change in any neighbourhood. To make downtown a safer place for pedestrians, the workshop recommended wider sidewalks, narrower traffic lanes and slower vehicles speeds. With such a high concentration of traffic, this will not only improve safety, but also reduce accidents and collisions.
One of the side effects of this would be a reduction of people going downtown, which may sound counter productive, but is exactly what we want. Drivers will no longer think of downtown as a space for trucks to roar through. Instead, traffic will be slower and vehicles like large trucks will resort to travelling on roadways designed for them. Studies show that the removal of 1-2% of drivers is the difference between grid-locked traffic and calm, seamless driving.
However, increasing sidewalk space and narrowing lanes is expensive. Not to mention that such construction efforts would take months to complete, and close off entire sections of the city. Tactical Urbanism's solution to this is to increase sidewalks via outdoor patios, using street space for Park(ing) Days or by putting up temporarily barricades to restrict traffic. A similar concept was done in Toronto to create a safe place for people to ride their bicycles. By closing off a lane with stone flower-pots, bikers could have a safe place away from moving vehicles. Within 2 years of creating this very inexpensive barricade, the number of bicycles riders jumped from 529 to 2136! This took scores of vehicles off the road and made traffic run that much smoother.
There are scores of other ways to "Tactically Urbanise" a neighbourhood. You could transform it aesthetically like the Gay Village did in Montreal, or revamp an unused space like Alley-Oop in Vancouver, or even take an undesirable area and morph it into something stunning like Graffiti Alley in Toronto. All these locations are now famous for their design and innovation, and there is no reason it couldn't happen in Regina.
The workshop I attended used inexpensive materials, including stencils and pallets, and made chairs, tables and whole temporary spaces for people to enjoy. Under guidance from guest speakers like Stantec's Harold Madi and Megan Jones (and many volunteers from the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District and Regina Warehouse Business Improvement District), humble empty places were transformed into lively spaces by just a touch of creativity.
After the workshop ended, I went home and thought about what locations could be "beautified" around Regina. One of them that immediately stood out was the alleyway to the West of Scarth Street. It's a low traffic area and would be the perfect place for something like Graffiti Alley, or even a very cramped but quirky Farmer's Market like what you would see in cities in Kyiv or Hong Kong. I also thought how fun it would be to see the entirety of Scarth Street filled with tables, like in Innsbruck. My mind then wandered to the Warehouse District and using the flat roof space for things like outdoor eateries in the summer, like The Rooftop Restaurant, or even connecting local businesses with walkways like the High Line in New York.
One of the best things about Tactical Urbanism is being "big and bold". You want to demand attention. You want to attract headlines. You want to scream at people and remind them of all the potentially unused space we have around our city – like Wascana Park in the winter. Other cities like Winnipeg, Edmonton or Quebec City have massive ice castles or ice hotels every winter. We could do the same thing here in Regina. Tactical Urbanism is an avenue of creativity, along with economic development and business improvement.
There are plenty of options available to transform our downtown and warehouse districts with Tactical Urbanism, and one of the best things about it is that it's temporary. If you're interested in participation but you're not sure where to start, contact the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District or the Regina Warehouse Business Improvement District to discuss Park(ing) Days, an international day dedicated to transforming parking spaces into parklets.
Are there any places around Regina you'd like to see "Tactically Urbanised"? Tell me about it in the comments below.
Image credit goes out to the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District, the Regina Warehouse Business Improvement District, the Facebook group "Historical Regina" and Dana James.
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And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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