Image source: Spontaneous Intervention

3 Kinds of Temporary Public Spaces and the Cities Who Love Them

Now that the weather is getting warmer, the urge to linger and hang out under the sun becomes much stronger. Public spaces, ideally, provide a perfect environment to do just that. However, such civic spaces are scarce commodities in urban environments. As a result, more strategies are being explored to expand public space in cities — and one strategy is the implementation of temporary public space.

For the first post of this series, I would like to showcase three different types of temporary space: interim public plazas, open streets, and pop-ups.

1. INTERIM PUBLIC PLAZA: Dressing up a paved area inexpensively

Interim public plazas seek to transform under-utilized roadways or peculiar swathes of concrete/asphalt into usable public spaces. However, instead of waiting for capital funding and enduring a long construction process, inexpensive but reliable temporary materials are used.

These materials usually include epoxied gravel for the pavement, movable planters, flexible tables and chairs, and boulders or bollards to define edges for safety. Another unique component is the partnership between local agencies and community groups. Usually, funding is provided by the government and an area community partner is responsible for the maintenance and promoting the plaza.

The first example is my favorite from the NYC Department of Transportation Public Plaza program, the Flatiron District Plaza. It is always well-occupied by tourists and office workers alike. The community partner, Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership, creates a great atmosphere and even makes sure that during winter the plaza is full of fun!

Image source: (left) Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership; (right) Untapped Cities

Philadelphia turned a seldom-used road into an attractive plaza for the community. PlanPhilly worked closely with SOSNA to make it happen.

Image source: (left and right) This Old City

The San Francisco Planning Department transformed a small patch of asphalt into a colorfully planted seating area safe from cars. The plaza is kept beautiful by a group of dedicated residents.

Image source: (left) Shift Studio; (right) Berkeley Side

2. OPEN STREETS: What if you could have the whole road to yourself?

Remember watching those apocalypse movies and people just wander wherever they want? What if you can do it without the end-of-the-world scenario? Open Streets festivals are temporary street closures that transform a roadway into a pedestrian and cycling only space. It originated in Bogotá, Colombia, where Ciclovías (“cycleway”) has taken place since 1976. The photos below show various Ciclovías from this 2015.

Image source: (left) Jessica Wong; (right) Mike’s Bike Bogota Blog

Los Angeles, the epitome of driving, has been holding its own CicLAvia since 2010!

Image source: (left) LA Curbed; (right) CicLavia

New York City Summer Streets has incorporated fitness stations, performances, public arts, dog parks, and sometimes even a pool!

Image source: (left) Spontaneous Intervention; (right) Bicycle Utopia NYC

And last summer in Toronto, OpenstreetsTO launched its first two Open Streets and was hugely successful!

Image source: (left) Toronto Life; (right) Opentstreets TO

3. POP-UPS: And once in a while, a welcoming surprise

Pop-up spaces create seasonal or one-day public spaces. They can be big or small, a market or a garden. They create public space for people to gather and stay.

The Pennsylvania Horticulture Society has been creating amazing pop-up spaces since 2011. One year is an urban meadow and another year is a beer garden. Last year, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation added their own take and created a summer village with beach chairs and hammocks!

Image source: (left) Young Involved Philadelphia; (right) Philly.com

Similarly, each summer, Viva Vancouver turns Robson Street into an urban lounge with a different theme each year.

Image source: (left) Viva Vancouver; (right) Hello Vancity

Bringing in a more educational aspect, the Uni Project creates pop-up reading rooms in New York!

Image source: (left and right) The Uni Project

Have you come across any temporary public spaces in your neighborhoods? Please share!

Site&Seek: We seek and find great urban sites so you don’t have to. Sharing projects and processes that impact our built environment in a new blog series by @Projexity. (Post by Gloria Lau)

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