Thursday, December 9, 2010

Street Life

I’m continuing on my theme of public spaces and public life… I should add here that much of my thinking has been inspired by Jan Gehl, the godfather of the bicycling revolution in Copenhagen (and now working with NYC, Sydney, and many other world cities). My case study this time is the Elliott Street Pub, a tiny bar on the edge of downtown. The pub has two distinguishing characteristics:
-It has been adopted by the surrounding neighborhood as THE hangout bar.
-Elliott Street, never a major street to begin with, has been nearly closed for the past year or so due to the Mitchell Street bridge reconstruction.

Mitchell Street bridge was closed some time in 2009 after a routine inspection gave it a “sufficiency rating” of 2. Out of a possible 100, where 100 is perfect condition and 0 is, well, imminent collapse. For many months, it was a delightful shortcut as it remained open to bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Unlike the cars and trucks that were prohibited from crossing the bridge, there was little risk of damage from non-motorized travel…another way that bicycle and pedestrian traffic can help save a city money.

Eventually they began construction to rebuild the bridge and it was closed off completely. There is just a gap there now, and someday there will be a new bridge with an odd left-lane bicycle lane. But that’s another story. In the meantime, Elliott Street won’t take you anywhere useful at all, except to the pub. And a pretty large percentage of the patrons get there on foot or by bicycle.

So the street has been reclaimed for living by neighborhood residents and bar patrons. You can stand in it and watch fireworks downtown, or listen to trains passing through the ‘gulch’. During events, parking spaces are used for tables where people sit, mingle, and carve designs for the popular monthly Iron Pour. It is a beautiful, flexible use of space that would probably horrify most traffic engineers. But for the people who go there, that urban space is used to build a business and a neighborhood.

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