Main Street Action Week: Rapid Placemaking for Main Streets

Joining Happy City co-hosts Emma Jones and Mitchell Reardon for our next session of Main Street Action Week: Rapid Placemaking for Main Streets – are Ebrahim Varachia, Principal at Bench Placemaking in Detroit; Andrew Nakazawa, Manager of Placemaking and Public Spaces at the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association; Olivier Legault, Co-founder of WinterLab in Montréal; and Elora Wilkinson, Planner at the Halifax Regional Municipality. This event is co-presented with The Happy City.

5 Key

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

1. Winter holiday transformations on main streets

According to Elora Wilkinson, bringing holiday joy and decorating to main streets that are COVID-safe could provide a sensory experience of aesthetic visuals, holiday smells, and music. Beautifying the space with multicultural and inclusive activities and greenery is crucial for an encouraging public realm. Wilkinson urges the importance of intention among a collective input and emphasizes the need to build connections and develop relationships within the public sphere in a time when people are becoming more isolated.

2. Small-scale local projects fostering community

Olivier Legault proposes a prototype idea of sculptural wire light displays that create abstract shapes throughout downtown Quebec. His idea to place these small elements in hidden pockets of spaces strive to create surprise and delight within the city, contributing to an enlightened and interactive landscape that people can play with. When people take ownership for the space through small-scale projects, it creates an atmosphere of community and encourages local businesses. Said Legault, “If you feel good in the space and it is interactive, it will eventually become something to experience on your daily route.”

3. Bringing holidays to the public realm

Ebrahim Varachia poses the idea of vacation on main streets. COVID-19 has significantly imposed travel restrictions; thus, Varachia explores another reason for people to go on to their main streets as well as for businesses to create and encourage new clientele. He suggests partitioning portions of the street throughout the winter to give businesses kiosks to rebrand and expand public spaces. Said Varachia, “City officials need to touch base to accommodate the rapid changing of these streets,” to encourage people to change their mindset about winter by creating a mental state of warmth.

4. A COVID lens of street enhancements

According to Andrew Nakazawa, long-term ideas involving pedestrianized streets and streetscape enhancements offer a win-win situation for businesses and the community as the street becomes a destination. He suggests that COVID-19 has made it abundantly evident how critical a public space is and that getting feedback from citizens who actually use the space is a non-negotiable part in organizing agency, enhancing place identity, and creating inclusive placemaking.

5. “Main Street is only as powerful as its community”

Happy City co-hosts Emma Jones and Mitchell Reardon agree that while community is essential to recovery, it becomes a tough challenge to navigate how to keep people active and the economy moving during the pandemic. Jones and Reardon prompt a discussion around how the upcoming winter makes this discrepancy even more apparent. The Happy City framework partners urban cities and design thinkers together to address and combat societal inequities laid bare, through stages that overlap: inspiration, ideation, implementation, engagement, iteration, and assessment.