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City dwellers everywhere are spotting underused spaces in the urban fabric and turning them into places to enjoy and connect. Improving these spaces makes walking, biking, and exploring the city easier and safer. Examples of imaginative redesigns are springing up from Toronto to Los Angeles: public spaces are emerging from abandoned railway lines, parking spaces, neglected rivers and waterfronts, and even freeway underpasses. The projects are diverse, but a shared vision exists around creating more inclusive, lively, walkable, connected cities.
Check out some recent strategies and examples:
Underpass Transformation – Since the 1950s, freeways have been notorious neighborhood-killers by slicing through and dividing people and places. At home and around the world, underpasses are being discovered as places of opportunity to be transformed into people-friendly connectors. Creating safe and attractive places to walk and sit can turn these once-barriers into bridges between neighborhoods. Underpass Park in Toronto, part of a larger waterfront regeneration project, will include installation of lighting and conversion of existing wood into benches. The vision also includes cafes and sports courts for more vibrant street life.
Rail Yard Regeneration – Like other old infrastructural areas, abandoned rail yards can be no-man’s lands, leaving holes of disconnect in the urban fabric. Highly sought after at one time, changes in technology and culture have often left these places without purpose, even when the city buzzes around them. Reconnecting and incorporating them to their surroundings can return these valuable urban spaces to life. The High Line park in New York City is an example of an elevated abandoned rail yard transformed into a dynamic public park with vegetation, walkways, bikeways, art and dinners, and open air movie screenings. Other cities, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis are considering similar railway adaption.
Parklets – Underutilized parking spaces or extra space on wide streets can create vacuums of pavement where activity could otherwise thrive. Happily, even these small slivers of the city are being reclaimed and transformed into mini parks for sitting and sharing. Most famously, parklets are popping up as part of the Viva Vancouver project and the Pavement to Parks project in San Francisco. Architects and designers are creating designs for temporary transformations to test the potential for these small public spaces.
Urban River Rehab – Urban rivers serve important ecological purposes for cities, including capturing rainwater, filtering urban runoff, providing wildlife habitat and reducing the urban heat island effect. Unfortunately, many cities have abandoned, polluted and even paved over their rivers. In Los Angeles, Angelinos are reclaiming parts of the LA River for waterfront parks and bike paths, including installation of mini bioswale parks to restore the River’s role of absorbing rainwater. A once-abandoned piece of land along the river recently sparked a large community debate and has been utilized as a space for art, re-imagined as a state park.
Through this process of reimagining, discussions are arising around the importance of urban aesthetics, inclusion of all people in public spaces, and the important effects of connection and change between neighborhoods. All over, people are creating novel ways to enliven cities by working to turn spaces of neglect into more thoughtful, inspiring and fun urban places. The result is more connected, navigable cities with creative public space for all to enjoy.