Monday, January 7, 2013

Activating Public Spaces in Langley

I was chatting with a friend a few weeks ago about what activates public spaces in communities; basically what makes parks, sidewalks, and shopping streets attractive places to be. When it came to shopping streets, we decided that coffee shops, cafes, and bistros are a must for activation as they provide spaces that people are drawn to and want to spend time around chatting and people watching. In Langley City, there used to be a coffee shop called Ethical Addiction at the corner of Fraser Highway and Glover Road (beginning of the one-way.) When it was open, it was always busy with people around the outside tables. It made you wanted to come to Downtown Langley, enjoy a coffee, and maybe even explore the rest of the area. When it closed down and was replaced with a sporting goods store (it is now an empty storefront), the life around that area died. Another good example would be the coffee shops and bistros in Fort Langley along Glover Road that make that area a great public space. Of course putting in a coffee shop doesn’t mean instant success. The public space should be in areas where there is the potential for higher-volumes of people and have good visibility to the surrounding area. I think that’s why I’m drawn to coffee shops at intersection and at plazas.

It was interesting because after that conversation about activating public space, I had another conversation with someone else about the casino in Downtown Langley. When the casino was first built, many thought that it would help revive Downtown Langley as people would come to the casino and explore the rest of Downtown Langley. This did not happen. Most casinos are designed to trap people inside and the Langley casino is no exception. Beside that though, the casino is also setback from the street (Glover Road and Fraser Highway) by a sea of parking that would make power centres blush. All this to say that the casino as it is current designed does more to kill public space in Downtown Langley than activate it. What's done is done, but the casino could have been designed better. For starters, I would have required the building to front both Glover Road and Fraser Highway. The parking would be in the back. I would have also required some storefront retail and would have encouraged a street-facing coffee shop and/or bistro that was also accessible from the casino/hotel. Those simple changes would have created a very different and active public space. Sadly, I think it will be some time before the current parking lot around the casino gets developed into something more pedestrian friendly that draws people into Downtown Langley.

1 comment:

Brad Richert said...

Great post - another aspect of these public spaces is drawing in professionals. The new professional doesn't sit in a cubicle, s/he utilizes coffee shops and other "public" spaces to do business in a warm, inviting atmosphere. I often hold meetings at Wired Monk, Watershed Arts Cafe, McBurney's, and, yes, even Starbucks. Many of these are with people who could potentially bring dollars into the area.

I can't remember if you made note of it or not, but obviously this also promotes a more walkable neighbourhood. Unfortunately, being in the Township I have to pretty much drive to any coffee shop (except on a sunny day, if I have an hour to spare I can head to Starbucks on 200th/72nd). More public spaces, combined with smart density, especially along Fraser and Douglas Cr. will shift the way Langleyites think about their daily activities.