JANA JOYCE, OALA, IS PRINCIPAL, URBAN LANDSCAPE & SPECIAL PROJECTS, LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE, PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT & URBAN DESIGN, AT MBTW, WITH MORE THAN 23 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF CANADIAN PUBLIC REALMS. JANA’S EXPERIENCE IN PUBLIC-REALM DEVELOPMENT, INCLUDING PLAZAS, PARKS, AND PEDESTRIAN-PRIORITY ENVIRONMENTS, HAS PROVIDED HER WITH A HOLISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF THE DESIGN DEVELOPMENT, APPROVALS, AND IMPLEMENTATION PROCESSES WITHIN COMPLEX, MULTI- PHASE PUBLIC ENVIRONMENTS. JANA’S EXPERIENCE IN HIGH-LEVEL DESIGN CONCEPTUALIZATION, COMMUNITY AND STAKEHOLDER FACILITATION, AND IN TECHNICAL DETAILED DESIGN, ENABLES HER TO PLAN APPROACHES TO GUIDANCE AND IMPLEMENTATION THAT WILL ENSURE THAT ORIGINAL DESIGN IDEAS AND COMMUNITY AND MUNICIPAL OBJECTIVES ARE CARRIED THROUGH TO THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT.
MIKE TOCHER, OALA, IS A FOUNDING PARTNER OF THINC DESIGN (TOCHER HEYBLOM DESIGN INC). THE FIRM HAS A DIVERSE PORTFOLIO OF WORK, SPECIALIZING IN PARKS AND PUBLIC-REALM PROJECTS. THE FIRM EMPHASIZES COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT, INNOVATION, AND SUSTAINABILITY TO DEVELOP DESIGN SOLUTIONS THAT SENSITIVELY INTEGRATE INTO THE COMMUNITY. MIKE HAS BEEN PRACTISING FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS AND HAS LED MULTIDISCIPLINARY TEAMS ON A WIDE ARRAY OF PROJECTS, FROM WATERFRONT MASTER PLANNING AND TRAIL DESIGN, TO DETAILED STREETSCAPES AND URBAN PARK PROJECTS.
Mike Tocher, Barbara Hall Park, Toronto
Have you seen a change in the way that clients address the tension between creating welcoming spaces versus the need for secure, safe spaces? The revitalization of Barbara Hall Park, in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood of Toronto, is one example of this tension. The goal of the revitalization was to make the park more inviting to residents, accommodate special events, and improve the day-to-day function of the park. There is a tension between providing an exciting and welcoming space for users, while at the same time managing and addressing some of the less desirable, illicit activities that can happen in a public park. One example is seating. We wanted to provide a lot of seating in the front plaza to encourage community use and make undesirable activities less prevalent. However, following the park’s opening in 2014, some people have criticized the park for having too much seating, which encourages loitering, while others have suggested the seats should be configured differently to better promote conversation.
Another example is the raised performance stage. This platform was created to help protect the root zone of a couple of mature trees, while also providing a raised performance space for special events programmed by the 519 Community Centre. However, the stage has been criticized by some for encouraging illicit activity in the park (such as being used as a “work space” for dismantling stolen bicycles). So, while the programming aspect of the stage has been extremely successful, some people would like to see the stage eliminated, even though this would be at the expense of two mature trees. The preferred solution for some would be to offer more programming of the space to prevent inappropriate use.
The most exciting element of the park is the programmable colour-changing lights, which animate the space at all hours. These lights were an instant draw for the neighbourhood and encourage park use at night. Although the lights were a considerable investment and require technical expertise to program and maintain (especially in the event of vandalism), it was understood during the design process that such investment and maintenance would be required to help transform the park into a welcoming destination for the community.
Have you altered any aspects of your practice to take this tension into account? We strive to be advocates for design excellence as a mechanism for making safe, secure, and welcoming spaces. Our role as advocates has increased in recent years to consider larger social issues in the design of public spaces. This includes openly discussing these issues during the public consultation process, with an emphasis on how the space should be programmed to encourage desirable uses.
For Barbara Hall Park, we participated in some post-occupancy discussions with various city departments to help resolve some of the issues and to determine what can be addressed through design and what needs to be accepted as part of the transitioning process of a space within a neighbourhood that has social challenges.
How have you used “defensive architecture” elements in your design practice? We will use the standard elements, such as skate deterrents, or follow the principles of CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design), but the big lesson is to look at what holds up well under pressure and what products, materials, and details are less durable and, therefore, will require extensive maintenance and repair. No landscape is 100-percent damage proof, but we try to minimize opportunities for vandalism by not using products that are more easily damaged through purposeful destruction. Using local suppliers can greatly help. Using simple details that can be patched or repaired also helps, rather than having to call in a specialized contractor. Seating is one element where durability and the ability to replace parts is a particularly important consideration.
Lighting is one element that can be complex and require a specialized skill set. Despite the challenges, we often incorporate specialty lighting as a means to create a presence in a space and a sense of comfort, and we try to find less complex solutions to animate spaces.
Some proponents of “defensive architecture” suggest designing a space with no seating, and adding seats (and other elements) later as the need arises. This creates a space denuded of opportunity— a space offensive in its defensiveness. Additionally, materiality of design should not always be reflected as robust harsh elements. This creates a hard experience when the space may require a more sensitive approach. Such brutalist elements are not elements of humanistic design and instead create institutional experiences.
Jana Joyce, Gore Pedestrianization Initiative, Hamilton
Have you seen a change in the way that clients address the tension between creating welcoming spaces versus the need for secure, safe spaces? The Gore Pedestrianization Initiative (GPI), in Hamilton, marked a change in the City’s attitude towards accepting a shared-use situation (pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles) within the City’s right-of-way—a first of its kind in Hamilton. As the intent of the GPI was to seamlessly integrate a street right-of-way with a park space (Gore Park), it was critical to ensure that stakeholders for all three streams (street, park, and public) were at the table exploring design ideas and weighing alternatives to transform the street and the park into a cohesive pedestrian-priority civic space that still provided needed service and business functions.
Have you altered any aspects of your practice to take this tension into account? MBTW assisted in the construction of a pilot project that built out a 100m portion of the City’s updated Transportation Master Plan. The pilot was constructed in the summer and fall of 2012 and was successful in demonstrating to the community the positive impacts that will be seen when the south leg of King Street is pedestrianized. Seeing firsthand the benefits of the pilot project, MBTW now offers these services to clients with similar challenges.
As visibility through and to the site was a key component in alleviating stress in this environment, we prepared a 3D model that allowed us to “walk-though” the design with the Hamilton Police Force and other stake- holders to ensure that designed elements were in fact in the right locations. This was such an effective way to check the design that we now offer this as a basic service.
How have you used “defensive architecture” elements in your design practice? Gore Pedestrianization-Specific Elements: To reduce personal vulnerability and increase safety in the Gore Precinct, the following design interventions were implemented:
Prioritizing Pedestrians: The road bed of the South Leg of King Street was reconstructed to emphasize a pedestrian- priority environment, incorporating flush connections to the park and adjacent commercial streetscapes, an inverted crown with trench drain system, and high- quality, pedestrian-textured and -scaled surfacing. Other improvements to support pedestrian traffic included improved lighting and night-time presence, ample and varied seating opportunities, and places to meet and loiter.
Safety Support for Events: During special events, the Pedestrian Promenade can be completely closed at each end by the installation of temporary mono- lithic planters. Other sides of the area are controllable as they are defined by bollards, ornamental fences, and other landscape features.
Defining Transitions: Tactile warning strips, Urban Braille shorelines, and bollards were utilized to mark transitions from pure pedestrian spaces to shared-use spaces.
Improving Accessibility: The design of the GPI improved accessibility and inclusiveness of the area by reducing grades and slopes and expanding the City of Hamilton’s Urban Braille system. The construction of the Pedestrian Promenade created flush connections along the north and south edges, facilitating barrier-free pedestrian connections between the park space and the adjacent commercial streetscape. Markers were also installed to signal entry into shared-use spaces.
Improving Safety: The implemented plan improved visibility through the site and from within the site by removing existing view-blocking site elements such as berms, retaining walls, and vegetation (many trees were removed as they were infected with Emerald Ash Borer). A re-organization of site elements and the placement of new trees facilitated visual permeability through the site. Site lighting improvements included the retrofitting of the existing heritage poles with sustain- able LED fixtures. The incorporation of back-lighting within the interpretive features has made positive changes to the night-time personality of the area. These improvements have fostered civic owner- ship and passive surveillance.
Promote Social Awareness: The implemented plan focused on providing a civic design that deters unwanted activities and undesirable loitering. Many of the site benches were fitted with extra arm rests to discourage napping and lounging, which were identified by public stakeholders as disturbing activities. Improving sitelines and lighting, providing a more inviting atmosphere for pedestrians and community activities during the darker hours, integrating subtle vandalism deterrents, and incorporating dynamic park features have discouraged other negative uses of the site since completion.
Maintain Functionality: The design maintains functionality for adjacent businesses and emergency services through proper dimensioning and pavement surfacing while addressing requirements for special events. Through a “best practices” review and full coordination with operations staff, a material palette was created that would ensure long-term durability and efficiencies in maintenance. To create the pedestrian-scaled texture within the Pedestrian Promenade that would minimize maintenance and reduce the occurrence of “bad patching,” a series of bands and fields was created by finishing plain concrete in alternating patterns of smooth-finished bands and “soft” finished fields. The finished areas were further broken down by applying a running bond pattern of saw-cut joints to emulate the look of large unit pavers.
Other Thoughts on Defensive Architecture: Unfortunately, violent occurrences, such as the Yonge Street van attack in Toronto in 2018, have caused some of our clients to now consider protection against such threats in civic spaces and streetscapes. Some examples of protection measures include:
Discouraging seating and lingering in highly visible spaces near streets and parking areas; this often runs counter to common placemaking objectives.
Providing strategically placed impact- deterrent features to stop vehicles from making contact with people.
Providing impact-deterrent features that are designed to stop a vehicle before it can reach areas busy with foot traffic.
Although the Gore Pedestrianization Initiative has been a success as designed, we would not be surprised if, at some point, the City approached us to consider design interventions to address threats related to intentional vehicular violence.
Joseph Fry, Hapa Collaborative, Vancouver
Have you seen a change in the way that clients address the tension between creating welcoming spaces versus the need for secure, safe spaces? We don’t necessarily see a tension between creating welcoming spaces and spaces designed for safety; they are one and the same. Our work with municipalities reveals that undesirable behaviour is tempered when the space is programmed well and is supported by adjacent uses of commercial/ residential spaces that provide a sense of ownership, spill their activities into the public realm, and lend casual observation and oversight of the place without full-on policing. The undesirable activities are often still there, but are muted by other uses.
Our municipal clients, in particular, have become very savvy regarding the tools and techniques of programming and activating public spaces that leverage and enhance the original capital investment in public space. In Vancouver, the City’s Division of Street Activities includes engineers, planners, and landscape architects who are charged with developing a stewardship plan for major public spaces, and they team with local businesses, stakeholders, event managers, and Business Improvement Area associations to activate and enliven key places in the city. We help point our clients to really good management models that work (Pioneer Square in Portland, Bryant Park in New York, Grand Park in Los Angeles) and help create a frame of reference for a site- specific management model.
Have you altered any aspects of your practice to take this tension into account? The one aspect of our practice that has changed is that we are now participating post-occupancy in a deeper and more meaningful way than before, working with principal tenants and users on these programming models to address deficiencies in the physical space that emerge with use and activity. We are currently developing a User Guide for the North Plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery that outlines types of uses, locations of services (event power, hose bibs, mounting plates, cleanouts), and establishes protocols for staging, loading, and access that users abide by but that can also be adjusted over time. We hope that this will result in us staying involved longer and using our findings and observations to guide our design work on other sites.
How have you used “defensive architecture” elements in your design practice? Defensive architecture is a rather offensive idea to us, and the resulting installations (skate stops, anti-homeless spikes, etc.) actually discourage all inhabitation of public space, sending the wrong message to all users—i.e., this is a potentially unsafe environment. Again, our best set of tools to make spaces comfortable, safe, and protected is to design for inhabitation and encourage the best kind of activity to supplant or mute the kinds of activities that are not desired. “Defensible” space is something that we advocate for through good design, good maintenance strategies, appropriate lighting, and sightline visibility, which deter bad behaviour. CPTED principles are a great starting point for this, and something we consider very carefully in our work.