What’s Planned For City Square?

Back when city council took the decision to keep the City Square Plaza closed to traffic, one of the big arguments staff offered in favour of this was that they could foresee over 200 days of programming on the plaza. So, if the plaza is already going to be closed for two thirds of the year, how would it help to open it for that last third?

Well, this week I received the list of existing and potential programs that city staff want to put on the plaza and it puts that “200 days” claim in doubt.

You might want to keep this in mind when commenting on the Downtown Transportation Study. (At [email protected] by March 9.)

I’ll put the entire list I was sent after the fold, but here’s the first part that lists off the existing programs. The numbers after the items are, I assume, the number of days each event is supposed to take up — that is how those numbers were characterized when discussed in council, at least. But clearly no units are included so maybe these indicate “programming blocks” or something.

EXISTING PROGRAMS
Farmers Market — approx. 50
Folk Festival — 3
JazzFest — 3
Ukrainian Fall Festival — 1
Movies in the Park — 6
I Love Regina Day — 1
Remembrance Day Ceremonies — 1
Light the Lights Christmas event — 1
Regina Downtown BID activities (i.e. yoga, tai chi, fitness classes, Words in the Park etc) — 36
F.W. Hill Mall activities (i.e. Downtown Concert Series, Day of Caring, Culture Days etc) — 50
TOTAL (approx.) — 152

So this is supposed to total 152 “days” but already that’s looking pretty suspect. The Farmers Market counts for 50 but really those are only 50 half days. Saturday mornings, no less. Not exactly a high-traffic time in the downtown unless you’re going to the Farmers Market.

Other things on here are also just blocks of several hours, not entire days. Light the Lights for instance and the BID activities like yoga, tai chi and fitness classes.

As for the Remembrance Day Ceremonies, again those are only a few hours out of a day. And wouldn’t it be appropriate to continue having those at the war memorial? Actually… I’d say it’d be inappropriate to move them away from the war memorial. But hey, I’m a sucker for tradition.

And then there are those FW Hill Mall activities, which are already happening on FW Hill Mall — that other pedestrian-only plaza that’s just around the corner from our new pedestrian-only plaza. Now that we’re taking all the programming off Scarth, does that mean we can open it up to car traffic? That was the original plan in the draft version of the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan, after all.

Anyway, in summary, I’m only counting seven days where the plaza would absolutely have to be shut to car traffic for the entire day.

But how about all those events the city imagines it could potentially put there? Well, I think you’ll find the list they have is awfully speculative….

POTENTIAL PROGRAMS
Children’s Festival
Fringe Festival free stage
Canada Day Festival
National Aboriginal Day
Labour Day Festival
Pow-Wows
Weekday stage programming
Movies in the Park (expanded program)
Arts/Craft Fairs
Christmas fairs/market/festival
Children’s market
Skating rink
Santa Claus parade
Buffalo Days parade
Flea market (Monthly, Sundays)
Monthly antique market (Monthly, Sundays)
U of R Fine Arts students’ annual show and sale
Beach day
Snow and ice festival
Snow sculpture carving
Food truck/street food festival (one summer, one winter)
Taste of Regina
Taste of Downtown
Busker festival
Downtown BID festival
Classic/Muscle car show and shine
Vintage farm machinery show and shine (during Agribition or Western Farm Progress Show)
Snow machine (Ski Doo) show and shine
Remote control vehicle meets
Regina Floral Associates perennial swap meet
Giant United Way bake sale
Battle of the bands
Dance performances
Dance lessons (evenings, weekends or noon hours)
Theatre performances
Yearly Culture festival where “mainstream” purveyors of culture in the City put on shows during a weekend to
help entice ticket sales
Shakespeare festival
Roving Shakespeare
I Love Regina Run and other running event start/finish
Three on three basketball
Road hockey tournaments
Jibfest
Pond hockey
Pond curling
Skating lessons
Bocce/boules
Outdoor screen for Grey Cup, Stanley Cup, Olympics, etc.
Tai Chi
Boot Camp/Booty Camp
Portable skate park elements
Scraper Bike rally (during bike to work week)
Soapbox Derby (like plywood Cup)
Library programs
Museum programs (Sask. Sports Hall of Fame, Royal Sask., Science Centre, Plains)
Art Gallery programs (Dunlop/MacKenzie)
Children’s Midway/Antique Carousel/Ferris Wheel
Downtown tourist carriage rides
Speaker series
Barbeque/chili cook offs
Huge fowl supper (organized by downtown churches)

Pretty impressive, eh? So many things we could put on the plaza. Except… did you catch how many of these events don’t even exist? Who’s going to run all this stuff? They’re going to need a whole other department at city hall. I bet it’ll be really well funded too! [/sarcasm]

Some of my favourite items:

Boot/Booty camp – A “booty camp”? I bet it’s tasteful, whatever it is.
Speaker series – Surely, the UofR will jump at the chance to participate in this considering how well this went the last time.
Jibfest – I like the cut of this one.
Bocce/boules – Seeing as you can’t play these on cobblestone, you’ll have to bring in some artificial turf to mimic a park. Because that will be better than using the park. That’s next to the plaza.
Beach day – What?? Seriously. What?? Are they going to ship in some truckloads of sand and play beach volleyball maybe? Get people to bring umbrellas and wading pools and pretend they’re at the beach? Oh, wait. I bet that’s exactly what they’re talking about.
Pond hockey & Pond curling – That’s not on a pond.
Yearly Culture festival where “mainstream” purveyors of culture in the City put on shows during a weekend to
help entice ticket sales
– I like how they have to block out “mainstream” in ironic quote marks. City hall can be so bitchy.
Soapbox Derby (like plywood Cup) – How old timey! Don’t you need hills for this?
Huge fowl supper (organized by downtown churches) – Has someone told the downtown churches they’ve just been volunteered for this?
Canada Day Festival – Yeah. Because who wants to hold this in Wascana Park? That place sucks. Too many goddamn trees. Not enough paving stone.

I could go on. Oh, how I could go on. But then, I might intrude on the fun you could be having in the comments section.

But I do want to end with mention of the skating rink. They’ve actually had that set up by the soon-to-probably-be-turned-into-a-parking-lot Gordon Block for a couple months now. And, you know, I like the idea of putting a rink on the plaza in the winter. But have you seen the size of it? There’s no reason it couldn’t be set up south of the Ugly Orange Light Standards. And that would put it out of the way of traffic — if you were to open the plaza to traffic, that is. And if you were to put the rink there, you’d be right next to the benches. Which would be really convenient when you want to put on or take off your skates. Right now, if you use the benches for that, you have to cross a wide open, not-covered-in-ice-rink space.

Also, someone pointed out that on blustery days, there’s a wind-tunnel effect on the plaza when you’re close to the buildings. Which is where the rink is. Now, that’s good if you want to skate in one direction. But not so good if you want to skate in two. Or more.

I guess we’re lucky Regina isn’t a very windy city.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that the skating rink really doesn’t need to interfere with car traffic and that it would arguably be better if it was moved a few metres to the south so that it wouldn’t interfere with traffic. So I’m thinking maybe using the rink as a pretext for keeping the plaza closed all winter might be a little disingenuous.

Same goes for a bunch of other items. Dance lessons. Tai chi. Plenty of the things on this list will not only be part-day events, they’ll also be small enough that they wouldn’t have to interfere with having car traffic on the plaza.

Another thing I find amusing about the list is how whimsical it is. Weekly antique fairs. Vintage farm machinery shows. Clearly these are the result of a group of people brainstorming a bunch of what they think are “fun” ideas. (Note the use of ironic quote marks.) And what surprises me isn’t how imaginative their ideas are. But how… I don’t know… humdrum they are.

Why, if I’d been at that table, the programs you could have expected to see on the plaza would have Kicked Ass.

Just off the top of my head: Day of the Dead parade, Sci-Fi/Comic Book Convention, Head-to-Head Video Game Competitions (on a giant TV screen), Zombie Walks, Shark Gun Demonstrations, A Goddamn Roller Coaster, Nosebleed Races, Genetic Engineering Competitions, Mad Science Festival, Rocketry Workshops, Giant Insect Expo, Black Magic Lessons, Heavy Metal Guitar Lessons, Close-up Magic Festival, Circus Arts Workshops, Explosives For Fun And Profit Workshops, A My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic Fan Convention, Corner Gas Commemoration Day Activities, Historical Pre-enactment Society Demonstrations….

Wow. This is fun. And I’m just getting warmed up.

And sure, one or two of my ideas might seem a little implausible or only of interest to a fairly exclusive audience — like nosebleed races — but if your goal is just to pad a list of activities so you can justify keeping the plaza closed to car traffic, the least you could do is make the list interesting to read.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5’10” tall and he was born in a place. He’s not there now. He’s sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It’s “Girl From Ipanema”, thanks for asking.

You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

27 thoughts on “What’s Planned For City Square?”

  1. Ok ok!! You had me at “ironic quote marks” :)

    so … Are you proposing opening the street up to traffic? What to you think would be gained? What do you think would be lost? What about the ongoing cost to manage street closures? Traffic impact to the stones? Myself, I am quite fine leaving the street closed to vehicles.

    But if you have a particular point you wanted to make (other than general City Hall buffoonery of course), let’s hear it!

  2. Anon: I like the cut of your jibfest!

    Ron: Good question.

    Mike: Yes. I am proposing we open the street to traffic. And I listed off some of my reasons in the Nov 17 issue of the paper. The piece was “Cars Shall Not Pass.”

    http://www.prairiedogmag.com/archive/?id=1013

    In short, I think that keeping the plaza closed to cars creates an enormous dead zone right in the middle of the downtown. In what should be prime retail/restaurant territory, no less. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the Hill Mall on Scarth wasn’t already pedestrian-only, but as it is, having that big car-less L there just takes up too much space.

    Also, an advantage to having cars free to drive along the block is that you have eyes on the street at all hours — or at least the potential for eyes on the street. Without that, you have an area where few if any people will be passing at night and that makes it seem desolate and sinister.

    I’m not saying that there should be parking on the plaza or that it shouldn’t be used for programming. Just that the city should at least stick to the original plan (which was to have the plaza open to cars). City staff and Office for Urbanism already did all the planning work on this ages ago. But now staff and council are changing direction at the last minute.

    The flip-flop is… “curious.”

  3. Yikes! Current city staff and council flip flopping? Crazy talk. With all the personnel changes going on down there, especially in the planning dept, its no wonder they can’t keep anything on track (well, except for the constant never ending push to sprawl our city)

  4. Thanks again Paul for keeping us informed of this ongoing saga and for presenting a well reasoned point of view on what the plaza will be used for. I too just can’t imagine that the City is going to create a well financed “department of fun” that will be able to entertain people in the plaza at all hours of the day and night (nor would I ever support such an expensive idea, especially in the light of their proposed list of fun things to do in the new DZP (dead zone plaza).
    Ron#2 Exactly! And the heated bus shelters. It’s as if we have forgotten that people need a place to use the washroom and that Regina has some winter months.
    Mike#3. As far as I remember, this was the whole point of this multi use plaza when it was first proposed/sold to the people of the queen city. It was to be a street that was flexible enough to easily closed to traffic for special events. The points you raise about traffic services, and paving stone upkeep are good ones but should have been addressed in the planning stage, and certainly not this late in the game.
    Paul #4 Well put, again.

  5. Paul. I’m still trying to figure out what is behind all of this. Was there anything said at a meeting in the past that may give is a clue to the real reason for this? Mike #3 has got me thinking about the surface. . .Is the engineering of the road bed bad?, or were the European-sourced paving stones the wrong ones, and unsuitable for traffic? I’m not trying to start rumors, just give examples of reasons that may be at the root of this flip flop.

  6. I think the plaza looks great the way it is. Years of vehicle traffic and oil stains is going to make the surface look bad for when they do close it for events. So they close it for half a day then open it to traffic and people will be pissed off that they don’t know when it’s useable and when it isn’t.

  7. Anon 9. So we built it too pretty? Imagine if people would have said that about Albert Street the last time it was paved. “Better not use it. . .might wear it out” I’m sorry to break it to you that nothing lasts forever, especially infrastructure and public facilities in Regina. This plaza was designed and built with a very specific purpose, to be a unique, flexible urban space, and we are now coming up with a variety of excuses to make it into something different, an extension of the park. Maybe the city has some of that citrus degreaser to address your concern with oil marks.

  8. Way to go, Paul, both informative & entertaining!

    My vote: Open the plaza to cars.

    The bocce ball kills me! Whoever sent the list of activities forgot to remove the ones that would happen in *Victoria Park*.

    @Mike: The plaza was designed and built with a full concrete road-base below the pavers, and lots of concrete piles adjacent to the roadway. This may be the most stable & durable road in Regina.
    The pavers were specified to a higher standard that the other pavers you see downtown. There is no reasonable expectation that they will fail under vehicle traffic. If you check out the concrete paver industry propaganda, concrete pavers are actually more robust than asphalt.
    There is more risk to the pavers from *events* than cars. Think of all the paint/oil/grease that could end up on the pavers from an event…
    The traffic closure costs should be covered by the user fees. Easy to calculate.

    Back to general comments…
    The space south of the roadway is quite large. I’m estimating 40m deep by 80m wide. That’s just a little less than the area the Farmer’s Market currently uses. We can have a fairly big event on the “south plaza”, without closing the road.

    @anonymous #9: Should the pavers get damaged, the pattern was designed to allow for sections to be removed and replaced, without noticeably changing the look of the surface, even if the City can’t replace the pavers with ones from the original supplier.

  9. Yes Steve infrastructure doesn’t last forever. I hope your not one that cries here when the city oks demolition on a century old apartment building that was built to last 50 years.

    The plaza was built with the extra expense to accomodate traffic, I agree with you and there will be vehicle traffic on it when events require it. Are you upset because of the extra expense it required to make it vehicular accessable or because you think the downtown will suffer if it’s left closed and an extension of the park?

  10. I have just recently returned to Regina after a long absence and was pleased to hear about a possible increase in the pedestrian only space downtown.
    I quickly read Paul’s reasons for keeping the City Square plaza open to traffic and do not fully understand the reasoning. If I am not mistaken, Victoria Ave and 11th St run east/west just a short block away from and parallel with 12th Ave. Similarly the north/south streets are a few large steps from the closed portion of 12th Ave. If I understand Paul correctly, the half minute it would take to walk from Victoria/11th/Scarth/Lorne St. renders that ½ block of 12th Ave. inaccessible by car and a “dead zone”?

  11. More events:
    – Terracotta pot shuffleboard (summer) / curling (winter).
    – RC plane competitions (but no flying into the twin towers).
    – Sheep shearing (to be held on those hot summer days).
    – Sheep poo hockey (after the shearing).
    – Rider games.
    – Free driving lessons, focusing on what those funny red lights and red octagons mean.
    – Beer fest with accompanying find-the-toilet races.
    – A big campground for all those homeless people in Regina.
    – A competitive parking lot.

  12. Good morning! It’s a sunny one on the plaza. Anon 12. Yes, I am very frustrated by the fact that this great plaza was built, with very good planning (the project, not the construction process,)and now for some reason there is a push to make it into something different – a very expensive dead zone. Back in the 80’s closing streets was all the rage, but the result was less than positive. It turned out that without some traffic, businesses do not survive. Jonathon asks if it is too much to ask people to walk one block to enjoy the space. Please read the whole article, because Paul addresses this all very well. The short answer is yes, it is too much to ask. Good proof of it can be found any night on the Scarth street (FW Hill) mall, which is dead. You and I could plan to meet there tonight and have no trouble find each other because we would be alone. Two important points have come out of this discussion for me. The first is that this hang up may be because the traffic folks may be afraid to let people drive on this plaza road because it is not clear where the road is. To this I say paint it up with some big fat bright checkered lines to show people where to go – London, UK is full of these kind of markings and it just ads to the charm. The second important thing, pointed out above by Tentino2, is that the pedestrian portion of the plaza is huge and for the most part there will be no reason to close the street to use it. That was the point of the design.

  13. Noe for the fun part, suggesting more events:
    Surface parking lot: Not really an event, but if they don’t want to use it as planned why not put all the options are on the table? It could be tourist attraction. The most expensive, pretty parking lot in Western Canada.

  14. well, let me just say that we were downtown on New Year’s Eve (RPL Film Theatre) and NOTHING was happening on the City Centre ‘plaza’. Nada! The lights were flashing and changing, but no activity. Empty, windy…. Tumbleweed territory…. with coloured lights. Awful coloured lights… even the tumbleweeds were avoiding the area.

    Our city square…. No celebration. Empty!

  15. I believe we don’t show our great military strength to full effect. I advance we should have continuous marching and exhibits of bombs and armory. Only then can this little bit of communist architecture be full appreciated.

  16. Hello Steve (not Whitworth or LaRose)

    Thanks for replying.

    I did read the whole article but I am a little confused – I readily admit that I know very little about city planning or anything of this nature

    I guess I am wondering how cars would increase patronage to this half block if it has not done so for the past 20 or so years? Granted I have not lived hear for the past few years so I am not certain if the transformation of City Square to pedestrian only stemmed any growth/visitation of the area.

    From what I gathered from this and other articles is the opinion that restricting vehicles on this small stretch of road makes this area less of a destination and possibly even more dangerous; but, if this area was open to cars, as it was as far back as I can remember, it would be more safe and appealing to business and patrons.

    I just find it hard to understand how making people walk an extra minute or less decreases the desirability of visiting this area of Regina? I think that there are much more significant impediments.

    And I think it is nice to see an attempt to make people stop, stay and congregate.

  17. they killed a cherished piece of Regina history for this! (the Novia.) I don’t care if you disliked its recent owner…that’s no reason to be indifferent to its demise!!!

  18. TFJ – no this project did not kill the Novia, it’s demise was inevitable before this project started.

    Steve (Not Whitworth or LaRose)- No, pedestrian malls are not all failures. In fact many are some of the best urban spaces in the world. I’ve been in several cities with very successful and busy ped malls. There are a couple of problems here. First of all, in order for the mall to be active there need to be uses that are open more hours around it. There also needs to be more people living downtown. Oh yeah, and Regina needs to be less backwards in general. There doesn’t need to be cars everywhere and we don’t need any more parking. I’ve never seen so much parking in a downtown in my life.

    That being said, this may not be the best place for a ped mall. With the park on one side and empty buildings/parking lots on the other it would be a serious uphill battle to keep this space even feeling safe, let alone lively. Additionally, the plaza was designed for vehicle and pedestrian traffic and seriously over built for just pedestrian traffic. What a waste.

  19. Lol. What they really should have had is a meet the cast of Little Mosque on the Prairie day complete with coffee and snacks at the Novia Cafe. No wait, we forced that to shut down.

  20. what happened was,

    the city hired some consultants from toronto or somewhere and mandated them to come up with something that ‘improved’ the downtown regina experience

    the only thing the consultants could come up with was, ‘you need to build something’; but among themselves, they knew it was a lost cause

    but they wanted to get paid, so they had to come up something; their choices were limited, and they knew there was already a street-converted-to-a-ped-mall around the corner, so they put a spin on theirs: a COMBO vehicle/ped mall.

    With MODERN lights instead of old-timey. And a few LAWN CHAIRS instead of benches. And a place for a STAGE, but a different kind than the one that appears on the mall.

    They hoped the burghers wouldn’t notice that they were proposing something that downtown already has: Scarth St Mall. Which is a roaring success if you are a downtown worker during the summer months on lunch and coffee breaks … but that’s about it. The mall in the non-summer months is ok if you are a downtown worker on breaks, but if it turned back into a street, it wouldn’t really be missed.

    So, if a ped mall was going to bring people downtown or whatever, the Scarth St Mall would have done it. Thus, city square is redundant; and the hybrid car-people thing has apparently been nullified.

    But someday, there will be a tower built on the north side of city square, where the novia was, and a big part of the plaza will be a construction zone; and then it will a real nice front for the building.

    you’re welcome, paul hill

  21. I would like to point out three things for Regina Citizens:

    1) There is NO body dedicated to programming the plaza. Both the City and te BID have absolved themselves of the responsibility by saying that it helps to “facilitate” events, not attract, create or manage events or programming in the park, on the plaza or anywhere else Downtown.

    2) The B-ylaws currently in effect are so restrictive (and irrationally enforced) that they OBSTRUCT and hinder outdoor activities and events from taking place. While there was some kind of plan to rewrite them back in 2009, that still hasn’t happened (like everything else related to Downtown -sound familiar?) Try putting anything on – a concert, even a block party – and you will find out how challenging it is.

    3) The cost (taxpayer dollars) of building the plaza so that it could withstand daily vehicular traffic was enormous. The amount of poured concrete alone was big $$$, not to mention changes to traffic lighting, signage, etc. etc. Shouldn’t we then ask, if we spent the time and money to plan and build it for both pedestrians and vehicles, WHY has it been closed to traffic?? Like it or not, vehicular access does support small business like shops and restaurants, which is why high streets like Cathedral area (or Broadway Ave, 2nd Ave and 21st in Saskatoon) are a success – they accommodate multi-modal transporation.

    I digress.

  22. Initially i was excited to hear of the undesignated traffic free-for-all at the plaza. I think a 30km limit and one wide open level space for all modes of movement could be a lesson in patience and tolerance while driving. Co-existing with environmental radicals that use active transportation is something we may have to get practiced up at and it does let more of us get more use of this thing that we collectively paid for. And the cost of temporary closure? im not sure what the city pays to have a dude drag an orange saw-horse thingy out to its place but it wasnt too much trouble at smith and 12th for past farmers markets.

  23. Go, Paul!
    I agree, it is absurd to close the plaza to traffic. Wasn’t the idea of the Downtown Plan to get people to go downtown? Since the plaza is closed to traffic it is a dead zone with few people hanging around the “living rooms”.

    The plaza has been a financial disaster with no programming plan or dollars, so, open it to traffic, get people and eyes on the street, and when there is a special event, we can close it for the day; just make sure there are some signs in the region to let people know so they can pick a different route that day.

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