I am excited to be doing my first guest post here for the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network. I thought that a good place to start on a discussion of place is one of my least favourite things. Places for the sake of place.
Even if you haven’t actually spent time in the plaza outside the Save on Foods Memorial Centre, you have certainly walked or driven by it. It is most well known as the home of Pavilion, Rock and Shell, an abstract sculpture by Mowry Baden. Between the challenge of the art piece and the vast empty space, this is almost the definition of useless public space. Unfortunately there is little that could be easily done to fix it either.
The space has quite a few challenges. Its purpose for being is ostensibly to allow large crowds to gather before and after events at the arena. Unfortunately, even if the arena were being used every night, the space would be empty of life most of the time. There is no reason to visit this space outside of event times.
Now you may want to have a look at the sculpture by Baden, as it was extremely controversial when it was placed there and based on the almost universal dislike of it, is something that one should pause to think about. Whether or not you like the sculpture, it is the wrong piece for this space, as it is most certainly far to small, given the large amount of open paved area around it.
If despite the lack of anything to do and the puny piece of art, you still wanted to go to this space, you will find just a couple of small benches built into the planters in the space closest to the road. It is loud, empty and boring.
A final nail in the coffin for the plaza is the lack of sufficient surrounding population to have to have a need for an outdoor space near their home. While new buildings have been built to the west across Blanshard, it is not nearly enough.
What if I wanted to do my utmost to make the space as desirable as possible given the current circumstances of the area, what actions would I take?
First, I would move the sculpture around the corner to the smaller (and equally useless) plaza along Caledonia. In its place I would put in a large water feature. The benefit of the water feature is that it is both active and also dampens the traffic noise. One option would be for a small version of what I have seen in Jamison Square in Portland, Oregon. That public space has a large waterfall and wading pool that empties and fills. In the summer it is absolutely overloaded with families despite being right in downtown Portland.
Second, I would increase the size of both the planters and the plants and trees in them. This again would dampen the traffic noise, while also increasing the seating area and removing a bit more of the overabundant pavers.
Finally, I would have a part of the arena near here turned into a coffee shop or eatery, so that part of the plaza could be used as patio space with tables and chairs. Again even with all of these changes I don’t think the space would be successful, but it might be just enough that when people did start living in higher numbers in the surrounding area that they would want to use it.
Let me know what you think about this space and how it could be fixed. If you liked the post, come and visit my site at SidewalkingVictoria.com, I have a lot more pieces like this.
Guest Author Bio
Thomas Guerrero I am the blogger behind Sidewalking Victoria. I have lived in Victoria for over twenty years and like to use this great city as a subject to illustrate my vision of urbanism. I love feedback both positive and critical so please don’t hesitate to tell me why I am wrong!
Visit Thomas’s Blog / Website: www.SidewalkingVictoria.com