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Friday, 26 July 2013

Broadway to Belfast. A View on Creating New Public Space in the City

Saul Golden, PLACE Board Member & Lecturer in Architecture, University of Ulster

On a recent visit to New York I noted how the City continues to change and improve it’s public spaces with parks that include street markets, children’s play areas, changing art installations and more pedestrian friendly additions to the public realm – in a city where personal and service vehicles are also an integral part of daily life. These make more family, city-worker and tourist friendly places while helping accommodate different levels of economy – from the local street vendors to sidewalk café and local shops, as well as larger chains.

Public art installations and local street vendors. Credit: Saul Golden.

One example of the city’s more flexible approach to creating new public space is a ‘simple’ extension of the sidewalk (footpath) along lower Broadway at 18th Street near Union Square, which ‘gives back’ an area of a busy street for people to use rather than vehicles. 

Reclaiming a section of lower Broadway. Credit: Saul Golden.

Times Square is a well-know example of returning busy streets to pedestrian usage on a larger scale but smaller spaces like the one at 18th, spread across the city, are equally as important as the major destinations. In this example, a few very large stone blocks and planters with full-size trees create and protect a new seating area alongside moving traffic. It leaves space for pedestrians, bike racks, and mobile food-venders on the adjacent footpath. The work was completed in days versus months or years, and can easily revert to road use (or become a more permanent public space in the future).

Public seating. Credit: Saul Golden.

The seating area is finished with a removable spray-on gravel surface, applied over the road surface with access to all services intact. Art sculptures and a solar-powered charging station for phones and other mobile devices are included on fixed but movable bases. 

Public mobile phone chargers. Credit: Saul Golden.

Seating is provided using light-weight metal tables and chairs that people can move and group together as needed – these are managed by joint public/private efforts and sponsorship. 

'Have a Seat'. Credit: Saul Golden.
 
For a rapidly changing city like Belfast this example shows how new public spaces can be created, tested and adapted. They can foster local identity while supporting diverse uses and users in better quality city places; without necessarily involving major redevelopments and expenses.

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