Ideas for An Awkward Space

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On a crisp evening early last week, I joined about two dozen other people in a crowded studio on the fourth floor of McGill’s Macdonald-Harrington Building. We were there to see what ideas for reshaping the Pine/Park interchange four teams of McGill urban planning students, led by former Vancouve planning director Larry Beasley.

I won’t go into details, since I arrived halfway through the presentations, but, among the plans was a “recreational archipelago” that scattered various points of interest around the Pine/Park site. Another proposal focused quite intensely on the actual intersection of Pine and Park itself, surrounding it with various uses — a bus station on the northwest corner and a public market across the street, for instance — meant to encourage activity and create a bustling urban corner. Other students planned a linear promenade that extended up Park Avenue to Duluth St.

The most interesting plan involved a fine balance between built and open space. The small street running parallel to Pine between Hutchison and Park would be pedestrianized, creating a larger public square at Pine/Park’s southwest corner. Midrise housing would be built along Park from Pine to Duluth, with a laneway running alongside the Hôtel-Dieu’s stone wall. The green space where the volleyball courts currently stand would be preserved. The end result would be a well-defined, functional urban setting that would balance greenery with residential, community and commercial development.

Problem is, that kind of plan has virtually no chance of being realized. In fact, none of the student plans pay attention to the political realities of the Pine/Park intersection. The entire chunk of land north of Pine is already accounted for — it is in the process of being landscaped as I write this — which leaves only the two small, awkwardly-shaped parcels of land south of the avenue to work with. Community groups in Milton Park and the McGill Ghetto, the neighbourhood just south of the intersection, have already made it clear that they will only accept a public use for the land, with a preference for green space.

Raphaël Fischler, the urban planning professor who organized the charrette, noted at one point in the evening that there was a tension between the local and the city-wide vision of Pine and Park. That’s true, and it risks jeopardizing the success of the new intersection. The clear challenge here is to build a site of activity and engagement in what is now an extremely passive space. By ignoring the politics of the situation, the McGill students were able to offer fresh ideas, and hopefully they’ll be able to push the interchange discussion in a more creative direction.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Tuesday November 06 2007at 06:11 pm , filed under Architecture, Canada, Public Space, Transportation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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