Main Street Action Week: Planning and Urban Design for Pandemic Recovery

Joining CUI host Ariana Holt for our final session of Main Street Action Week: Planning and Urban Design for Pandemic Recovery – are presenter, Rob Leblanc President of Fathom Studio; Jill Robertson, Principal of Landscape Architecture at Dialog Design; Hazel Borys, President of PlaceMakers; Jason Syvixay Principal Planner at the City of Edmonton; and Eric Lucic, Divisional Lead of Regional Planning for City of Halifax. This event is co-presented with Fathom Studio.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Main Streets as labs for testing strategies

Main Streets, according to Jason Syvixay, have the chance during the pandemic to become labs for testing ideas and our assumptions through tactical experiments, some of which are highlighted in Planning and Urban Design to Bring Back Main Street. The experiments can be for implementing short term change for physical distancing during the pandemic, but also have the possibility to continue post-pandemic, as long as we carefully monitor impacts and allow flexibility to adjust in the process. Particular attention should be paid in monitoring to who benefits and who doesn’t…and look to adjust to ensure equity for those impacted.

2. Centering community voices and participation in city building

There is a need to think critically about what ‘designing Main Streets for all’ means, and inviting community stakeholders, business owners and residents to be part of the city building process. This starts from the designing the questions, framing the issues and thinking about the research strategies. A recent example from the BBMS report is ‘Main Street Block Parties’ which include the community in identifying possible improvements and collectively exploring solutions with planners and the city. Jason reminds us that during this time of civil uprising and reckoning, it is crucial to acknowledge the racial and social shortcomings of main streets and work towards recovery through participation.

3. Consider Form before use (Form-based development codes) as one approach

Hazel Borys and others are fans of the implementation of form-based development codes. These prioritize form over use to allow for a mixture of compatible uses and character in urban development, resulting in more gentle densities. Most importantly, form-based codes have been a globally successful strategy which provides more certainty to stakeholders for planning and activates future development.

4. The need for ‘Urban acupuncture’, Secondary Planning and ancillary dwelling and commercial units

As policymaking catches up to the uncertainties of the future, the practice of ‘urban acupuncture’ or ‘code hacks’ are promising approaches for Jill Robertson. We see a rise in secondary residential suites and Jill suggests the possibility of commercial secondary suites to allow property owners to generate additional income or possibly let others set up shop. Rob Leblanc suggests secondary planning for main streets should be solidified, building on municipal land use by-laws and examination of areas through a finer lens. This includes parks and open space plans, signage, and wayfinding strategies etc., which are short term and do not require changing zoning long-term, which is expensive and time consuming. It also allows developers and landowners to better understand how the public investment will leverage new private investment opportunities.

5. A good city plan is at the heart of recovery

Edmonton is just finalizing its municipal development plan. A good plan should be the reference for recovery  for an increasingly uncertain future. Partnership across the municipality, community, business, planners and designers is crucial. Municipalities should be creating the policy environment which encourages private investment, while designers and planners should be educating clients about these spaces and streamlining good, comprehensive city building at both urban and rural scales.