Travel to another city always gets us thinking in terms of "what if?" Invariably someone else will do something better (or at least differently) that you do. It's always worth taking a look at how they do it and considering whether that approach might bring something of value to your own situation. And in the case of Madrid, they do Public Space very well.
above image courtesy Toronto Star
A couple of long narrow places that really caught our eyes had us thinking back to the shamefully under-optimized boulevard on University Avenue. Why is this nothing more than a swath of otherwise unused land decorated along its edges solely for the benefit of drivers? Don't get us wrong- such decoration is not in itself an unworthy objective, but it should form the ADDITIONAL layer that makes the street better, not be the only benefit of having a boulevard. Why not also populate that space with the human activity appropriate to its position in the heart of our metropolis? Why not add a layer of attraction that would compel people to head there when the corporate offices & court rooms are empty? Why not provide lunch spots and pleasant opportunities for strolling for the thousands of hospital workers, patients and visitors?
In the three pictures below, a pair of parallel streets with a small plaza between them were altered so that all traffic was routed onto only one of the streets. The plaza was then extended into the space vacated by the second street. Even without this fairly drastic action (a step that isn't applicable in our University Avenue example) we love the idea that a small pavilion shop could exist on the avenue's center median. Further up the pavement another pavilion housed a cafe that supported a small but lively cluster of tables.
Below is a beautiful book market, a perfect example of a linear use that's very appropriate for a boulevard setting. It's not much of a stretch to imagine something like this working fantastically well on University Av. It could turn into a wonderful little Christmas Market once the cold weather sets in.
above image courtesy visitbath.co.ukThe shot below is from Paris, where the linear Marché Richard Lenoir operates on the median of Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Below that is a view from Spacing Magazine (article here) showing the Tuesday farmers market that operates in front of Sick Kid's Hospital. Why not expand the market to include the other hospitals (see article for the original idea & mandate) and run it down the center median?
above image courtesy spacingtoronto.ca
It's time we really started intensifying the use of our public spaces. Not only would this provide more bang for the bucks we already spend maintaining them and increase their safety by populating the spaces for more hours in the day, but it would be a celebration of big city life. It would provide urban delight, that pleasure found in being somewhere in the public realm that is rich with interest and teeming with people, and it would provide it in layer upon layer, around every corner. It's time we embraced bigness!
With the country's design industry so heavily concentrated here and with the lessons we are learning from others and applying creatively to the waterfront, surely we can do better than this!!
above image courtesy of urbantoronto.ca