When we think of public spaces in cities, we probably think of sporting fields, parks, playgrounds, skate parks, and other prescriptive spaces that exist and essentially tell us what to do with them. Basketball court? Shoot some hoops. Teeter totter? Bump your sibling off. Bleachers in a park? Watch some soccer. Outdoor plaza? Sit and socialize. Even parks contain prescriptive ways to enjoy them – trails, exercise circuits, etc. These are valuable spaces for any city – they help the residents recreate, be closer to nature, gather, and find community.

Open space planning, however, also includes the reclamation of spaces that formerly had other purposes such as old infrastructure no longer in use, and programming less instructional spaces that results in multiple enjoyable uses. This can help liven up a space, encourage walking and wheeling in our neighbourhoods, and help prevent criminal activities.

Adding public art is one way to do this: New Westminster’s Floralume combines interactivity, light, and musical notes to liven up a mandated fire escape. Interactive art serves more than one purpose in that people do not merely consume the art; they get to engage with it and experience it in a more robust and immersive way. Functional art, such as Queensborough’s incredible Furled Trail bus shelter, is also another way to improve open spaces.

Another way to do this is a parklet. Parklets are temporary (2-5 year) structures, usually two or three parking spaces in length. In 2016, the first parklet in New Westminster was installed in Sapperton and more parklets have come on board since. Two examples are the Uptown parklet, and the Downtown parklet that was made using lumber milled from trees that were damaged in a storm and recycled concrete from our sidewalks.

a photo of benches made from old trees in the foreground, with a wooden swing and heritage brick building in the foreground.

The Downtown Parklet utilizes broken concrete from old sidewalks and lumber from trees damaged in a storm. It is a primary gathering space on the Front Street Mews.

Erika Mashig, the City of New Westminster’s Manager of Arboriculture, Horticulture, and Parks & Open Space Planning believes parklets are a great way to improve public spaces while testing concepts. In 2017, she presented at PechaKucha New West on parklets and their impacts. Check out her presentation here.

Parklets are one way to improve urban neighbourhoods employing the “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper (LQC)” method of placemaking and public space planning. LQC is a great way to test out potential change without a large investment of time or resources to plan. Despite their temporary nature, they’re actually part of a thoughtful long game that can seek funding for permanent improvements as they can act as case studies.

For Innovation Week 2019, the City is planning some of these LQC placemaking measures as an innovative way to transform our City, but you’ll have to wait to see what we come up with!

For inspiration in the meantime, have a look at some regional examples: