Creativity infusion in downtown YQR
author: quinn bell | a&c writer
Stall-side partying / Jeremy Davis
This isn’t a walk in the Park(ing) Day
This is could well be an unpopular opinion here, but we have too many parking spaces in downtown Regina. Too much parking leads to over-congestion and it is a waste of space that could be used for something better. Granted, we live in a problematic city that’s designed mainly around car traffic and which offers few alternatives, and thus, necessitates a certain amount of parking space. If we had a more complete public transit system and safer cycling routes, then there would be less need to drive. Certainly, to transform our city, we would need a major systemic change and a massive update to our transit and bicycle infrastructure.
There is another logic at play, however. If there are spaces available for people to park their cars, they have few reasons to seek alternative modes of transportation such as public transit or cycling. And – although you can never find a space when you’re desperate or late for a show – there is more than enough space to park in Regina. I walked the streets of downtown last Friday and Saturday and there was ample room (that is, dozens of open spots) for cars. This is space that is being wasted, which could instead be used to create a safer, more welcoming, and vibrant downtown area where people actually want to spend their time.
In an effort to bring awareness to these problems and more, Sept. 21 saw a few of Regina’s parking spaces reimagined during Park(ing) Day, an annual event hosted by Regina Downtown Business Improvement District (RDBID). A global event, Park(ing) Day seeks to create temporary public spaces where there is usually a parked car (or an empty metered parking spot). In the Queen City, RDBID plugged the meters at twelve parking spaces from 10 am until 3 pm, allowing local artists and activists to transform the street. This year, there were spaces along 11th Ave in front of Norwood, Rouge, and Mortise & Tenon; on Hamilton, in front of the Green Spot Cafe; and in the Warehouse District along Dewdney and 8th Ave.
It’s pretty amazing what can fit into a parking space when it isn’t reserved for a vehicle. On 11th Ave, for example, the Civic Museum of Regina created something like the 1920s shop that was originally housed in the Somerset Block (the building where Mortise & Tenon are now). Their cool display came complete with trivia, great conversation, and an original 1920s wool swimsuit (ringing in at the high, high price of $3.25). Adjacent to this was another interactive space: here, a sweet set of windows salvaged from the old College Ave. campus were set up with a view of the street. Visitors were asked to sit down and draw on the glass with dry-erase markers, sharing their vision of a more vibrant 11th Ave. I saw doodles of sidewalks lined with planters, bike lanes, and refurbished storefronts; perhaps telling, there were few cars or parking spaces in sight.
Beyond revamping the physical space of the city, a huge part of Park(ing) Day is renewing human interaction. Parklet designers were all encouraged to include seating in their designs, so as to invite passersby into their spaces and to engage them in conversation. The normally empty and uninviting parking spaces were for one day filled with smiling strangers and good conversation; people freely shared their ideas about a better urban community and drank warm coffee. Stantec and RDBID also lured people in with giant board games. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that I would stop ten times out of ten in any pedestrian space offering jumbo Connect Four and Jenga.
Although I’m absolutely a fan of making our streets prettier, more accessible, and more vibrant by taking back some parking space, I’m not sure how to keep alive the intrigue that events like these provide, once they finish. Park(ing) Day, like the upcoming Nuit Blanche on Sept.29, works because it gets in your way, because it obstructs your daily routine. There are people there who are actively trying to get you to come into and interact with the space, and there are exhibits set up only temporarily, which draws curious people downtown. We need to continue supporting interesting community events like these that get us out of the house, but we also need to create some self-sustaining community places.
Maybe more community-minded businesses could get involved with transforming their local areas, taking a cue from Rain or Shine (Vancouver’s best ice cream, ever). They’ve taken over the car parking in front of their shop and built the cutest patio — it’s always full of people happily chatting and eating treats. We have some similar spots in Regina, although they don’t yet feel quite as open and inviting: think of the stretch of Scarth St between 12th Ave. and Vic. Businesses can draw people in with their goods and services (like amazing ice cream) and keep them around longer by giving them a place to hang out afterward. This can only be beneficial. Who hasn’t seen people enjoying ice cream and wanted in on the action? As well, who doesn’t get carried away every once in a while and go back for seconds?
More creativity is needed in downtown YQR. Of course, this is only possible with the city’s support. It’s exciting to see more and more adventurous plans and events from the city – this needs to keep going! We could make our city really cool, and we have the (parking) space to do it.