By: Michaela Kramer, Evergreen CityWorks, Intern
Something that cities offer is unlimited access to surprise, to unexpected interaction, to a blending of different people and ideas at any moment. The anticipation of this is a reason why people are drawn to cities, and especially to their public spaces. Think of the feeling we get when we stumble upon a musician playing on the sidewalk, when we notice a freshly painted mural on the side of a building, or when we taste food at festival like nothing we’ve tried before. It is the possibility for these experiences that makes living in the city so attractive.It’s not just about doing something exciting, it’s also about the potential that these experiences have for people to interact, engage, and to change their city for the better.
But these occurrences don’t need to be left completely up to chance. Instead, designers have an opportunity to develop spaces and places awaiting surprise. It is possible to plan for these kinds of spontaneous experiences by creating spaces in the city that nurture social interaction in creative ways, and in doing so, tap into the unlimited potential for joy and transformation in the city.
One way this can be achieved are through installation projects that temporarily alter the city landscape- using design to encourage play and civic engagement. Unlike major infrastructure, installations can be time and cost effective. There are examples of this kind of design intervention across Canada, which can serve as an example to inspire future projects with these same goals.
Pop Rocks, Vancouver
Pop Rocks was a project in downtown Vancouver during the summer of 2012 that temporarily transformed a street into a social space using a collection of pillow-like boulders. The installation reshaped the street in order to encourage play and leisure among pedestrians. It also incorporated an aspect of environmentalism, not as an obstacle, but as a catalyst for innovative work- the boulders were made entirely of re-used material and were recycled once the installation came to a close. This information was displayed for users, incorporating an educational element to the project.
Cardboard Beach, Toronto
Similar to Pop Rocks, Cardboard Beach was a temporary installation placed in the downtown that used whimsical urban furniture to create social space and promote civic interaction. Created as a hub for the 2014 Luminato Festival, it was made up of an array of beach-style lounge chairs and umbrellas all made of cardboard. The project transformed a normally empty public square into a new, exciting place. The unusual cardboard forms attracted unprecedented interest from city dwellers.
Pink Balls, Montreal
Unlike the previous projects, Pinks Balls served more as a decorative installation, marking a street in Montreal’s Gay Village that becomes pedestrianized during summer months. The project involves strings of pink balls suspended above the street, which embellishes the landscape and designates this social space. The piece introduces the temporary pedestrian space to the city and calls upon new visitors with its celebratory design.
What these projects exemplify is the power that temporary installations can have in shifting the everyday landscape of an urban space into a new, dynamic stage for civic enjoyment. Cities, by nature, foster the melding of ideas and the production of culture, but it is up to people involved in design and planning to celebrate this, through the making of creative public spaces. Installations are useful not simply because of their novelty but in the way that they tune into the public’s desire to participate in play and develop community. The city is open to surprise and design can be an important tool in inspiring joy and engagement in the public.